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Miracle in Cell No. 7 - Movie Poster
Original Title:
7beon-bang-eui seon-mool

South Korea 2013

Drama, Comedy

Lee Hwan-gyeong

Ryoo Seung-ryong
Gal So-won
Oh Dal-soo
Jeong Jin-yeong
Park Sin-hye
Park Won-sang
Kim Jeong-tae
Jeong Man-sik
Kim Gi-cheon
Park Gil-soo

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Miracle in Cell No. 7

Story: Yong-goo (Ryoo Seung-ryong) is mentally handicapped but fondly takes care of his little daughter Ye-seung (Gal So-won). He wants to buy her a Sailer Moon schoolbag and therefore follows a little girl who can show him a shop that still sells it. But the girl dies, apparently by a hit to the head with a brick, and Yong-goo is standing above her and has partly undressed her when a witness sees him. For the police and the media the case is obvious right away, even the more as the victim is the daughter of the police commissioner and results need to be available as soon as possible. In prison Yong-goo is treated everything but friendly because of his crime as well, but his cellmates led by Yang-ho (Oh Dal-soo) soon find out that the death of the girl actually was just an unfortunate accident and that the police forced the mentally handicapped man to make a false confession by beating him and making promises. Even the prison warden (Jeong Jin-yeong) has doubts about Yong-goo's guilt. Somehow Yong-goo's new friends then manage to smuggle Ye-seung into prison. However, the two haven't much time together left as Yong-goo is on death row...

Review: Sometimes a drama is extremely manipulative and yet manages to achieve its goal against all better judgement. "Miracle in Cell No. 7" doesn't just fall into this category but also doesn't really know what it wants to be in general. A wacky comedy, which also wants to denounce a problematic legal system, or a drama about the injustice a mentally handicapped individual is victim of, looked at from a very humoristic angle. The movie can't even be labeled as a tragicomedy since it is too much of a family film for that. There are enough reasons to bad-mouth the movie, but despite all that it works exceptionally well, not least thanks to the outstanding cast which succeeds in brushing the scrennplay's problems under the carpet.

Miracle in Cell No. 7 - Film Screenshot 11

The plot of the movie already shows us that there are parts assembled to a whole that actually don't fit together, asking pretty much of the viewer to get along with it. Somehow this mix pays off despite extreme schmaltz, nonetheless. Director Lee Hwan-gyeong has shot two movies about horses before, "Champ" and "Lump Sugar", which show his specalisation in cozy schmaltz. How much he has brought his art to perfection can be seen here. The scenes are all flooded with sunlight, the pictures are very colorful, yet there is enough room for heartache and, as has to be admitted, also some pretty funny insertions. A few of the jokes may get lost in translation, but there is enough situational humor, too.

Miracle in Cell No. 7 - Film Screenshot 12

Ryoo Seung-ryong oftentimes plays the second fiddle, like in the movies "Masquerade" or "War of the Arrows", but this time he plays the lead - then on the other hand he doesn't really since the drama is more of an ensemble work. Still, his achievements are once again astonishing. Not only is it hard to recognize him at first, he even reminds us of Shin Ha-kyun, but he also masters a difficult role as the portrayal of a mentally handicapped always results in the risk of looking ridiculous. Ryoo has deserved it to finally have a breakthrough and it can't be long until that day comes. Playing at his side is Gal So-won as the daughter, whereas she at some points seems too much of an adult and at others she is just too cute. However, acting-wise you have to take your hat off to her as well.

Still, the actual strength lies in the rest of the supporting cast. Oh Dal-su, eternal supporting actor since "Oldboy", is the leader of the cellmates and is responsible for us to soon take the characters to our heart and for quite some fun moments despite a few at times caricatural traits. Only Park Sin-hye ("Cyrano Agency") as the tough and at times wooden lawyer in the story that forms the framework at a court isn't fully convincing. Apart from that it's also questionable if this framework was really necessary because the film certainly isn't a courtroom drama, then on the other hand it somehow is. It's hard to imagine that "Miracle in Cell No. 7" in fact wants to denounce the Korean legal system, then again it manages to make us reflect enough about it, which makes you assume that this was actually its aim.

Miracle in Cell No. 7 - Film Screenshot 13

Aside from the technically flawless execution including an unusually well composed soundtrack, the movie in fact succeeds in being a convincing affair despite a lot of manipulative tears. Considering the ingredients, a mentally handicapped father, a little daughter who needs her father, a prison as the stage and a death sentence, you know all too well what to expect, but you will still find yourself having sympathy. Which brings up the question if you shouldn't have an extra amount of respect for a film that leaves no doubt that it will make you shed tears by every trick in the book if it actually manages to achieve that despite better knowledge. "Miracle in Cell No. 7" is one of those few films that doesn't work on paper but delivers a great rollercoaster ride on screen full of humor and drama.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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