I have never hated myself so much for not taking tissues to a film. Never. And I am the kind of person who normally trusts your word on this. Miracle in Cell No. 7 is a film that knows exactly how to pull at your heart's strings, over and over again, and doesn't shy away from ensuring you get a good cry out of it.
Part comedy, part drama, Miracle in Cell No. 7 tells the story of Yong-gu (Ryoo Seung-ryong, Masquerade), a mentally challenged man with the capacity of a 6-year-old and his young daughter, Ye-sung (Kal So-won/Park Shin-hye). When Yong-gu is wrongly accused for the murder of a young school girl, he is sent to prison, leaving him separated from Ye-sung. When his cellmates learn of his disability and longing for his daughter, they devise a plan to sneak Ye-sung into the cell to reunite her with her father.
The film both upsets and uplifts, and draws many comparisons in story to the American tear-jerker (guilty) I Am Sam, centring around the mentally challenged father and daughter relationship. However, Miracle In Cell No. 7 has an interesting mix of both comedy and drama, which is worth commenting on. The balance of drama and comedy in this film really plays with you after a while. There are scenes of supposedly hardened criminals playing with the young Ye-sung, juxtaposed with scenes of Yong-gu's arrest and re-enactment of the murder, which is unsettling to watch. In thinking about this film after seeing it, I considered an older entry I wrote about genre-bending in contemporary Korean cinema. Miracle in Cell No. 7 is a great example of this, where there can be more than one genre that exists in a film where both are used in equal doses, rather than one overpowering the other. It surprisingly works in the film's favour.
Miracle in Cell No. 7's immense warmth comes from the large ensemble cast, headlined by the increasingly popular Ryoo Seung-ryong (Masquerade, All About My Wife) and Park Shin-hye (Cyrano Agency). Both Ryoo and Park picked up popularity awards in the last year for their roles in the film, too. Ryoo's performance as the mentally challenged Yong-gu is questionable, though I will forever feel that Moon So-ri in Oasis will beat any other performance of the kind, so I may be biased. The cute Kal So-won who plays the young Ye-sung steals the show for me though. The young actress has an extremely expressive face, so much that her frown will send your tears jerking out of your eyes. It doesn't help that she is as cute as a button, too.
The film's supporting cast is large, and made up of some of the best Korean actors in supporting roles, including the indelible Oh Dal-su (My Paparotti, Thieves), who keeps popping up unexpectedly in many films of late. Others include Jung Jin-young (The King and the Clown), Park Won-sang (Unbowed) and Jeong Man-sik (The Yellow Sea). Most of these actors are known for more serious roles, so it is refreshing to see them play very different characters in the film, which adds to the comedy of the film.
While the film touches on some darker topics such as murder and even rape, I still left Miracle in Cell No. 7 feeling uplifted. The film is well paced and slowly reveals the outcome of Yong-gu's case, though if there was one thing I could pick on it would be how many tearjerking scenes there were in the duration of half an hour! The ensemble cast made the film even more enjoyable to watch, and you could argue that the casting was on point.
The film was released in January of 2013, and by March, it had already sold 12 million tickets and climbed its way up to the third highest grossing film in the Korean box office of all time, right behind Bong Joon-ho's monster flick The Host and another KOFFIA 2013 film The Thieves. If you are after a no-frills, warm-hearted film, look no further. Miracle in Cell No. 7 will melt the coldest of hearts and keep you chuckling throughout.
Final words. Do not forget the tissues.
By Raelene Loong
Follow her @suupatrout
By Raelene Loong
Follow her @suupatrout