K-Movie Review: Miracle: Letters to the President (2021)

I’ve been on a Korean movie marathon the past few days and this time, I decided to give ‘Miracle: Letters to the President’ a watch. I’ve seen many movies and dramas over the years and have encountered a few that have left a profound and rare impact on me; I’m glad to say that I can happily add this movie to that list. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you will know that I’m not the biggest endorser of movies and dramas unless the project itself has earned it and is deserving of that review. So with that being said, please – if you haven’t already, watch ‘Miracle: Letters to the President.’

‘Miracle: Letters to the President’ is set in the 1980’s and follows the story of Jung Joon-kyeong (Park Jung-min) who’s determined to get a train station built in his hometown located in the remote area of North Gyeongsang Province. Traveling to and from the village takes at least 2 hours by foot and there’s always the concern of danger and death as residents walk along the train tracks. Whether it’s writing letters to the president or building the train station himself, Joon-kyeong is set on making the train station happen. Along the way, he receives the support and assistance of his girlfriend, Song Ra-hee (Im Yoon-Ah), his older sister Bo-kyeong (Lee Soo-kyeong), and additional residents from the village.

Upon reading the synopsis, I thought the movie was going to be more romantic-based and focus on Joon-kyeong and Ra-hee’s relationship. I thought the movie was going to center around their relationship and Ra-hee’s role as a source of inspiration and encouragement for Joon-kyeong to establish the train station in his remote hometown. While the movie did initially emphasize on their relationship in the first half of the movie, the love story was placed in the back burner as it transitioned to focusing on the familial relationships and conflicts between Joon-kyeong, his father, and his sister in the second half. And this change in direction is also why I loved the movie so much.

Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed watching Ra-hee and Joon-kyeong bond and express their feelings for each other in their very own special ways. And Ra-hee did inspire Joon-kyeong to be bold and brave and proactive in accomplishing his dreams of building a train station. She taught him how to write correctly so that they could write letters to the President together and she was there by his side to support him. Since her dad was a Congressman, she used her connections to get the both of them awesome opportunities to study in Seoul. She threw out different ideas as to how to get the train station built and she did what she could to support Joon-kyeong. However, we learned later on that there was more to Joon-kyeong’s decision to stay behind in his remote hometown and to not move elsewhere. There were ties to his family dating back to his childhood days in that hometown that he just couldn’t let go of.

I was a bit confused as to why Joon-kyeong was so attached to his hometown as I was watching the movie and I even jumped a little too early in thinking that this movie would have been better if the movie established those reasons early on. You see him coming up with ideas to help his fellow village residents out with the train tracks and then you witness them all work together as a community to build the train station. So while it was heart-warming to watch, I was also still a bit puzzled as to why Joon-kyeong wouldn’t leave his hometown when he had a few great opportunities to study abroad or to advance his studies in Seoul. Whether it was Ra-hee or his teacher, they believed in him and knew just how intelligent and brilliant he was and encouraged him to go out of his comfort zone. But Joon-kyeong didn’t want to leave and I myself was confused as to why he didn’t want to either.

But then the second half of the movie shifted and showcased to us why 1) Joon-kyeong was determined to build the train station in his hometown and 2) why he couldn’t leave the village. It all came down to his older sister Bo-kyeong who unfortunately passed away when he was younger after she protected him from getting run over by a passing train. Though the two were safe from the train, she fell over the bridge in the process of grabbing for Joon-kyeong’s trophy that he had won from a math competition earlier that day at school. Fast forward to the present and Joon-kyeong blamed himself for the tragic death of his older sister. He was traumatized from the incident, he was incapable of moving on, and he also was unable to let go of his sister. He hallucinated his sister and imagined as if she was still alive living with him. The movie didn’t reveal this mind-blowing fact until the second half of the movie so it all started to make sense then. It answered my questions of why Bo-kyeong still looked exactly the same 6 years later while Joon-kyeong looked much older. It’s because she never grew up. She didn’t have the chance to. In Joon-kyeong’s mind, Bo-kyeong will always be his older sister.

