Director: Lee Jang-hoon
Cast: Park Jung-min, Im Yoon-ah, Lee Soo-kyung, Lee Sung-min
2.5 out of 5 stars
Singapore: Streaming on Singtel TV and Starhub TV from 1 December 2021
Malaysia: Streaming on Astro, Media Prima from 1 December and Unifi TV from 18 December
Miracle: Letters To The President is director Lee Jang-hoon's second cinematic debut, but not quite his magnum opus.
The film is centred around a mathematical genius Jung Joon-kyung (Park Jung-min), who has a singular, life-long dream of building a train station in the countryside village that he lives in within the province of Gyeongsang-do.
Most of the villagers have to cross the train tracks to get to the neighbouring villages, which are frequented by passenger cars which follow a predictable schedule, but the danger lies in the freight trains which run sporadically. Walking on the track is an exercise of peril, as they could be killed if a train were to pass by.
Director Lee really takes his time building on the film's exposition (it's almost 2 hours long), giving insights into the lives of his main protagonist Joon-kyung and his older sister Bo-kyung (Lee Soo-kyung), who live with their father (Lee Sung-min).
Unfortunately, the result is a rather pedestrian movie that doesn't quite deliver, climactically or emotionally.
Granted, the sweeping aerial shots of the Gyeongsang-do province show off the impressively rustic landscapes of the Korean countryside, and the sets were curated down to the last detail with beeping arcade sprite consoles and VCR tapes.
But Jung-min's Joon-kyung character is neither compelling nor relatable, as he stumbles through life in a daze as a son of a single father with no friends in school, single-mindedly attempting to persuade the President of South Korea to build a train station in his village with his clumsily written letters in Gyeongsang satoori (dialect).
Perhaps what would have redeemed this nerdy character would be a repertoire of endearing idiosyncrasies unique to the personas of this stereotype (think Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory or even Forrest Gump).
The film instead spends more time introducing us to the romantic attempts of Ra-hee (Im Yoon-ah) to seduce the socially inept genius Joon-kyung with her aegyo (acting cute), which is unfortunate as the two don't demonstrate much on-screen chemistry, mostly as a result of director Lee's half-hearted attempt at '80s countryside decorum.
We also discover, although far too late and only into the last third of the movie, the motivations behind Joon-kyung's desperation to build a train station and the reason for his father's reticent behaviour towards his only son.
Veteran actor Lee Sung-min as Joon-kyung's austere and distant father was the most relatable thing in the movie, as he tries to balance his job as a train driver (which conflicts with his son's desire to build a train station) with his family but fails miserably to ingratiate himself with his son.
Miracle does eventually have an emotionally tear-jerking family moment between Lee and Park, especially for those that have been riven with loss and bereavement.
Yet, in spite of all its themes of courage, determination, relationships and family, the movie is unable to distill itself into a message that lands succinctly and impactfully, instead coming through as a long-winded and largely uneventful stroll in the park.
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