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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Miracle in Cell No.7"

The main characters are retarded father Yong-goo (played by Ryu Seung-ryong) and his adorable seven year old daughter Ye-seung (played by Kal So-won). Circumstances conspire to keep them apart, but through sheer determination and the help of other prison inmates, they're able to find time to be happy together. This family changes the hardened people around them for better. But inevitably, for all these attempts at happiness, tragedy strikes and people left my theater crying. "Miracle in Cell No.7" is an extremely manipulative movie emotionally, and oftentimes feel like it's cheating by forcing the audience to identify with these overwrought situations.


And yet, in spite of all this, I could not hate it. Even though "Miracle in Cell No.7" is deliberately and cruelly constructed to maximize sadness, there was one fact I could not bring myself to forget. Events like this actually happen. I'm all too familiar with the abuses and neglect present in the American criminal justice system, and never at any point during this movie's serious scenes did I ever think "phbt, that could never happen". If anything I was more dubious that prisoners were allowed privileges like model centerfolds and books in their cells.

Well, that and the more obvious comedic fodder. There's something undeniably entertaining about ploys to get an adorable seven year old both inside the jail, as well as keep anyone from finding out about her. The camraderie between Yong-goo's cellmates and the way they warm up to Ye-seung is also very cute. Only two of them have any real subplots, but both are handled quite well in a very humanizing way.

Indeed, the way the prisoners and guards are all humanized to significant degree is extremely inspiring. Even people that seem malicious at first turn out to be quite capable of genuine human empathy as the movie goes on, and there really isn't any clear deliberate malicious villain. The one man who I can confidently say does an unforgivably horrible deed does so for perfectly understandable reasons- and he's quite literally the last person you'd expect this behavior from in a movie that's almost entirely set in a prison.

The ensemble deserves enormous credit here, because it's clear that even those with very few speaking lines were in on the basic message of this movie- that the love between a father and daughter is a very beautiful thing that inspires a great deal of emotion. What I take the most comfort in is that this emotion doesn't have to be tragedy. "Miracle in Cell No.7" is genuinely funny often enough that even knowing about its tragic end, it's easy to find joy with the characters when they're just spending time together and enjoying life, in spite of the less than ideal circumstances.

It's quite significant, I think, that at this movie's single most spiritually powerful moment, even though circumstance inevitably unravels it, the audience still feels that same hope, joy, and love as the main characters do even though we, just the same as they, know exactly what's going to be coming next. This is not the movie for a cynical person to watch. But if you're looking for an excuse to try and have hope, to try and believe in something when you're at a crossroads, "Miracle in Cell No.7" will leave a very pleasant aftertaste.

"Miracle in Cell No.7" is directed by Lee Hwan-gyeong and features Ryu Seung-ryong, Oh Dal-soo, Park Won-sang, Kim Jung-tae, Jung Man-sik and Kim Ki-cheon.

Review by William Schwartz. William Schwartz is an American currently living in Gyeongju, South Korea, where he studies Korean and themes in Korean media.

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