Miracle in Cell No. 7: Filipino Remake Review

After I’ve watched the Filipino remake of Miracle in Cell No. 7 this morning, people have been asking me if it was better than the original. The short answer is that I’ve actually avoided seeing the original Korean version despite the rave reviews because I am completely useless when it comes to dramatic movies, particularly those revolving around kids and families.

As a matter or fact, I’ve watched I am Sam four or five times and I’ve seen Magnifico even more times and I’ve never managed to keep my composure. Not once. The Miracle in Cell No. 7 remake was no exception. I used up all of the fastfood tissues I had by the film’s end. Good thing I had a lot because I needed it for my embarassing snot.

Synopsis: Joselito Gopez (Aga Muhlach) is a mentally challenged father whose life goal is to make his only daughter Yesha (Xia Vigor), happy. They live a simple life but this is shaken when Joselito is blamed for the death of the daughter of a high ranking official (Tirso Cruz III).

I must admit that at first, I was not completely sold on Aga Muhlach’s portrayal of a poor man who was mentally retarded. There were times when he nailed it and there were times that it was barely there. Towards the beginning, I felt like the happy moments looked awkward because aesthetically, Aga and Xia did not look poor. They also had excellent dictions for people who were born in the slums.

However, the story started to find its footing when Joselito was arrested and his prison life began. I felt like the chemistry between father and daughter were strongest when they were faced with the challenge of separation, and it really made Aga and Xia’s acting chope come out. In the confines of Cell No. 7 and surrounded by Joselito’s fellow inmates, their plight was magnified and made even more sentimental.

Despite my initial reservations about Aga’s performance, his portrayal of a father whose love for his daughter was absolute, had me sobbing and crying fir 60 percent of the movie. Joselito’s pureness got under my skin and into my heart. It broke me to pieces whenever the father and daughter had to part, and their last scene together just felt so raw. The emotions were so genuine it felt like each word was torn out of their chests.

I loved the supporting cast. But what can one expect when the likes of Joel Torre, Mon Confiado, Soliman Cruz, Jojit Lorenzo, and JC Castro are cast together? These guys had nothing to prove acting wise and there was no question they used their collective talents to portray their roles effectively.

I was especially impressed with JC Castro’s comedic timing. Bravo! What I liked was that when the lighter moments called for it, the cellmates completely delivered on the funnies but when the scenes called for dramatics, these actors held nothing back. Its called ensemble for a reason, they performed as a group and this group did their best without having to outshine one another to deliver a solid and memorable performance.

I loved how the story never strayed from its purpose. It was focused on Joselito and Yesha the whole time while opening and closing subplots like that of the parallel experiences of Prison Director Johnny (John Arcilla) and Secretary Yulo.

All in all, the characters were all relateable and rootable and even though some of the scenes were closer to fiction than reality (erhm, hot air balloon). Still, I was blown away by the amount of talent that made this remake work. Even Bela Padilla was given a time to shine with her small role.

Kudos to Viva Films and director Nuel C. Naval for making this film work despite the limitations of having to follow an original plot.

To enjoy this movie, the best advice I could give perhaps, is to view it as its own movie instead of a remake. Miracle in Cell No. 7 holds a different kind of magic. One that is unusual for the season but one that will leave a mark on one’s heart.