Prison Playbook: Humanising the Monsters

Besides the deadpanned funniness which Je-hyeok is giving us, I do like how Prison un-demonises the criminals who are locked up. True, some of them clearly deserves no sympathies from us (or Je-hyeok), such as Gundal, who is a rapist, and is set up since get-go to be the typical annoying bully type. But the other criminals, even the one on death row, appear less monstrous and somehow… incongruous to the crime they committed that put them behind bars. I think the most memorable would be the death row prisoner and the meek halbae whom Je-hyeok met in his short stay in the detention center. Both of them do not fit the bill of blood thirsty killers: death row guy who gave his shampoo to Je-hyeok appears really like your friendly next door neighbour. We learn later from Joon-ho he is a hired assassin. And meek halbae who is pushed around by Gundal? He is imprisoned for stabbing someone to death in broad daylight. (almost like your OCN-ish psycho killer)

In contrast, the prison wardens are a pretty much corrupted lot in Prison. I also find it extremely funny to have Jung Woong-in play an eye rolling, no-nonsense and slightly pissy warden, when he appears to be more like a prisoner (yunno, those SCARY kinds who really need to be locked up, permanently), and gentle looking giant, Choi Moo-sung, whom I still can’t forget as Teak’s dad (in Answer me, 1988) as a hardcore, life-sentenced prisoner. I suppose Je-hyeok, with his innocent fresh-eyed outlook on life, also sees them as people, rather than as monsters. Thus, he goes out to help criminals like Beobja, whom we all know as being so intimately familiar with prisons and detention centers, he probably isn’t a typical “nice guy”. Je-hyeok’s perspective, however, do not extend to his friend, Joon-ho or Joon-ho’s colleagues. Maybe it’s work fatigue, or the necessity of their jobs, but the wardens have successfully compartmentalised the prisoners into sub-humans.

Of course, the prison system aids in dehumanising the prisoners. Instead of being given names, they are issued impersonal numbers. And being in a slightly elevated position of power corrupts the wardens. They are in position to dish out favours, and can play favoritism. Je-hyeok with his superstar status naturally attracts attention from the wardens, and they either fawn over him and give him loads of extras or they make use of him for their ends. Both situations do not help Je-hyeok, who still had to mingle with the rest of the prisoners. And I take my hat off him that despite being given loads of baits, he refuses to bite, preferring not to be singled out, one way or another.

But…his ailing shoulder may bear the brunt of his decision.

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