Miracle On 1st Street

  • 2007
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy, Drama

Korean director Yun Je-gyun's comedy-melodrama, about the eccentric residents of a picturesque slum high in the hills surrounding Seoul and the gangsters determined to get them out to make way for pricey apartment towers, has surprising bite when it gets serious about the plight of collateral damage in the forward march of progress. Widowed boxer Myeonho...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Korean director Yun Je-gyun's comedy-melodrama, about the eccentric residents of a picturesque slum high in the hills surrounding Seoul and the gangsters determined to get them out to make way for pricey apartment towers, has surprising bite when it gets serious about the plight of collateral damage in the forward march of progress.

Widowed boxer Myeonho Son just wants to make his little girl, Myeongnan (Ha Ji-won), proud. But his stubborn pride is his downfall when he refuses to quit during a fight with a younger, stronger opponent; he winds up beaten into permanent brain damage and disability.

Fifteen years later, teenage Myeongnan cares for her father and younger brother, Deokgu, in their rundown home in Pine Village, a community so impoverished they have a communal outdoor toilet and get their water from a pipe in the street. Myeongnan dreams of being a boxer like her father and is training with his old coach, Mr. Lee (Joo Hyun), while working on a loading dock to support her family. Her closest friend, Seonju, is trying to escape her family's poverty by taking classes in "Network Marketing" — a fancy gloss on classic Ponzi schemes — and ignores the good-hearted vending-machine owner who loves her. Another neighbor, an elderly man with cancer, is caring for the two young grandchildren whose parents abandoned them. Into this close-knit enclave comes slick Pilje Cho (Im Chang-jung), whose ruthless gangster boss, Mr. Kim, is counting on him to clear everyone out so he can develop a modern apartment complex on the site. He doesn't care whether Pilje buys them out or beats them out — he just has to do it quickly. Pilje, who aspires to be more than a common thug — he tells his family he's in the construction business to spare them shame — would prefer the former. He moves into a trailer on Pine Village's First Street — pretty much its only street — but when he gets to work he finds the villagers stubbornly reluctant to leave their homes. And the longer he lives among them, the less enthusiastic he is about his job, especially as he gets to know the strong-willed Myeongnan.

The film's tone takes some getting used to: It switches between light comedy and serious melodrama with disorienting speed. It's hard to laugh at the Pine Villagers' foibles after you've seen weeping children beaten by heartless shopkeepers and bullies, Mr. Lee urging Myeonho to commit suicide rather than continue to burden his daughter, or an elderly woman drench herself with gasoline and light a match after she's thrown out of her ramshackle house. But it has considerable charm, much of it invested in young actress Ha Ji-won. (In Korean, with subtitles)

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Korean director Yun Je-gyun's comedy-melodrama, about the eccentric residents of a picturesque slum high in the hills surrounding Seoul and the gangsters determined to get them out to make way for pricey apartment towers, has surprising bite when it gets s… (more)

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