Korean Movie Review – Miracle in Cell No. 7 (7번방의 선물)

One of this year’s biggest films is Lee Hwan-kyung’s “Miracle in Cell No. 7.” Both a charming comedy and a quirky family melodrama, the movie’s positive word-of-mouth reviews spread like wildfire, making it the second-best-selling Korean film of all time behind “The Thieves” (2012).

Yong-gu is a single father who takes great care of his daughter, Ye-sung. Despite being mentally disabled, he wants to get her everything she dreams of. Whilst tracking down a bag that his daughter desperately wants, the police commissioner’s daughter is killed and Yong-gu is found suspiciously close to where the girl’s body is found.

Yong-gu is sentenced to death and imprisoned with a bunch of hardened criminals. In return for a favor to a fellow inmate, however, Yong-gu’s daughter is smuggled into the jail, reminding the prisoners and guards of the humanity they thought they once lost. It also allows the prisoners to understand Yong-gu’s disability and see what he’s really like. The more they get to know him, the more they realize there is no way he is a child killer, but they still need to prove it.

Lead actor Ryu Seung-ryeong gives a great performance as the mentally challenged Yong-gu, totally believable without ever needing to go over the top. I was very impressed.

The most impressive thing about the film, and about Korean films in general, is their ability to effortlessly shift in tone from one extreme to the other. At one point the film is a lighthearted, almost slapstick comedy as several prisoners perform the conga in a prison cell trying to find cell phone reception. Moments later, you’re watching the Korean version of the Gomer Pyle soap-bashing scene from “Full Metal Jacket” (1987). (Trust me, it’s intense.)

Lee’s latest offering is no different. It’s heart-wrenching at times, but you ultimately come away with a warm fuzzy feeling, thinking that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

“Cell No. 7” will send you on a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s well worth the ride.

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