Imagine living in a country where you have to struggle even to get drinking water! You have to pack and submit your feces to your government, thanks to the lack of sewage systems and the fear of punishment! You don’t have any basic human rights, and you aren’t even allowed to leave the country and go somewhere else! So what do you do then? You escape, risking your life, because you would rather die trying to be free than live in the hellhole called North Korea. Madeleine Gavin’s latest documentary, titled Beyond Utopia, deals with this grave subject matter. It talks about every terrible thing the North Korean regime endorses in a never-before-seen, no-holds-barred manner. Unfolding like a pulsating thriller from the get-go, Beyond Utopia centers on Pastor Kim and documents his attempt to help out two North Korean families fleeing the country. It’s a fascinating watch from start to finish, especially because there is zero reenactment in Beyond Utopia. Every single thing you see is real footage, and what makes that more intense is the fact that so many people had to risk their lives to acquire it and make the whole thing happen. Let us take a closer look.
What Happens In The Documentary?
It takes all of about five minutes for us to know how miserable life turns out to be if you’re unfortunate enough to be born in North Korea. And also how much of a herculean task fleeing the country is! Through the narration of famous North Korean activist Hyeonseo Lee, who endured the pain of surviving in that country and then braving the most terrifying escape route in order to achieve freedom, we get a clear picture.
Who Is Pastor Kim, And What Does He Want?
In the same world where scum like Kim Jong Un exist, we also have human beings like Pastor Kim. Ironically, his North Korean wife, Esther, first felt attracted to him because he looked like the megalomaniacal Supreme Leader. That was many years ago, of course, when Esther, like the majority of North Korean people, had no idea about the outside world and didn’t know any better than Kim Jong Un. Kim had to get Esther out of the country, and that’s how he figured out a way to help millions of other North Koreans escape the regime. I bet your respect for the man skyrocketed after getting to know how he never stopped helping the North Koreans, even after the tragic death of his own son! In Beyond Utopia, director Madeleine Gavin closely follows Kim as he tries to reunite Soyeon Lee, a defector, with her son, who’s stuck in North Korea, as well as helping another North Korean family to defect.
What Does Pastor Kim Plan For The Ro Family?
Among the many challenges a North Korean citizen faces while defecting is not being able to cross the border and directly flee to South Korea. The security is always on high alert, and what makes things even worse is that the entire border area is filled with landmines. So the only possible route for a defector is somehow making it to the Changbai mountains of China, then reaching Vietnam after successfully hiding from the Chinese officials, making it to Laos through Vietnam, and finally reaching Thailand from Laos by boat. The most important part is not getting caught anywhere before Thailand, as all three of China, Vietnam, and Laos have communist governments that only ensure that the defector will be arrested and deported back to North Korea, against their will. Not to mention, the entire journey is unimaginably grueling and strained by the anxiety of getting caught.
Sadly, that’s the only way for the five members of the Ro family—an elderly woman, her son and daughter-in-law, and their two kids—to survive and be reunited with their remaining family members, who have already defected to South Korea and are now seeking Pastor Kim’s assistance. We meet the Ro family in unimaginably adverse conditions. They’ve already crossed the North Korean border, through the Yalu River, and have ended up in the Chinese mountains. The family has sent a video recording to Pastor Kim. To think these are actual people who’re living in constant fear of getting executed or being trafficked only for their desire to get out of their birthplace is simultaneously saddening and horrifying!
How Does Pastor Kim Try To Help Soyeon Lee?
While the Ro family has at least made their way to China, Soyeon Lee’s young son is still stuck in North Korea. The last time she saw her son was ten years ago, when she got arrested by the North Korean regime thanks to an unsuccessful attempt to defect. But after enduring two years of torture, Lee made another attempt, and this time she managed to do it. Unfortunately, though, she had no choice but to leave her son, then a seven-year-old kid, behind. All Lee wishes for now is to get her son back and give the boy a shot at normal life in Seoul. Like all defectors, Lee has to depend on the brokers on both the South Korean and North Korean sides. The brokers are very essential components and play a pivotal role in the whole defecting process by assisting the people in need in various stages. Unfortunately, Lee’s son gets caught by the Chinese officials right after crossing the Yulu River and is expected to be deported back to North Korea.
Does The Ro Family Succeed In Defecting?
The most defining moment of Beyond Utopia has to be when the Ro family carefully gets off the boat, one by one, and sets foot on Thai soil. After all the hardship these poor people had gone through, this felt like a coveted prize. Of course, without the helpful brokers and Pastor Kim, who went all the way to China to guide the family through the whole journey, this wouldn’t have happened.
What Happens To Soyeon Lee’s Son?
While the Ro family tastes success in defecting, for Soyeon Lee (and her son), it’s a pit full of infinite misery. Even after her son gets caught and thrown into a gulag by the North Korean authorities, Soyeon Lee does everything in her power to get the boy out. She pays a lot of money to the North Korean broker, but even that fails to yield any success. In fact, the broker himself admits that the mission is impossible to pull off. Beyond Utopia ends with Soyeon Lee’s son’s fate hanging in the balance, but with everything that we’ve seen, it doesn’t at all look good. Will the success of Beyond Utopia help Soyeon Lee in any way? Only time will tell.
Is This Documentary Western Propaganda?
I wasn’t surprised to see there are actually a handful of people taking a stand against Beyond Utopia by calling it American propaganda against a communist country. Even if I take that into account for the sake of argument, it’s a fact that, as citizens of the outside world, we don’t get to know much about what’s happening inside the country. And from what we know from sneaking and snooping, it doesn’t seem like a democracy where people are allowed to live a normal, fulfilling life. Propaganda or not, there can’t be any smoke without a fire. In fact, Beyond Utopia does look backwards and provides us with a historical lesson of how things came to be as they are now, which can actually be verified. All said and done, if you’re really batting for the North Korean regime here, then you are probably a fascist pig.
What Is Our Takeaway?
There are several moments in Beyond Utopia that you and I would probably find astonishing and unbelievable. The Ro family discovering the pleasure of basic human things like television and chocolate for the first time after fleeing the regime is delightful to watch, but the thought that millions of North Koreans are still deprived of the simplest necessities of life is bound to break your hearts. It’s hard to believe that we exist in a world where people actually get murdered for questioning the activities of their government! That’s why Beyond Utopia has an infinite amount of importance as a documentary. It’s probably the most important film that you’ve seen in recent years. Even if most of us are pretty much helpless to not do anything significant about the suffering of the unfortunate North Korean citizens who’re rotting in that country, awareness of how things really are is extremely important. We can only hope for a day where the terror of the North Korean regime ends and the people out there get to be free!