This is one of those movies that I’ve only ever heard good things about, and have always wanted to watch.
The reason it’s taken me this long to actually get to it, is that I just.. got distracted by other things and forgot to look for it, until I chanced on it the other day, while browsing movie titles.
The moment I saw this one, it jumped to the top of my watch list immediately.
And now that I’ve seen it, I must say, it really is as excellent as everyone says it is.
Psst: Links to watch are at the end of the review!
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Lee Yong Gu (Ryu Seung Ryong) is an intellectually impaired man who has a close relationship with his 6-year-old daughter Ye Seung (Gal So Won). One day, Yong Gu finds himself wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
This movie is inspired by a true story.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. This isn’t always easy to watch.
I mean, yes, it’s heartwarming and full of feels, but the circumstances are difficult and unfair, and Yong Gu suffers a great deal, because people and the system take advantage of his disability.
This can feel particularly hard to swallow in this day and age, but remembering that the actual true events took place in 1972, when there was a lot more ignorance about intellectual disabilities, and a lot more corruption within the system, does help.
As in, it doesn’t make it any more right, but it becomes easier to understand how things happened the way they did, in context.
2. Our story leans bittersweet.
This might be important to you, particularly if you’re especially predisposed to happy endings.
Yong Gu doesn’t get a happy ending, but he does get exonerated posthumously, by his daughter, working together with his cell mates and the prison warden at the time, so there is a bittersweet sense of justice.
3. I would strongly suggest giving this one a go, despite its bittersweet leanings.
This really is the kind of movie that makes you laugh, and make you cry, and then makes you grateful, for being allowed to serve up your heart on a plate.
Don’t miss it, is my advice.
STUFF I LIKED
Ryu Seung Ryong as Yong Gu
Ryu Seung Ryong is, in a word, amazing, as Yong Gu.
My goodness, Ryu Seung Ryong, whom I’ve seen look much more serious and charismatic, like in 2012’s Masquerade, simply disappears into the character of Yong Gu. I couldn’t even spot Ryu Seung Ryong in Yong Gu, when I watched the trailer, until I looked up the cast list.
As a character, I just loved how pure Yong Gu is.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
It’s little surprise that he systematically wins over not only his cellmates, but even the prison guards and prison warden as well, such that everyone actively works to help him prove his innocence &/or escape from prison.
I was very quickly in Yong Gu’s corner as well, rooting for him to overcome.
Gal So Won as Ye Seung
Gal So Won does very decently as Ye Seung, Yong Gu’s bright and warmhearted daughter.
I was startled to realize that I’ve actually seen her, much more grown up (though still on the tiny side), in Scripting Your Destiny, where she plays a teenaged-looking Sam Shin.
I will say that for a child actor, Gal So Won does a very solid job of delivering Ye Seung, particularly Ye Seung’s more difficult emotional scenes.
The father-daughter bond
The was the relationship that grounds the entire story, and I must say, the father-daughter bond between Yong Gu and Ye Seung is very touching indeed.
From the cheerful happy times, where they have that silly little dance that they do for each other when saying goodbye, to the harder times, when they desperately don’t want to be separated from each other, I totally believed the strength and depth of this relationship.
And, I was firmly in their camp, from beginning to end, happy for them when they got to be together, and crying along with them, when they had to be apart.
The feels from this relationship were real. ❤️
The cellmates of Cell No. 7
The way Yong Gu ingratiates himself with his cellmates, and the way his presence causes the entire cell to become like one big reluctant family, does remind me of Prison Playbook, somewhat, so if you loved Prison Playbook, I do think you’d like this show too.
I love how the cellmates put their heads and their resources together, to grant Yong Gu his only wish, which is to be reunited with Ye Seung.
The fact that they succeed in smuggling Ye Seung into their cell, is a coup in itself.
And the fact that they end up living with her like that for a while, all doting on her and brightening up from the sunshine that she brings, is even more amazing. I love it.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I guess I kinda knew, from our story set-up, where our narrative is framed by adult Ye Seung (played by Park Shin Hye) working to clear her father’s name, that it was unlikely that Yong Gu survived to the present day.
But, I still had hope, because it really almost felt like anything was possible, in Cell No. 7, after they managed to smuggle Ye Seung in like that.
I felt so moved and inspired, when all the cellmates figure out that Yong Gu is innocent, and then decide that they’ll help him clear his name at the retrial.
The way they coach him, day and night, grilling him with questions that he’s likely to be asked during the trial, is really touching. It’s just so selfless, the way they pour themselves into the common goal, of helping Yong Gu regain his freedom.
And, for a while, it even looks like they will succeed, with Yong Gu doing so well during the coaching sessions.
Which is why it’s so gutting to see everything get overturned, when the Police Commissioner (Jo Duk Hyun), whose daughter Yong Gu had allegedly killed, threatens Yong Gu into confessing his crime, or risk having Ye Seung suffer the same fate as his daughter.
Gah. That’s horrible.
But credit to Show, for framing the Police Commissioner as not being in his right mind, as a grieving father, than say, as a corrupt official who just wants to put innocent people in jail for the heck of it.
GUH. Of course Yong Gu would rather die, than risk Ye Seung’s safety in any way.
It’s just so absolutely gutting though, to know that he knowingly pleads guilty, and receives that death sentence, so that his daughter might live safely. Sob. 😭
The fact that Yong Gu’s execution day is on Ye Seung’s birthday feels especially like a cruel twist of fate.
That final birthday party is so poignant; full of smiles on the surface, but with so much heartbreak underneath.
And yet, in either form, it’s threaded through with so much love.
The love from the cellmates to Yong Gu, with all their scrawled messages on the back of his prison uniform, is so sweet to see.
And the love between Yong Gu and Ye Seung is so clear as well, from the way Ye Seung thanks Yong Gu for being her dad, and the way Yong Gu thanks her in return, for being his daughter.
GUH. And then there’s the goodbye, where they try to be brave, but then bawl in each other’s arms, when it gets too hard to actually let go.
That line, where Ye Seung begs Yong Gu to not go to a better place, and just live there in the prison for a long time, is so gutting. It tells me that she’s been told that this is the last time she’s going to see Yong Gu, because he’s going to a better place. SOB. Gurgle. It’s so hard. 😭
I’m relieved that Yong Gu’s execution happens off-screen, because I don’t think I could’ve handled it, if they’d chosen to show it to us.
The flash-forward to the present day trial, where adult Ye Seung is fighting for her father’s innocence, is much more palatable, to me.
It feels cathartic, though long overdue, when the judge pronounces Yong Gu innocent; finally, Yong Gu’s name is officially cleared of that terrible crime.
And, as Ye Seung sees that vision of the hot air balloon that she’d once ridden with Yong Gu, this feels like her finally letting Yong Gu go – not from her heart (never!), but into the freedom and liberty that he deserves. 🥲
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Poignant, heartwarming and bittersweet. Utterly and profoundly affecting.
FINAL GRADE: A+
WHERE TO WATCH:
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