And there’s a scene in the movie where Joon-kyeong celebrates his birthday with Bo-kyeong and she notes how he’s older than she is. He’s surpassed her in terms of age, but to Joon-kyeong, he will always be Bo-kyeong’s younger brother. That part killed me inside. But it was also during that scene when Bo-kyeong questioned how much longer she could stay with Joon-kyeong. She’s thought of leaving him, but she was also waiting for the day that he’ll able to let her go and move forward to the next chapter in his life.. for the day that he’ll be ready to bid farewell with her and also still miss her everyday. Ugh, that moment and conversation was so heart-breaking and I just felt so much for both siblings. Joon-kyeong knows he’s need to move forward and say goodbye to his sister, but he just can’t. He doesn’t have the courage to do so and he misses his sister too much.

And it was this conflicting situation for Joon-kyeong that I loved so much about the movie: the back-and-forth that he felt about everything and the hesitance to move away from the village. The movie did a phenomenal job of showing Joon-kyeong’s grief and the reality that one faces when you lose someone so dearly to you. Everyone grieves differently (as we will see later on with Joon-kyeong’s Dad’s side of the story) and for Joon-kyeong, this was his way of grieving. He imagined a life where his older sister was still alive and well and where he continued to live with her in his hometown. He didn’t want to go anywhere. But what also made Joon-kyeong’s story so heartbreaking was also the guilt he faced and the blame he put on himself for his sister’s death. He felt as though he was the reason as to why she died which is why he was incapable of going forward. So Joon-kyeong’s story is so beautiful but painful because he’s grieving in his own ways and he misses his sister so much and he’s put his life on pause due to the childhood trauma that he faced. He understands that life goes on and he feels as if his father has certainly moved on from the tragic incident, but he can’t. He can’t move on.

But as we will see later on in the movie, Joon-kyeong eventually does begin to heal from both the grieving and from the trauma. In the beginning of the movie, there were little scenes sprinkled throughout that showed the strained and difficult father-son relationship between Joon-kyeong and his dad (Lee Sung-min). They didn’t talk much, they didn’t greet each other, and there was a dinner scene where Dad questioned when Joon-kyeong would move out of the town. He urged his son to come to his senses and to grow up and basically pressured him to move on with his life. But Joon-kyeong had no intentions of doing so and you could understood from that scene why the two weren’t as close and didn’t get along. Joon-kyeong wanted something different for himself than his dad and they couldn’t seem to get on the same page. Their relationship was affected by the deaths of both Bo-kyeong as well as Joon-kyeong’s Mom and the silence regrets they both felt about the tragedies kept them from being honest with each other. That’s why the two became distant after so many years.

But all of this changed towards the end of the movie when Dad finally learned the truth as to why Joon-kyeong built the train station and Dad expressed his honest emotions to his son. Dad too was facing extreme guilt of his own as he was the operator of the train that ended up leading to the death of his daughter. And the hardest part of it all was the fact that Bo-kyeong invited Dad to attend the math competition that day, but Dad refused because he decided to work instead. His loyalty to his job cost him twice in his life: the death of his wife and then eventually the death of his daughter. And Dad learned his lesson by not repeating the same mistake with Joon-kyeong. After revealing the truth to his son, the two were able to finally relieve all the pain and weight that were heavy in their hearts and finally understood how the other person was feeling. The movie also came full circle when Dad acknowledged the train station that Joon-kyeong built as a stop and picked up his son to a compete in a life-changing exam where Joon-kyeong would eventually place first.

BUTTTT the tears didn’t end there as there were two other scenes that had me bawling: Joon-kyeong weeping upon learning that he had finished in first place in the math competition because that meant he would have to leave his home to study abroad and bid farewell with his sister. And then the final scene where Joon-kyeong did exactly that as he board the train with Bo-kyeong and did what Bo-kyeong wished he would one day be able to do which was smile at her and tell her that he had to leave. While on the train heading to the airport, Joon-kyeong tried his best to smile, but he couldn’t hold back the tears. He bid farewell with Bo-kyeong and told her that he had to leave and just like that, Bo-kyeong felt at peace with going. She knew that her brother was doing much better and would be alright by himself. Bo-kyeong will always be in Joon-kyeong’s heart.

There were just so many magical and heartfelt moments in this movie especially with its central focus on parental and familial relationships. I love watching movies and dramas surrounding these 2 themes and it makes me so emotional because it causes me to pause and reflect on my relationship with my parents. I’ve cried plenty of times whether it was with ‘Go Back Couple’ or ‘Record of Youth’ and then now this movie. This movie just kept on delivering so phenomenally on all facets and in many ways. This movie wasn’t just about the bad, the good, and the ugly of sibling love and familial relationships. This movie wasn’t just about the damaged and broken relationship between a father and his son who desperately want to heal from their pain. This movie was also about losing a loved one and the challenges and struggles that comes with that. This movie was about witnessing others lose loved ones and being able to empathize with them on the difficulty and tragedy of it all.

