Admit it: Koreans know how to ~*romanticize*~ anything and everyone, even prisoners. After watching so many legal dramas, I can't deny that at one point, it crossed my mind that I can survive prison life if it was in the Land of Morning Calm. But that's NOT something I actually want the law of attraction to pull, especially with the crazy prison life plots I've seen.
Of course, there's also the attraction and entertainment value of people getting second chances or finding redemption. K-drama and movie fans love good character development, and this genre serves just that! So, if you find yourself wanting action-packed or moving stories, give these prison life series or films a try.
K-dramas and movies about prison life
1. Prison Playbook (2017)
IMO, this is the best one yet, especially if you're a fan of the Reply or Hospital Playlist series. It's one of the dramas I thought I will drop but when I became obsessed with it! The key was just to give it another chance (just like reformed prisoners, I guess!). The story revolves around Kim Jae Hyuk, a famous baseball player played by Squid Game and Money Heist: Korea's Park Hae Soo. Unlike his character in those Netflix Originals, he plays a very timid and naïve man here who was arrested for using excessive force. He did so because his sister was sexually assaulted, and he got sentenced to a year in prison. He's popular among the security guards and inmates, and he gets to know a lot of them, especially his cellmates. It's a beautiful slice-of-life drama that kills you with dark humor and hits you in the feels right when you least expect it.
2. Big Mouth (2022)
This Disney+ Original is a better choice if you love Korean dramas that just mess with your head and keep you guessing until the end. If there ever was a prince of legal or crime dramas, it would be Lee Jong Suk, who starred in hits of a similar genre like While You Were Sleeping and W: Two Worlds. Here, he plays a lawyer named Park Chang Ho. Nicknamed "Big Mouth," he is all-talk but his wins in court are rare. His entire life changes when he becomes involved in a special case and ends up being mistaken as a genius swindler hiding behind the name "Big Mouse." Chang Ho gets imprisoned and meets all sorts of dangers in his life. He is forced to toughen up and find ways to survive with his wife Go Mi Ho (Girls' Generation's Yoona) as one of his driving forces and support.
3. Doctor Prisoner (2019)
Years before he was the One Dollar Lawyer, Nam Goong Min was the Doctor Prisoner. If you've watched any of his dramas, you'll know that his characters are always admirable and impressive. Here, he was the compassionate ace of the emergency care center of a university hospital. Unfortunately, he gets involved in a medical malpractice incident where his medical license gets suspended. The situation forces him to get an alternative certificate and apply for work in a prison. He devises a plan to ally with incarcerated business tycoons, celebrities, and other bigshots. This way, he can ultimately get revenge against the hospital that stripped him of his license.
4. One Ordinary Day (2021)
An angelic face like that of Kim Soo Hyun seems like it doesn't belong in dark genres. But last year, he starred in the remake of the BBC drama Criminal Justice. He played Kim Hyun Soo, an average university student. One ordinary day, he gets accused of murder and his life spirals down from there. Cha Seung Won from Our Blues, Sink Hole, and Cheer Up, Mr. Lee plays Hyun Soo's lawyer, Shin Joong Han. He doesn't have flashy credentials, but he commits to helping Kim navigate the cruel criminal justice system.
5. Innocent Defendant (2017)
Prosecutor Park Jung Woo is played by Ji Sung (from Doctor John and Kill Me, Heal Me). He's a righteous man of justice working in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office. Shortly after getting introduced to his character, you'll see him waking up in prison with temporary amnesia and not knowing why he's convicted and on death row. Of course, he does everything in his power to clear his name and escape an untimely demise. And the prime suspect? You're going to love/loathe him if you couldn't get enough of him in Little Women and The Penthouse: It's Uhm Ki Joon. And he doesn't play just one character here—he plays twins! Get ready for double the stress if you're going to watch this.
6. Two Zero Three Seven (2022)
At the center of the story is 19-year-old Yoon Young, played by ex-Produce 48 competitor Hong Ye Ji. At such a young age, she gets jailed for killing her deaf mother's co-worker who raped her. In prison, her identity becomes her inmate number, 2037, and she encounters more mature inmates. These are played by more veteran actresses including Shin Eun Jung, Kim Ji Young, and Hwang Seok Jeong (from Ghost Doctor, Because This is My First Life, and She Was Pretty). It also stars one of the actresses in Running Man, Jeon Seo Min. As if the stress of her circumstances wasn't enough, she also learns that she's pregnant and starts refusing to meet her mom. Fortunately, her cellmates take care of her and she learns more about their unique stories in this heartwarming movie.
7. A Violent Prosecutor (2016)
Another public official is at the heart of this movie. He is played by action box office king Hwang Jung Min (from Deliver Us From Evil and Veteran). After developing a reputation for hunting down criminals without regard for their human rights, he gets framed for murder and finds himself in jail. As he suffers the conviction, he gets the help of a con artist (Gang Dong Won from Peninsula) to try and discover the real killer.
8. The Prison (2017)
Do you know Dr. Romantic? Well, the main character that Han Suk Kyu plays is far from romantic here. As a *king* among the inmates, he makes other prisoners obey his commands and bow before him. In the prison then comes a skilled and short-tempered ex-police officer played by Kim Rae Won (from Doctors and Crazy Romance). He becomes part of the prison's crew who goes out at night to commit perfect crimes.
9. Miracle In Cell No. 7 (2013)
It's one of the works that turned many people into Korean drama fans. Who could forget Ryu Seung Ryong in his epic role here as the mentally challenged dad who gets accused of murdering a child? TBH, it was hard for me to take him seriously in Kingdom at first, but he's just a damn good actor that can play polar opposites like pure, innocent men and psychotic villains. The touching story follows his life in prison, his attempts to be with his cherished daughter, and bits of the trial in which attempts to get his charges cleared are made.
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