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Original Title:
1Beonga-ui gijeok

South Korea 2007

Comedy, Drama

Yun Je-gyun

Ha Ji-won
Lim Chang-jung
Kang Ye-won
Lee Hoon
Ju Hyeon
Goh Tae-ho
Park Chang-ik
Park Yu-seon
Seo Ji-hie

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Miracle on 1st Street

Story: Pil-je (Lim Chang-jung) is sent to a residential section with the name Pine Village. Hired by a businessman, he is supposed to make sure that the residents sell their homes for a small compensation fee, so that big skyscrapers can be build in place of them. However, Pil-je is rather unsuccessful, since he may play to be a tough guy, but actually has a heart too big for this job.
At the same time, Myung-ran (Ha Ji-won), who is also living in Pine Village, tries to get her boxing carreer going. For her father (Jung Doo-hong), who once was a box champion, until a fatal punch confined him to bed, she tries to get a match against the reigning box champion. Yet, she has only little success, and to make things worse, she also has to struggle with Pil-je and his thugs.
Furthermore, there is also female "Network Marketing" employee (Kang Ye-won), who also lives in Pine Village, and who wants to keep it a secret towards a vending machine guy (Lee Hoon) what impoverished conditions she is living under.
In the end, it seems inevitable, that the village residents have to give up their home. Or maybe... there might happen some kind of miracle?

Review: Lighthearted romantic comedies from Korea are a dime a dozen these days. Yet, "Miracle on 1st Street" only falls into this category to a limited extent. The movie may be entertaining, delivers easy to digest humor and also a small romance, yet the end product makes for a lot more serious and dramatic movie than what we expected. Nevertheless, the director never really loses sight of what he actually wanted to create, which is a comedy and nothing else. In the end, this is a quite interesting film, which may feel a bit incoherent and contrived, that yet stands as a unusual movie because of its unconventional mix of comedy, drama and a bit of a message that the filmmakers put a bit of effort into to convey. Nonetheless, in the first place this is at all time a commercial movie for the average viewer. Ultimately, this piece of film can only convince to a very small degree, concerning the various genre areas it wants to cover, which is really sad. But despite all that, "Miracle on 1st Street" actually succeeds in standing out from the rest of Korean comedies in a way, which if nothing else deserves an appreciative nod.

The one responsible for the movie is no one else than Yun Je-gyu, whose former work, coarse slapstick comedy "Sex is Zero", manged to get some laughs out of the viewer, and more than anything else brought quite some money into the producer's pockets, making the film a real box-office hit. Thus, it comes as a real surprise that Yun seems to have the liability to a more serious tone in his newest film. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the courage to really show it all the way to the end, because every time the movie becomes too serious, the lighthearted nature of a comedy pushes to the foreground. Still, surprisingly there are some scenes, that can truely touch the viewer. First, we have the tragical story around Myung-ran and her father, for whom she tries to win back his honor. In fact, she doesn't only want to help him, but also wants to prove something to herself. When Myung-ran's father realizes, what a burden he has become on his daughter, he considers commiting suicide. In fact, his best friend, resp. Myung-ran's box trainer, encourages him to do so, and yet we can absolutely understand the very human reasons being behind it.

There are also other moments, that can trigger some emotions. For example a side-story revolving around a boy and his sister, who are growing up in poverty and are simply trying to somehow get by, while their only guardian is their grandfather, who has cancer. In an especially harsh scene another group of kids throw tomatoes at the two little children. Even though this just won't fit into the mood of the rest of the movie, such scenes somehow bestow a certain kind of profoundness upon the film, as director Yun actually tries to portray the more darker sides of poverty, too, therefore not just focusing on a cotton-candy comedy. This side-story mainly works so well, because of the two child actors, who simply provide fantastic work. It seems that Korea is full of excellent child actors, for which you get proof here once again.
Naturally, the film also works hard on being funny, too. Apart from a few toilet-jokes, there is mainly the moments with the little boy, who as a running gag jumps of the roof of a house with several flying tools, because he believes that he can fly.

More than anything else the movie is feeding off of the charisma of the two main actors. Director Yun already collaborated with Ha Ji-won and Lim Chang-jung, namely in the already mentioned "Sex is Zero", and here it shows, that he still knows how he has to bring them and the chemistry between them on screen best. As characters the two may seem a bit one-dimensional, which by the way is the case with any of the characters, but they have the necessary charisma to grasp the audience.
It isn't the first time for Lim to prove his talent as a comedian, and thus he once again convinces as the gangster with a heart, even tough the script writer surely doesn't deserve any originality points for his character writing...
Who's really credible and even quite impressive is Ha Ji-won ("Damo", "Love so Divine", "The Duelist"). Not because of the profoundess of her character play, which is almost impossible as the script writer didn't provide her with useful material, but because of her physical performance. She runs across the screen like a bundle of energy, and she even underwent box training for this movie. And it shows. Still, it looks somehow perverse when her nose is beaten bloody in the several boxing matches. Big respect for this unusual display of physical prowess. She always was one of my favorite Korean actresses and she strengthens this feeling of mine just once again, even though I really would like to see her in a serious role, in which she can actually display all of her acting talent.

The whole boxing story feels somewhat contrived and out of place, but thanks to this plot Ha Ji-won and Korea's top fighting choreographer Jung Doo-hong get some nice and dramatic scenes together on screen. Even one certain scene between the two towards the end, which easily could have run the risk to feel cheesy, is surprisingly touching. Nonetheless, the film is full of cinematic plot devices that are far from what you should be considering to sell your audience. How can Myung-ran as an amateur who never could score a win, suddenly get a match against the Asian boxing champion?
However, what's really devaluating the film's quality are some astonishingly serious and brutal scenes. How can you show toilet-jokes, a nice love story between a "pyramid scheme" employee and a coffee vending machine guy, in the same breath in which you let gangsters beat up the residents of a village, while one of the villagers even sets light on herself out of protest? This all just doesn't fit together and needlessly deprives the movie of a lot of good will you are willing to give it.

However, apart from a certain inconsistency, you have to give the director credit, that there is no artificial love story between the two main protagonists. Yet, there comes the moment, when you have to fear that the director might drive his movie into the ground at the last minute by implementing a divine miracle. Luckily, aside from a sudden plant growth and the appearance of a ghost, the "miracles" depicted are of human nature. You almost get the feeling as if director Yun wanted to give his work some substance, and to a small degree he even succeeds. Yet, in the end he succumbs to the rules of a comedy, so that everything heads for a happy end, eventually. This is somewhat of a shame, but then again, it's just what the audience expected. Thus, it's already worth some words of praise that "Miracle on 1st Street" in fact tries to be more profound than your usual genre treat, even if the film might feel a bit disjointed consequently.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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