This movie was also about chasing your dreams and goals and being in control of your life. It was about moving forward in your life while also still being able to miss the people and memories that impacted you. It was about being okay with moving forward even when you don’t think you’re ready or will ever be ready to do so. Because the hard truth is.. sometimes, you won’t be ready. Sometimes, you won’t want to go out of your comfort zone. But sometimes you just have to do it and you jump. There will never be a right timing for everything. Sometimes, life is about facing your biggest fears and taking the opportunities that are granted to you and rolling with the punches. ‘Miracle: Letters to the President’ highlighted all of these lessons and messages throughout its 2 hour run. It did so beautifully by shining the light on Joon-kyeong’s character, but also allowing Dad and Bo-kyeong to have just as impactful of a role.

The movie was also as heavy and impactful as it was thanks to our cast members. We all know just how brilliant and great of an actor Park Jung-min is. I’ve always been a fan of his (ever since ‘Bleak Night’ in 2011) and he comes through once again in this movie. What also helps is when you pair up a good actor like him with another great actor like Lee Sung-min who just completely excelled in the role as Dad in this movie. He was amazing in the scene where he confessed to Joon-kyeong how he felt about losing Mom and Bo-kyeong, but there were also quieter moments in the movie such as the dinner scene with Joon-kyeong that spoke volumes about his character. That dinner scene between Joon-kyeong and Dad felt so heavy even though it was literally just a still camera filming the two eating together with minimal dialogue and long silences. That scene is a great example of what happens when you have two amazing actors who do amazing things together on the screen: they do so much without having to say much and they can pull off the weight and expectations of their characters as well as the emotional punches when it’s absolutely needed.

I also want to give credit to child actor, Kim Kang-hoon (When the Camellia Blooms, Racket Boys), who played the younger version of Joon-kyeong. This little kid has been everywhere and it’s also funny because he reunited with Lee Sung-min once again in currently airing drama ‘Reborn Rich.’ Kim Kang-hoon is so talented especially at his age and the scene in this movie where he bursted into tears upon seeing his sister after the incident made me cry so much. He was so so good (as he always is) and I appreciate that his childhood section in the movie showed us how his relationship with his dad became broken after his sister’s death.

Moving onto our female actresses, Lee Soo-kyung was brilliant as the sister and she really delivered in order for the movie to be as amazing as it was. Even though the main character of the movie was Joon-kyeong, I’d argued that Bo-kyeong was the moving force that propelled the movie to progress and go forward. To add onto that, you then needed Lee Soo-kyung to be able to perform as Bo-kyeong in which she successfully did. She moved the needles and she was effective and and pulled off the role of Bo-kyeong so well.

Yoon-Ah’s role as Joon-kyeong’s girlfriend, Ra-hee, sort of disappeared in the second half of the movie as the movie shifted its focus to the family storyline. I don’t blame the movie for making such a move and I actually liked that it pivoted in that direction. In the second half, it felt as if the movie forgot about the love line between Ra-hee and Joon-kyeong as evident when the movie finally brought her back for the final scene after showing us a majority of Joon-kyeong and his family. The movie pulled these emotional punches with all the family stuff and then it finally gave us an update on Joon-kyeong and Ra-hee’s relationship.

All in all, ‘Miracle: Letters to the President’ was a miracle watch. The title and synopsis of the movie completely threw me off as I was expecting the president to get back to Joon-kyeong’s letter and respond to his requests in building a train station (that was so naïve of me haha). Instead, the movie threw me in for an emotional loop by inserting Bo-kyeong and Dad’s roles as well as illustrating the power in never giving up on one’s dreams and goals. Joon-kyeong was adamant and determined to establish the train station because he saw and witnessed the pain and damage that it caused not only his family but other residents who too loss loved ones as a result. I really had no idea as to what to expect or what direction the movie was going to go in, but I’m glad to say that the movie moved me in more ways than one and really delivered in all parts and facets. I don’t always feel strongly about movies and dramas, but ‘Miracle: Letters to the President’ is a complete exception to that (deservingly so). If you have the time, please give this movie a watch. Just make sure you have a box of tissues stationed right next to you as you watch it. I know I’m definitely going to need it the next time I re-watch this movie.

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