INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL PREMIERE
Miracle: Letters to the President
South Korea, 2021, 117’, Korean
Directed by: Lee Jang-hoon
Screenplay: Son Ju-yeon, Lee Jang-hoon
Photography (color): Kim Tae-soo
Art Direction: Kim Hee-jin
Editing: Park Gyeong-sook
Music: Kim Tae-seong
Producers: Lee Soon-gyu, Kim Gwang-su, Yook Gyeong-sam
Cast: Park Jeong-min (Jun-gyeong), Im Yoona (Ra-hee), Lee Seong-min (Tae-yoon), Lee Soo-kyung (Bo-gyeong)
Date of First Release in Territory: September 15th, 2021
Miracle: Letters to the President is set in the 1980s, in a small mountainous village in a lesser-developed region of central Korea. With no roads linking the village to the outside world, the inhabitants are quite literally cut off from civilization. Although there is a train track which traverses the area, there is no station, so the train simply passes through without stopping. Villagers who need to visit neighboring towns do so by walking the tracks until they reach the nearest train station, a trek which takes hours in each direction.
Jun-gyeong is a 17-year old boy who has genius-level abilities in mathematics, but who struggles with social interactions and other academic subjects. Like the other villagers, he regularly walks the tracks, completing a 5-hour round trip each weekday in order to attend school. But the walk is not only long, it’s dangerous, with tunnels and bridges that need to be crossed. Having witnessed terrible accidents himself, he devotes himself to the task of fixing this problem. The best solution, he believes, would be to build a train station at the edge of the village, so that villagers can board the train there and avoid the walk.
Jun-gyeong’s idea is warmly supported by his older sister Bo-gyeong, someone with whom he shares a particularly deep connection. But his father, a withdrawn, uncommunicative man who still seems haunted by the death of his wife years earlier, discourages his son. A train conductor himself, he knows well the bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of such a plan, and just the mention of it seems to upset him. Ultimately it is one of his classmates at school – a girl named Ra-hee from a rich family in a larger town – who gives him the strongest push, helping him maintain a letter campaign to the office of the president.
Although it has been fictionalized to some degree, Miracle: Letters to the President is based on a real-life story which is just as remarkable as the events depicted in the film. The character of Jun-gyeong too is based on a real person. Although his prodigious talent in math set him apart from other people, the film also shows that it was his generosity of spirit and deep connection to his hometown that may have been his most remarkable quality.
Miracle is the second film by director Lee Jang-hoon, who displayed an unusual talent for heartrending storytelling in his 2018 debut Be with You. In this film too he mixes humor and a sweet nostalgic tone with some moments that hit the viewer with considerable force. In previous decades, the melodrama genre used to be a mainstay of Korean cinema, but in today's industry it has been mostly relegated to the sidelines. In that sense, it has been encouraging to see the emergence of a director who can bring the genre to a new level.
The four leading actors at the center of this film also deserve much praise. Park Jeong-min (Deliver Us from Evil) has established himself as one of the most sought-after male actors of his generation, and in this film he disappears fully into the role of Jun-gyeong, giving it much depth (though it’s a bit disconcerting to see a 34-year old man take on the role of a 17-year old boy). K-pop star Im Yoona (formerly of Girls Generation, who also starred in the film Exit) once again demonstrates her onscreen charisma in the role of Ra-hee. The veteran Lee Seong-min, playing the father, gives a performance that initially seems too restrained, until it comes forth in the dramatic events of the final reel. But perhaps the most affecting performance is the actor who receives fourth billing: Lee Soo-kyung (The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale) as Jun-gyeong’s sister. These two siblings make the screen come alive in every one of their scenes, and it’s what viewers may remember most about this sad but uplifting film.
Born in 1973, Lee Jang-hoon originally majored in computer science, and did not enter the film industry until his 30s. After first working on an original screenplay that failed to come together, his producer asked him if there was any existing work which he might want to adapt into a film. Lee remembered reading the Japanese novel Be with You and suggested it to his producer, who was able to clear the rights. Released in March 2018, Lee’s debut film Be with You had its European premiere at the Far East Film Festival 20. His second film Miracle: Letters to the President was released in September 2021.
2018 – Be with You
2021 – Miracle: Letters to the President