“Truth doesn’t win in court. Whoever wins in court establishes the truth.”
[I included this quote from I Hear Your Voice’s early episode because it happens in many many cases.]
Have you ever watched something so good you’re rendered speechless? You wanted to talk about it but can’t seem to find the right words to say. As if no rave could justify the love you have for it. Miracle in Cell No. 7 is one of them. Obviously, I managed to squirt out a lot of words to write this up, but am not thoroughly satisfied with this review. ;(
An intellectually challenged man is accused of abducting, molesting, and murdering a minor. That’s Miracle described in one sentence. But of course the setup ain’t that ‘simple’. He is a single father who works as a parking attendant at a local supermarket, and the minor is a high ranking police officer’s only daughter. You can pretty much foresee where this mucky situation is going.
Some time in chilly February 1997, a little girl and a grown up man sing and dance along to Sailor Moon’s theme song outside a store. They stopped to stare wishfully at a yellow Sailor Moon’s backpack; it’s down to the last piece and they can finally buy it the following day (since it’s payday). They rush into the store as the bag is taken off the shelf onto another girl’s back, claiming it theirs — they’ve been eyeing it for so long. He parrot-stutters what his little girl is saying and proceeds to touch the backpack-girl’s face, for which he gets slapped repeatedly by her father. Ouch!
It is just the beginning of a series of condescending treatments he’d receive. That’s how we got introduced to Lee Yong-gu (Ryu Seung-ryong) and Yesung (Kal So-won). They are father and daughter although she is the maturer of the two, intellectually. She’s precocious and undemanding, if not smart and independent.
In the supermarket, backpack girl spots Yong-gu, approaches him and tells him she knows another store which sells Sailor Moon’s bag. He happily follows her out into a wet market. The next thing we know she’s lying on a pool of blood with Yong-gu loosens up her clothes and gives her CPR, which is spotted by an Ahjumma, who freaks out at such sight. Question is, why everybody in drama/movieland performs CPR on anybody on just any occasion?
That gets him dragged into police station for interrogation and then re-enactment, where the officers totally misinterpret everything he’s doing — well, people see what they wanna see — and press for add-ons, enticing he’d be able to see his daughter soonest if he complies. So he does, an action that earns him a spot in the titular cell #7.
The ward hosts supposedly the worst kind of offenders, though by the look of it, current occupiers don’t match the definition. They seem ‘civilized’ and welcoming and go from throwing quizzical looks at Yong-gu’s oddity to grown livid at his criminal record to be aghast at his capital punishment sentence. However, it is his selfless acts that cause both his inmates and the steely warden (Jung Jin-young) to see him in different light and dig deeper into his case.
When asked what he wants in return for his ‘heroic’ action, he answers nothing but Yesung. He’s been worrying sick for her, totally unaware of the unfavorable situation he’s in. Promise is promise, they work towards fulfilling his wish and outmaneuvering the guards all while deconstructing Yong-gu’s case and preparing his pleading material to prove his innocence at the impending final trial.
The 1997’s scenes are intercut with the present wherein now grown-up Yesung (Park Shin-hye) files for a re-trial and fights to clear his dad’s name. She brings in new witnesses and firmly argues that the court turned a blind eye to unequivocal forensic data and formulated judgment based on fabricated evidence — her dad was thus unjustifiably charged for a crime he didn’t commit.
As we go back and forth in time, I can’t help but wonder what happened at the final trial, how’s Yong-gu now, and why adult Yesung needs to go for a jury trial. Lastly, what kind of miracle is there in cell #7? (Not spoiling or anything but) Brace yourself ‘cuz the story is arching up towards mega-stirring moment.
The second the screen fades to black and the end credit rolls, only one opinion formed in my mind: what an amazing cast this movie has. If I were to single out which title is delivered with stellar performances, Miracle in Cell No. 7 would be it. Not a second did I think Yong-gu is overacted, and Kal So-won is a great actress of her age, not to mention adorable. She kinda reminds me of little Jung Da-bin in Wonderful Life — or of my favorite child actress atm, Ashida Mana. It always amazes me how expressive-emotive they can get — how they’re able to elicit and portray a range of emotions so well. They’re so young~!
