Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Prison: Hard Time in Korea
recidivism rate for this prison is darn near 100%, especially if you are
fortunate enough to be quartered in Jung Ik-ho’s block. His men start
re-offending almost right away, but their incarceration gives them an airtight
alibi. It is a heck of a place for a disgraced cop to serve his sentence, but
he happens to have a particular set of skills that will be of use to Jung in Na
Hyun’s simply-titled The Prison (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
lot of his fellow prisoners are here because of Song Yoo-gun, awkwardly including
the top dog of his prison cell. He will take some harsh beatings, but he will
quickly develop a survival strategy. It immediately becomes apparent the
corrupt warden is not really running the show here. Jung is. He and his men
live well in their cell block, where they plot outside jobs to keep the dirty
money flowing. By interceding in situations where none of Jung’s other men are
crazier enough to act, Song ingratiates himself with the non-aligned gangster.
In fact, he quickly becomes one of Jung’s favorites, but he also has a secret
you can probably guess.
who are familiar with the Well Go USA catalog might wonder if they are starting
to repeat themselves, since Erik Matti excellent thriller On the Job starts with a similar premise, but Na Hyun takes it in a
very different direction. Like just about every recent Korean thriller, Prison is preoccupied with issues of
governmental corruption. Granted, Song has a dramatic backstory motivating him,
but unlike Matti’s film, there is absolutely no attention given to the home
front. Frankly, there is not a single woman to be seen throughout the film and
only one is briefly heard over the phone (so some things about prison life are
still a bummer).
the other hand, there is plenty of cartilage-crunching action. Previously best known
as the screenwriter of crowd-pleasers like Forever
the Moment, Na Hyun gets his money’s worth with his directorial debut,
going big with a truly explosive climax. The two lead antagonists also hold up
their end, generating all kinds of hardboiled heat. Frankly, it is great fun
watching the hateful-yet-respectful chemistry that develops between Kim (Gangnam Blues) Rae-won and Han (Forbidden Quest) Suk-kyu as Song and
Jung, respectively. It is also great fun to watch Lee (Inside Men) Kyoung-young, a character actor who seems to specialize
in crooked politicians, do his thing as correctional department head Bae (who
ironically happens to be somewhat honest this time around, but is still unrepentantly
There is no question The Prison can hang with Inside
Men and the most obvious comp film, A Violent Prosecutor, but in many ways, it is grittier and less sentimental. At
the risk of sounding fannish, it is exactly the kind of film that reminds us
why we dig Korean action movies and thrillers. Recommended with enthusiasm, The Prison opens this Friday (3/31) in
New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Prison movies