Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Saturday, April 22, time 10.10 PM


By date


By title


The Prison

The runaway box office success of A Violent Prosecutor in early 2016 spoke to the dramatic potential of prison movies. One year later, The Prison took another crack at the genre, and it seems to have paid off. Long time screenwriter Na Hyun’s directorial debut is darker and more claustrophobic than many of its predecessors, and the detailed way in which it reveals the intricate power structures within a notorious high-security prison make for engaging viewing. The general public has also responded well to the film, turning it into a decent-sized hit.

A brief prologue depicts the carrying out of an unusual crime. The Chief Financial Officer of a large conglomerate suspected of tax evasion is in a hotel room, on the day before he is to be summoned by prosecutors. Just then a group of men walk into his room, subdue him, and inject a lethal dose of drugs into his bloodstream. Careful not to leave any fingerprints or other traces of their presence, they make it look like he overdosed by accident. It’s what happens next that is unexpected: the men return to their vehicle, make their getaway, and then drive through the gates of a prison. Inside, they change back into their prison uniforms and go back into their cells. It’s a perfect crime, virtually untraceable. Even if one were to catch the criminals, they are already in jail.
Such an operation cannot be orchestrated by just anyone, and sure enough, within the prison there is a man whose power and connections are extraordinary. Jung Ik-ho (Han Suk-kyu, The Royal Tailor) is a long-term prisoner who not only exerts absolute control over the jail in which he lives, but through a combination of bribes and intimidation, maintains a vast network into the outside world. With the Warden in his pocket, he is able to do pretty much whatever he wants, and in some ways being in jail is an advantage to him.
Into this harsh environment arrives Yu-gon (Kim Rae-won, Gangnam Blues), a former police lieutenant who at one time was famous for his stubborn pursuit of criminals at all costs. After a hit and run accident, which he then tried to cover up with bribes and destruction of evidence, Yu-gon finds himself on the other end of the criminal justice system. His arrival at the prison is greeted with glee by some of the inmates who ended up there because of him. But Yu-gon is no dupe, and their plans for revenge are not so easily realized. When it becomes clear that there is a new, unusually ruthless fighter in the prison, Ik-ho takes notice.

The Prison has a number of strengths to distinguish it, not the least of which is its acting. Han Suk-kyu has a long career stretching back to the 1990s (Shiri, Christmas in August), when he was arguably the most popular actor working in the industry. His experience shows through in a role like this, where he projects a menacing power even in the scenes where he chooses not to use it. Kim Rae-won too is convincing as someone whose obsessive psychological drive is his greatest weapon. But most of all, this film is worth watching for the detailed way in which it portrays the space and society of the prison, and its smooth plot mechanics that reveal what happens when this finely orchestrated system finally comes crashing down.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: 
Na Hyun
Running time: 




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