'Uncles' steal the show in prison film
MIRACLE IN CELL NO. 7 (NC16)
Comedy Drama/127 minutes
THE most recognisable name among the cast of South Korean box-office record breaker Miracle In Cell No. 7 may be 23-year-old actress Park Shin Hye, who plays a tiny role in this movie, but it is the ahjussi (Korean for uncles) who steal the show.
The movie is about seven people in a prison cell - six middle-aged men and Ye Sung, the six-year-old daughter of one of the inmates, Lee Yong Gu, who is smuggled incredulously into the prison cell.
Here, the middle-aged detainees played by seasoned actors - often overshadowed by their younger or more handsome counterparts - get their well-deserved screen time.
The cell's unofficial boss is So Yang Ho (played by Oh Dal Su). The other inmates are Shin Bong Shik (played by Jung Man Shik), Choi Choon Ho (played by Park Won Sang), Kang Man Beom (played Kim Jung Tae) and old man Seo (played by Kim Ki Cheon).
The motley crew provide much of the laughs while they embark on their far-fetched plan to get Ye into the high-security (apparently not) facility.
Before you baulk at the ridiculous premise of the movie with a cheesy title, give it a chance.
Once I threw all logic out of the window and got past the implausible scenario, I couldn't help but like this sappy, melodramatic comedy.
The South Korean movie scored big at the local box office, reportedly breaking records just 52 days after its release. It now holds the spot of third-highest-grossing domestic film in South Korea.
The inmate that stands out is lead character Lee, helmed by 42-year-old Ryu Seung Ryong, who nabbed an award recently for his supporting role in period movie Masquerade last year.
Lee is the mentally-handicapped father of Ye and is falsely accused of the rape and murder of the police commissioner's young daughter.
What lands Lee in prison is a series of unfortunate events - stemming from his simple desire to buy a Sailormoon backpack for his young daughter Ye (played by child actress Gal So Won).
Consummate thespian Ryu exercises restraint in his acting and doesn't fall into the pitfall of exaggeration when playing the part of a mentally-challenged man.
There's this heartwarming chemistry with his on-screen daughter, whose mature sensibility beyond her years is a contrast to her father's child-like innocence.
And boy, does the child actress know how to tug at the heartstrings of the audience. Keep your Kleenex handy for a heartrending parting scene between father and daughter.
The movie is an odd mix of comedy and tragedy that brings the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride.
While the film deals with heavy material like police corruption and abusive treatment of the mentally impaired, these subjects are dealt with hastily, to maintain the pacing of the movie.
It seems as though director Lee Hwan Kyung is in a hurry to get to the tear-jerkers and comedic scenes.
Here, the simplistic and unrealistic plot - there's even a jarring fantasy hot-balloon escape - is secondary to the solid acting by the cast.
In Kimchi-land where the spotlight is often on nubile young things, I'm rooting for the ahjussis here.
Miracle In Cell No. 7 opens in cinemas on Thursday.