Lee Yong-gu (Ryu Seung-ryong), a mentally challenged single father, wants nothing more but to give her 6-year old daughter Ye-sung (Kal So-won) a Sailor Moon school bag. Alas, that lead him to be in the wrong place at a wrong time. He was falsely accused, tried, and sentenced to death for abduction, rape, and murder of an elementary school girl. Prior to his execution he was detained in maximum security prison in cell no.7 along with other inmates. who helped him by smuggling his daughter in and out of prison to spend time with him during his detainment leading up to his pending execution. Years later, Ye-sung stood in court in attempt to absolve his father of the crime he did not do. girl grows into a young lawyer (Park Shin-hye) set on exonerating her dad with their help. And yes, this is a comedy.
The premise is so preposterous that it can only come from manga fantastical story line. Yet it has proven to be one of the most successful film in south korea, with over 12 million admission and become the third highest admission after Bong Joon-ho The Host (괴물) and 2012 The Thieves (도둑들), and slightly above Masquarade (광해, 왕이 된 남자). But you know what, the kind of absurdity that often found in Japanese dorama or cinema (speaking as a novice in korean cinema) works very well here, the most ridiculous situation become the backdrop of the comic that’s about to unfold.
Using clever lines and physical gags, the film delivers comedy relying on the colorful character of cell no.7. When Yong-gu arrived at the cell with child rape and murder (which is never good) he got the cold shoulder from his cellmates. Even prejudice happened in prison huh? Things get crazy after an incident where he save the life of the leader, Yang-ho (Oh Dal-su) from a violent altercation in the yard. To pay his debt, Yang-ho offers to do anything for Yong-gu, apparently smuggling a child is not out of the question too. Yang-ho and his crew, self-bookish Chun-ho (Park Won-sang), self-injured fraud grandpa Seo (Kim Ki-cheon), secretly sensitive thug Bong-shik (Jung Man-shik), flamboyant Man-beom (Kim Jung-tae) bonded Yong-gu and gained a lesson or two from the young Ye-sung.
The ensamble cast ensure the success comedy here. The cell no.7 inmates provides the best caricature to create any possible hilarity. Kal So-won as the young Ye-sung is adorable portrait of wide-eyed innocence, provides supply of heartwarming and heartrending moments throughout the film. But Ryoo Seung-ryong took the crown with his portrayal of the mentally challenged Yong-gu in delicate balance, not overly melodramatic, not exaggerated, but memorable nevertheless.
Like all korean films that i’ve seen so far (which i can still count with my fingers), most of them usually delivered a well combined issue within a film. In the case of Miracle in Cell no.7 the bias and crippled judicial system that is shown by false incarceration of Yong-gu. Of course watching too much police procedural television made me cringe when they assume Yong-gu’s guilt as he reenact what was a CPR procedure instead of molesting the dead girl. Whatever happens to forensic proofs and post-mortem autopsy? The flawed justice system becomes the source of the film melodrama, most evident in the present timeline of the film as grown up Ye-sung stood in court to exonerate his father and prove his innocence.
Perhaps at the first sight the film ludicrous premise seems unappealing. It has its emotionally cloying moments and sometimes overdone melodrama, despite its initial promise of saccharine, laugh-out-loud comedy. Still, against all odd the contradicting elements actually work and well balanced in the hand of director Lee Hwan-kyung. Miracle in Cell No.7 is a genuine people pleaser that invest in modest accessibility and it possess a great heart disguised under the layer of absurdity. I bawl my eyes out and laughing my arse off, enjoying every minute of the film. Give it a chance and maybe you will too.
MIRACLE IN CELL NO.7 7번방의 선물 (2013)
GENRE Comedy, Drama
DIRECTOR Lee Hwan-kyung | PRODUCER Kim Min-ki, Lee Sang-hun | WRITER Lee Hwan-kyung, Yu Young-a, Kim Hwang-sung, Kim Young-seok | MUSIC Lee Dong-joon | CINEMATOGRAPHER Kim So-youn | EDITOR Choi Jai-geun, Kim So-youn | DISTRIBUTOR NEW | COUNTRY South Korean | RUNNING TIME 127 minutes | RELEASE January 23, 2013
STARRING Ryoo Seung-ryong, Park Shin-hye, Kal So-won, Jung Jin-young, Oh Dal-su, Park Won-sang, Kim Jung-tae, Jung Man-shik, Kim Gi-cheon
The film is part of 2013 Korean Film Festival Screening. Click on the banner bellow to view my other thoughts on the film featured in the festival :)