Miracle isn’t filled with so-called A-list actors, yet for it to reach the height it did in terms of box office charting, ticket admissions, and overall revenue/profit generated, it surely has something that draws people in. For me, it’s the premise. First of all, you don’t usually see ‘miracle’ and (prison) ‘cell’ in the same sentence, as people associate it more with cure of illness or survivor of dire condition.
Secondly, after the foundation is set, past clamoring public outcry and cringe-worthy mistreatments, the cell set and its inmates strangely provide a comforting touch. The block is well-lit, relatively clean, and minimally furnished. There’s no typical portrayal prison-dwellers with bulky, tattooed figure and menacing aura either. Yong-gu meets the nicest people in circumstance he least expects it. It’s highly unlikely it’s sort of miraculous.
Those people are the source of the funny and you get comedy material as a result. (Though I hate toilet jokes. So. Much.) Throw Yesung into the mix and you get earnest family drama. Some viewers may find this combination jarring, but for me it is nicely proportioned to balance the other element out. I don’t think I’d be this receptive had it gone full-on melo and tear-jerking.
I must admit, however, there are many other coincidences and unlikely happenings throughout the movie — like Yesung so happens to get picked to be the cute of the choir performance, Man-beom (Kim Jung-tae) happens to snuck the right person, the choir doesn’t even realize one out of three kids is missing, or the inmates’ ability to solve Yong-gu’s case merely based on his limited communication skill.
Triviality aside, the final trial keeps bugging me. WHAT IS IT? Is Yong-gu incarcerated while the trial is still ongoing or does that refer to an appeal? I rely solely on subtitle and its ambiguity confuses me. Court setting isn’t a big part of the movie, but is substantial to the case’s dénouement. Finished watching I Hear Your Voice a while a go warms me up to legal proceedings and terminology, the fictionalized dramatized-style, as well as enable me to see the difference a dedicated, genuinely concerned public defender can make.
It’s a game of power after all. Which puts some ‘elites’ above the law and places lowly citizens at the bottom of food chain. In Miracle, the case is wrapped up in no time and execution is expedited just because backpack girl was Commissioner General’s daughter. (We’ve seen how much exclusive treatment and leniency one enjoys even when he/his kin is the transgressor. Sadly, that’s the way law works. And Miracle mimics reality a bit too much — don’t we all wanna see an ideal world in dramas/movies, where justice prevails?) However, I don’t buy a need to sacrifice someone when it is clearly a freaking accident. What does he get in return? Relief? Satisfaction? Yong-gu can’t even defend himself properly, yet they deem him capable of committing all charges.
Good thing to note that Yong-gu’s imperfection isn’t overexploited, neither is he viewed as ‘different’. Despite stuttering and making little eye contact, he interacts well with people and is totally one-dimensional — kind to everybody, trusting and non-assuming; quintessence of the best human can be. He is endearing in his simplicity and single-mindedness in loving and caring for Yesung. Pretty much like Young-gyu in Can You Hear My Heart?.
If anything, I feel like we’re missing a backstory of the two — where their relatives are, what happened to Yesung’s mom, and how he raises and takes care of Yesung all these years. That said, I believe Miracle would still be as efficacious if Yong-gu were in sounder state, although writing him as he is brings it to another level.
For the most part, I favored Miracle’s writing, acting, directing. I liked the build-up, felt the tension whenever the inmates are on a mission, and traveled through the emotional ride with them. It’s silly, upsetting, heartwarming, heartrending, and full of heart. Yes, it’s all that.
Miracle in Cell No. 7 (7beonbangui Seonmool/Gift of Room 7)
Director: Lee Hwan-kyung
Production: Next Entertainment World, 2013
Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Kal So-won, Oh Dal-su, Kim Jung-tae, Park Won-sang, Jung Man-shik, Kim Gi-cheon, Jung Jin-young, Park Shin-hye
Genre: K-movie, Family, Drama comedy