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Prison Playbook: A Review of the Best Redemption and Prison Story Since Shawshank

LJ Milan is a fan of movies since he was a kid. He loves them all, no matter the genre. Sometimes he just won't shut up about them.

I just love a good prison tv show or movie. Or as some would say, stories that are set in prison I watched everything from Oz to Shawshank Redemption. And still, I'm more inclined towards human drama, rather than action. Don't get me wrong I'll watch them too, and I will like them, it's just I prefer a good old fashioned human drama story when it comes to prison stories. This one was just what the doctor ordered.



Prison Playbook is a 2017 Korean Drama, created by Lee Wo-Jung and directed by Shin Won-ho and staring Park Hae-soo, Jung Kyung-ho, Choi Moo-sung, Park Ho-san, Jing Min-sung, Jung Woong-in. It was filmed for tvN and distributed worldwide by Netflix.

This K drama follows Kim Je-Hyuk, a baseball pitcher on the verge of signing a contract with the MLB team. Unfortunately, he beats up a guy who tried to rape his sister. Everybody thought that he will escape prison by self-defense or defense of others, but as life would have it, he was made an example off. He gets sentenced to one year in prison. And that's where the story starts.

About Creators

This drama is a collaboration between creator Lee Woo-Jung and director Shin Won-ho. And it's their fourth collaboration to date. This drama is a big departure for the duo, it's more of a black comedy contrary to romantic comedies they did so far.

Their first three shows were ultra, mega-popular dramas: Reply 1997, Reply 1994 and Reply 1988.


My Review

This drama is exceptionally well written. The writer did an awesome job of pacing it perfectly. It doesn't miss, prolong or over pace a bit. It's a finely tuned machine firing on all cylinders. The characters are vivid and multilayered, and most importantly easily relatable.

The only problem with the script is the bad guys. They are one dimensional, and it's super easy to predict what they will do next. But, that is a more serious problem that can be traced back to Hollywood. And, it's too big of a topic to cover it in this hub.

This marks the first drama lead role for Park Hae-soo, who played the main character Kim Je-hyuk. And boy, he knocked it out of the park. His character is a dim-witted man with a short temper, who only knows one thing, baseball. In the first few episodes, he perfectly acted the shock and numbness of a man lost in that strange, violent and unknown world.

In the beginning, he had problems hiding his disgust for people in jail, but later he found comfort in his cellmates. But, he also showed compassion to his elderly cellmate, (he beat the guy who was bulling him), and to his younger cellmate (paid for his mother's operation).

As the story progresses he gets almost like a cult following in prison. Everybody wants to help him, minus the bad guys, of course. Although, it could be said that he entered prison with that.

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Jung Kyung-ho plays his best friend Lee Joon-ho, who is a correctional officer in the detention center where Je-hyuk awaits a decision on his appeal. Later, he gets transferred to a prison, he serves his sentence, just so he could keep him safe. More from himself than others. Kyung-ho did a great job portraying good and reliable friend. His worry for his friend and his family is something that is rare in this world.

Choi Moo-sung plays a lifer, a former gangster Kim Min-Chul. Choi plays his part perfectly. A man was broken by his sins, who finds redemption in prison, and treats other prisoners like his sons. He is the second guardian hawk to Je-hyuk. He is always there for him.

Jin Min-sung plays Doctor Go, a seemingly ordinary prisoner who always writes complaints about everything, which usually leads to nothing. As we get to know him he gets more and more complex. His story is not at all what I expected. And, Min-sung did a wonderful job with this character.

I already knew that Jung Woong-in is a great actor, I watched him in a lot of dramas, where he usually plays a really awesome bad guy. But here he is such a joy to watch. He plays Assistant Chief Paeng. He is a grumpy, foul-mouthed and above all scruffy character. I must say he was my favorite character in this drama, which says a lot. Because there is really a lot of lovable characters. In my opinion, he got the most complex role and delivered it masterfully. It's obvious that the creator and director knew what Woong-in can do, and they just let him do it perfectly.


This drama depicts the prison life faithfully. It doesn't soften the blows and it certainly doesn't pull any punches. It shows how it really is, starting with corruption and prison politics all the way back to the brutality of life in it.

It shows us best, what sometimes we forget, prisoners are human beings too. They live and breathe, they make mistakes and on rare occasions learn from them.

I loved how this drama portrayed the love between brother and sister. How she blames herself for all the trouble he's gotten himself into because of her. And how stoically he endures them. Always saying it wasn't her fault. I especially loved how towards the end he wanted to make sure reporters don't mention her and rape in articles written about him.

But first and foremost this drama is a redemption story at its best. Some make it, and some don't, but that's life. And life can be pretty harsh sometimes, as we all know. Not everybody makes it in the end, but as some stories end tragically, some happily, this show will make you think what life is really about. And how fragile life actually is.


As you can see I really loved this drama. I watched it four times already, and I don't plan on stopping there. I love a good redemption story. Mostly because I think life would be empty if you couldn't redeem yourself. All of us are villains in someone else's story, and if we can't fix that, where does that leave us? And this show delivers this point perfectly.

If you love a good prison story, or just a good redemption story you will love this show. But if you are a fan of Shawshank Redemption you will go crazy over it. And I sincerely hope you will give this rare gem a chance. Mainly because this drama really deserves it. Happy watching.

© 2020 LJ Milan

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