AI Fame Rush
ott & movie

The Prison: A Look-Back at 2017 Ganwar Movie 


The Prison: A Look-Back at 2017 Ganwar Movie 

Share this article
media desktop vr escape room the prison 0 2023 8 15 t 7 18 19

The era of 2015-16 of the Korean Film Industry makes us believe that for a film to get a go-ahead signal, the quality of the people in power must be misusing their status. There are names like Veteran, Inside Men, The King, A Violent Prosecutor, Master, Veteran the list goes on.

However, despite the repetition of the same theme, all of these aforementioned movies have done good business. Some of these movies present the tales of corruption wrapped in a thriller, crime caper and actions. The prison released in 2017 can be bracketed in the same category, at least on paper. After its theatrical release, “The Prison” was compared with “A Violent Prosecutor”, a 2016 Korean prison-set movie.


images original

Contrary to speculation, the movie came out as a shocker for a different story. Nah Hyeon, who penned the likes of My Way and Spin Kick, wrote the script for The Prison and made his direction debut with this movie.  The 1995 setting created a zippy ambiance in contrast with other recent productions. Interestingly, the year played no important role in the story, except being mentioned at the beginning. The era was created with 90’s style beer bottles and absence of smartphones

Cast & Crew


Hyeon decided to go with a veteran cast, with the likes of Kim Rae-won, who appeared last on the big screen in 2014’s Gangnam Blues. Kim played the role of a new inmate introduced as a former cop. The hot-tempered man, who was taken out of the prison and still tied to a rope, was trying to hit an inmate hard who was staring at him. His introduction to inmate life seemed to be dragging the movie to a trodden territory and just like Hwang Jeong-mine’s role in A Violent Prosecutor, he immediately found himself on the receiving end of inhuman treatment from those he put away in his former life.

However, Hyeon successfully put a lid on his intentions during the introductory action in the Prison, which made it stand apart from A Violent Prosecutor, taking a big gamble of dropping little-to-no information for the audience about the reason for Rae-won’s imprisonment.

Finally, Rae-won ended up coming in the way of the most powerful man inside the prison, who, according to other inmates, had the warden dancing to his tune. Han Seok-kyu, who played the role of the prisoner, was seen in many of the 90’s Korean movies considered the early classics of the Korean movie wave, from Jang Yoon-hyeon’s gory murder to Lee Chang-dong’s 97 debut with the gangster plot Green Fish.

Seok-kyu was also a part of Shiri, a movie that invited global attention to the Korean film industry. After his appearance in Ryoon Sung-wan’s 2013 action thriller The Berlin File, which was nauseatingly packed with cringe-worthy dialogue in English, he proved his acting mettle in The Prison once more and delivered a believable performance as the intimidating top dog.

Rae-won finally lands under Seok-kyu wing and learns that the man is the most powerful inmate and also the brain behind many unexplained murders on the outside. Inspired by Erik Matti’s On the Job Seok-kyu developed a well-oiled machine that got the warden going for a meet with the ex-inmate on the outside who named the target, Seok-kyu and Co. being informed inside about the development. A group of inmates was tasked with the assassination, before returning to prison, without leaving any evidence of the murder that could lead to the investigation team reaching them.

As Rae-won got increasingly involved with Seok-kyu and his gang in the prison, Hyeon was seen in many flashback scenes, giving glimpses of Rae-won’s life outside and explaining why Rae-won was thrown behind the bars. Though neither of the prisoners, who are evidently on a mission, as well as Rae-won’s reveal, are not shocking, the movie successfully tells the tale with no nonsense approach.



Hyeon’s debut project looks like portraying the era with subtleties in multiple ways. Despite its comparison with contemporary productions, the movie deserves its seat next to some prominent gangster productions like Yoo Ha’s neo-noir movie A Dirty Carnival (2006) and Seung-uk’s Kilimanjaro (2000). Aside from the not-so-subtle swatting at those in power, a recurring idea that can put The Prisoner on the same ground of a few recent productions, Hyeon’s tale packs in more brawls and beats as much as possible. Though set within the cage, the setting never feels suffocating. In fact, it feels unbelievable that a surprising amount of action takes place within 125 minutes of the movie’s runtime. 

Building the tempo from Raw-won’s fights with other inmates to a robbery throwing some unprecedented MMA takedowns to chaotic group fights with choppers and steel bars, The Prison never feels like a movie confined to a cage. A movie depicting the raw and riveting styles of Korean scuffling, a staple character in the movies from the 00’s, is a welcome effort, making it evident about the presence of a dedicated martial arts team behind every action to make it look like a real fight.

Besides the fists and kicks, Hyeon is in no mood to give up violence either. An early remark about the last gang leader trying to topple Seok-kyu from his alter had his eyeballs gouged out and consumed in front of his face is a testimony to his brutality, when another gang leader tries a coup against him mid-way in the movie. The debutant director deserves credit for such spine-chilling ambiance, especially when there is no fighting at all, which may evoke our memories of the chainsaw-in-the-shower scene in Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Though nothing particularly graphic was presented onscreen, careful editing and frightful sound effects add to the gruesome actions.



Like Inside Man, Rae-won and Seiok-kyu have been supported by a fantastic ensemble in The Prison. The movie is a testosterone-filled action film without any single female cast, except in the first 5 minutes when one makes an appearance for only nearly 60 seconds. Lee Kyeong-yeong played the character of a presidential candidate in Inside Men. In The Prison, he heads the Korean prison system and delivers an extremely tense moment when he recognizes Seok-kyou as he was from a prison that Kyeong used to run, and starts taunting him to bow to the ground. Jung Woong-in, whose last movie was Veteran, effortlessly got under the skin of the character of a prison warden who’s conflicts with Seok-kyu soon finds him in over his head. Sin Seogn-rok, who was first seen in 2016’s Age of Shadows, also deserves applause for his acting as the rival gang leader who wants to get the knockout of Seok-kyu.

An air of doubt heavily hung around The Prison’s success due to its strong similarities with A Violent Prosecutor. However, those similarities were very much an on-surface thing due to the setting but once the time passes by, the differences become evident, with one being a blood-drenched gangster movie and other a crime caper. Audiences loved the Prison for its entertaining quotient as a violent revenge drama. Hyeon’s directorial style is unpretentiously refreshing and carries it with his unapologetic attitude of what many feminists will consider a brazen show of toxic masculinity. However, without any female character in the movie, no slice of violence was unleashed upon women; rather the movie was also about gang rivalry.

Wrapping Up

the prison 2017 review

The Prison was released at a time when the OTT platform was in its embryonic stage. Then a pandemic happened a few years later and Korean dramas became household names. From romance to thriller to action-packed movies, Korean dramas are favourites with the audiences for compelling scripts and convincing presentation. Even Hollywood movies lag behind them in texture, tone and treatment. Maybe, The Prison and the likes set the tone back in 2017.

Summary: A troubled ex-police officer serves jail sentence for a hit-and-run case. While being in prison, he discovers that an inmate runs a crime syndicate in the penitentiary. The criminal mastermind is the real BOSS in the prison.