Life on the inside isn’t all that different from life on the outside for the inmates in “The Prison,” a criminally underplotted South Korean caper that’s as disappointingly generic as its title.
When a hit-and-run charge lands former police inspector Yu-gon (Kim Rae-won) in a penitentiary he once helped populate, he makes the discovery that the entire joint — warden and guards included — serves as the cover for a ruthless crime syndicate answering to the sadistic Ik-Ho (Han Suk-kyu).
Looking to settle a few scores of his own, Yu-gon systematically gains the trust of the kingpin, who has discovered that being in lockup provides a nifty alibi when it comes to coordinating nightly heists outside the prison walls.
It’s certainly a workable setup, as demonstrated in previous films such as the 2009 French film, “A Prophet,” but first-time filmmaker Na-Hyun hasn’t bothered to take it in any unanticipated directions, preferring to let the repetitive fight sequences and annoyingly bombastic score do all the heavy lifting.
Although veteran character actor Han (“The Berlin File”) is entertainingly effective as a Charles Bronson-hewn heavy (“You think there’s a prison on earth that can control me?”), the underwritten supporting characters and drawn-out tough guy posturing inevitably take their toll.
Two tedious hours later, the sensation of doing time is all too tangible.
In Korean with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: CGV Cinema, Los Angeles; CGV Buena Park; AMC Fullerton 20, Fullerton