Review: Prison Playbook [Wise Prison Life]


A show that takes the dark topic of prison and crime, and infuses it all with warmth and hope, Prison Playbook is the unlikely contender for your heart that will likely make you laugh, cry, wring your heart dry, and then fill it right up again.

Writer-nim weaves a story that makes primary and secondary character pop, while every actor in our ensemble cast breathes actual life into the characters, and PD-nim’s signature touch comes alive in both the palpable sense of community and the corny jokes. As a shining bonus, the bromance at the center of our story feels emotionally deep despite its often gruff surface.

Poignant and homey, despite its grim premise.


In a drama landscape where I’ve been feeling more underwhelmed than overwhelmed in general about the shows that are produced, I was, well, only cautiously hopeful about this one, going in.

On the upside, this is by the PD behind Answer Me 1997, 1994 and 1988, which are all shows that I think of fondly. On the downside, this is set in prison, and I find that I mostly don’t care all that much for crime / prison / legal shows in general. Depending on whether the upside or the downside turned out to be a stronger factor, I was also rather wary of Show’s famously long episodes, which are also a trademark of the Answer Me series.

Now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I’m happy to report that in spite of its dark prison setting, Show delivers a warm story that focuses on its characters, and celebrates friendship, comradeship, loyalty, and second chances. If you liked the Answer Me series, I think it’s safe to say that you’d like this one too. Or.. vice versa, come to think of it. If you love this one, you’d love the Answer Me series too. Heh.


Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it as you read the review.


I ended up enjoying a whole lotta things about this show, but it wasn’t perfect by any means. So I thought we’d start by getting those imperfections out of the way. Y’know, so that we can then wholeheartedly focus on the good stuff.

1. Show’s tone takes a while to settle

Not gonna lie; it took me a while to get a handle on Show’s tone.

I guess my crime & prison lens proactively and automatically took over when I started this show, and I went in expecting things to be darker and grittier than they actually were. But Show.. had other ideas.

The first couple of episodes, which take place mostly in the detention center, had a slightly darker tone than the rest of the episodes, which take place in the penitentiary. From about episode 3 onwards, once our scene shifts to the penitentiary, the signature corny style of humor that characterized the Answer Me series kicks in. I wasn’t quite prepared for that shift, and felt a little thrown by it.

As a result, when some of the inmates were involved in rather corny set-ups at about the episode 3 mark, I found the Intended Funny more lame than funny. [MILD SPOILER] Like in episode 3, when the “revolt” that the inmates were planning turned out to be about having proper hot water for instant ramyun. To be honest, seeing supposedly hardened criminals make such a big fuss about planning a ramyun meal made me feel like this drama world had evolved to become somewhat Disney-esque, and I wasn’t too taken by it. [END SPOILER]

I went through a short phase where I wasn’t feeling Show very much, at around the episode 3 and 4 mark, because I was struggling a little bit, to reconcile myself with Show’s tone. After a couple more episodes, though, I found myself settling into Show’s tone quite well, and by the end, I was sorry to say goodbye.

2. Sometimes I didn’t jive with the Intended Funny

Generally speaking, I found that I was pretty ok with Show’s idea of humor. I mean, sometimes I found the jokes corny &/or lame, but in most of those instances, that felt deliberate. Occasionally, though, Show’s sense of humor made me uncomfortable.

[SPOILER] The instance that stands out most in my memory, is the entire mini arc in episode 1, where all the prison guards were super eager to see Je Hyuk’s, erm, butthole, and all gleefully gathered around the screen to ogle while he was having his mandatory screening. Ack. That was so uncomfortable to watch, and I cringed through the whole thing. [END SPOILER]

3. Sometimes timelines aren’t clear

Show tends to sometimes start episodes with a cold open, which works pretty well when the context is filled in at least partway through the episode. In episode 4, though, this is taken to an extreme, and I ended up feeling part impressed and part confused with the way time was folding and unfolding throughout the episode.

[VAGUE SPOILER] It was only much later – almost at the end of the episode, I believe – that I had enough information to conclude that when we’d started the episode, everything was already over, and all the ensuing events that episode around Je Hyuk and his hand, were flashbacks. [END SPOILER]

This wasn’t a huge problem, but I thought it fair to mention it, since this did confuse me at times.

4. The instance where I feel Show was trolling us [SPOILER]

As early as episode 1, we get flashbacks to when Je Hyuk and Joon Ho (Park Hae Soo and Jung Kyung Ho) were younger.

In the present timeline, Je Hyuk is played by Park Hae Soo, who is taller, bigger, more well-built, and has a deeper complexion, while Joon Ho is played by Jung Hyung Ho, who is not as tall, and has a smaller built, more delicate features, and a fairer complexion. Yet, Show cast young Joon Ho as tall, tanned and muscular, and young Je Hyuk as shorter, fairer and less well-built. And then proceeds to actively avoid having either character addressed by name for most of the flashback, so that we are left guessing as to who’s who.

