Posted : 2013-02-07 15:46
Updated : 2013-02-07 15:46

'Cell 7' isn't quite 'I Am Sam'

Ryu Seung-ryong and Gal So-won in "Miracle in Cell No. 7." / Courtesy of NEW

By Baek Byung-yeul

It's difficult to write an intelligent review about a movie that is so unapologetically a tear jerker.

The hit Korean film, "Miracle in Cell No. 7,'' a comedy that attempts to be "A Beautiful Life'' and "I Am Sam'' all at once, does seem to succeed in generating watery eyes based on a snap judgment from a recent screening. Still, that doesn't make it a good movie and it's not even close.

And while there have been a slew of Korean films in past years as straightforward as "Cell 7'' in attempts at emotional manipulation, most of them tended to age worse than Lindsay Lohan's career and were resented by the time they reached cable television.

This story revolves around Yong-gu, played by Chungmuro hotshot Ryu Seung-ryong, a man with learning difficulties who works as a parking attendant at a discount mall. The joy of his life is his daughter Ye-sung, played by Gal So-won.

Their lives are turned upside down when one of Ye-sung's friends fatally slips on an icy road and Yong-gu, who had been taking the two girls to a gift shop, is wrongfully accused of murdering the child. Yong-gu is jailed and sent to Cell 7, where some of society's most hideous criminals await him.

Anyone who wasn't born yesterday would know how the story goes from here. Yong-gu's inmates are first reluctant to embrace him, but of course they do eventually, and will go through hell and high water to help Yong-gu live with his daughter again. Their actions run against the limits of acceptability, allowing the movie to provide the obligatory bursts of laughter before pushing hard for tears.

Perhaps, this is how Lee Hwang-kyeong's movies will always be. Lee was previously accused of spoon-feeding audiences with emotion through ''Champ'' (2011) and ''Lump of Sugar'' (2006). He set most of his new movie in a prison cell. And most of the inmates are portrayed as unfortunate and misunderstood people who are more warm-hearted than people living outside these walls.

The plot becomes ridiculous when Yong-gu's friends find a way to sneak his daughter into the cell. But if audiences were playing along until now, they might as well do so until the end. And shed a tear or two when it's time for Ye-seung to go home.

It's hard to make a sillier movie than Cell 7. That doesn't keep Lee from taking himself too seriously and peppering social statements on issues like the death penalty, police brutality and poverty upon the series of nonsense issues that are portrayed on screen.

"Cell 7" would be much worse if not for the brilliance of veteran supporting actors like Oh Dal-su, Kim Jung-tae, Jeong Man-sik and Kim Ki-chun, who play the role as Yong-gu's cellmates, who do the most they can from a brain-dead script.

"Cell 7" features Ryu in his first starring role. He became a big name for his supporting roles in ''War of Arrows'' (2011) and ''All About My Wife" (2012), which won him consecutive best supporting actor awards at the Blue Dragon Film Awards.

"Cell 7" is giving "The Berlin File'' a run for its money atop the box office standings, so Ryu has perhaps cemented his status as an actor who can sell out theaters. Still, this is hardly the movie a serious actor wants on the upper end of his resume.

"In Korea, when playing the role of a person with learning difficulties, the performer tends to create a caricature instead of a person. I don't like that at all. I tried to show Yong-gu as an innocent child, not a person with intellectual difficulties,'' Ryu told reporters recently.

Apparently, he was channeling "I Am Sam'' rather than Farrelly brothers movies. Too bad, as "Room 7" is nothing if not a caricature.

"Miracle in Cell No. 7" is now showing in theaters nationwide. Rated 15 and over. Runs 127 minutes. Distributed by Next Entertainment World.

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