June 26, 2018

Miracle in Cell No. 7: Girl Behind Bars

Given the heartbreakingly inhumane, government-sanctioned acts currently occurring on the international border between Mexico and the US where asylum-seeking parents are being separated from their children and then interned in concentration camps with no clear plan on how to reunite them, this comedy about a mentally challenged man (Ryu Seung-ryong) — imprisoned for a murder and rape that he did not commit — whose daughter (Kal So Won) comes to stay with him in prison makes for incredibly weird viewing. I mean, even in Miracle in Cell No. 7 the authorities eventually come around to figuring out a way to bring the daughter and the father together, rules be damned, for heaven's sake. Evidently, "truth is stranger than fiction" is one of those cliches that keeps on giving.

Is there any comfort in knowing that police corruption and brutality are things in South Korea as well as the United States? That people are framed, forced to sign confessions they didn't write, sentenced to death without due process only to have their reputations righted posthumously in a mock trial at which everyone sobs? To be honest: The joys are few. And writer-director Lee Hwan-kyung's Miracle in Cell No. 7 is one of those movies with so many holes in it that you're hardly watching it thinking "How could this bleak reality happen?" Gritty this is not. But through your tears, and yes there are many to be shed, you will be thinking "Oh, I hope that hot air balloon they've constructed behind bars liberates the doomed duo from this prison" and "Wouldn't it be great if the head thug (Oh Dal-su) not only learned how to read but eventually became the lead attorney for our poor, unfortunate hero."

Alas, such victories are not meant to be. A well-meaning teacher (Park Shin-hye) and an enlightened prison staff (Jung Jin-yeong) are unable to defeat the cruel wheels of injustice or to prevent those wheels from crushing a man who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can blame this all on a stupid Sailor Moon backpack really. Never promise a child a trendy gift you cannot afford. Nothing good will come of it. Nothing!

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