“The Prison” is a ferociously effective genre film from Korea that feels like the kind of movie Hollywood will remake in its own image. But adding star power and the English language won’t necessarily improve things, as “The Prison” is brutally entertaining just the way it is.
Rae-Won Kim is You-gun Song, a cop thrown behind bars on charges of hit-and-run, among other crimes. He has a reputation for a hair-trigger temper — his nickname is The Grim Reaper — and he proves it on his first day, picking a fight with one of the local goons. All of this attracts the attention of the coolly philosophical Ik-Ho Jung (Suk-Kyu Han), the convict kingpin who runs this joint, including the prisoners, the guards and even the warden.
He moves Kim into his wing where his gang lives in relative luxury. They’re even let out to commit crimes whose profits are brought back and split among the warden and the prisoners. Kim and Jung respect each other for their skills and smarts, but there’s also an undercurrent of suspicion. Who, if anyone, is getting played here?
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Make a wrong move and you might get an eye gouged out or a hand amputated by a buzzsaw, or be tossed into an industrial metal crusher. If you’re wondering if “The Prison” is exceedingly violent, there’s your answer.
The film could be viewed as a commentary on Korean authority and corruption. But there’s no need to know anything about Korean politics to appreciate Kim and Han’s strong screen presence or director Na Hyun’s stark, no-nonsense sensibility.
Don’t wait for Hollywood to mess this one up.
In Korean with English subtitles
Exclusive: AMC Grapevine Mills
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Na Hyeon
Cast: Han Suk-Kyu, Kim Rae-on
Rated: Unrated (extreme violence, strong language)
Running time: 125 min.