I get the element of surprise Show was gunning for, but seriously, with young Joon Ho so tall and muscular, my brain protests at how he could have possibly turned into Jung Kyung Ho? I feel like in this one, Show was deliberately trolling us. The casting feels manipulative and premeditated to mislead, and the ultimate reveal unfortunately felt a bit like a cheap shot, to me.

Aside from this specific instance though, I must concede that Show did a good job subverting expectations otherwise.


This show turned out to be a very enjoyable watch, and I found myself turning to it on a regular basis like it was comfort food. Show has a way of acknowledging pain, darkness and pathos, while weaving in a predominant tone of warmth, hope and care, which is possibly my favorite thing, among all of Show’s strengths.

By the end of my watch, I felt like I had grown genuinely affectionate of many of the characters and the accompanying relationships, so much so that it feels impossible to talk about them all. Here’s just a quick spotlight on just my favorite-est things in this show, picked from many favorites. 😉

1. Park Hae Soo as Je Hyuk

Embarrassingly, this was the first time I actually noticed Park Hae Soo, even though he’d been on my screen twice before this show; once when I was watching Six Flying Dragons (alright, I totes noticed him in SFD, but I couldn’t place him as the same actor) and then once when I was watching Legend of the Blue Sea. I suppose the silver lining to that oversight on my part, is that I didn’t have to disassociate him from any other character in my head, when I saw him on my screen. To me, he was Je Hyuk, and what an endearing character he turned out to be. Park Hae Soo does a fantastic job of bringing every facet of Je Hyuk to life, often without saying much at all, depending mostly on his gaze and the slow blink of his eyes.

When we’re introduced to Je Hyuk, Show is very efficient about giving us an overview of him, that he’s a superstar baseball personality, and yet, kinda dim and stupid about everything else in life. I accepted that readily, and Park Hae Soo does a fine job of bringing across Je Hyuk innocence and dull-wittedness. 

What I love is that as we progress deeper into the show, it becomes quite apparent that Je Hyuk might not be as dumb as everyone thinks he is. What I love even more than that, is that through it all, Je Hyuk is all heart. He truly cares about the people around him, and I love it.


He’s shrewd

One of the times when Je Hyuk’s deeper shrewdness stood out to me, is in episode 4, when he finds himself in need of medical attention and unable to get it through the prison system. At the same time, he’s being harassed and threatened by Yeom (Joo Suk Tae), whose sexual advances he’s turned down.

Given that Je Hyuk is set up as something of a dimwit, it’s extra thrilling and surprising to see how Je Hyuk uses the situation to his own advantage. He basically rises to Yeom’s threat and invites Yeom to hit him – and then just stands there, taking the hit to his head, which is served with a wooden rod with a nail sticking out of it, no less. Ack. The way Je Hyuk smiles, as the rod charts its path towards making contact with his head, seems knowing, sly and reckless, all in one. I feel like Je Hyuk knew he was taking a risk, but he still saw this as his way out. Je Hyuk promptly gets what he wanted – a visit to the hospital – and it’s all so twisted, yet so brilliant.

He’s such a survivor

In episode 5, we find out that Je Hyuk is a stomach cancer survivor, a reveal that basically stole the entire episode. Poor Je Hyuk. Behind the Golden Boy glow, he’s suffered so much, and worked so hard, and felt so lonely and hopeless.

Yet, despite this new bleak development, where he’s injured and his hand isn’t responding as it should, he continues to plod on, to make the best of his situation. Yes, he does waver in episode 5, and announces his retirement from baseball, but in the end, he doesn’t give up, and continues to work hard despite the dark odds. Ultimately, he achieves his miraculous comeback, and I couldn’t be more proud. <3

He cares about people

Perhaps my favorite thing about Je Hyuk is how kind and humane he is. I especially love the arc where he takes his attacker Crony (Ahn Chang Hwan) under his wing and turns him into his catcher. It’s so poignantly sweet how he quickly becomes the object of Crony’s unadulterated admiration and loyalty, and awkwardly accepts the devotion for Crony’s sake, and is kind to him. Love. So freaking much. <3


2. Jung Kyung Ho as Joon Ho

I truly enjoyed Jung Kyung Ho as Joon Ho, and feel like he was the perfect choice to play Joon Ho. I love that while Joon Ho is all bluster and bravado on the surface, he is such a kind, caring person underneath it all. We see his goodness leak out in so many ways, in his various relationships with the people around him, and the more I saw of his good inner core, the more I loved him.


With Je Hyuk

The thing that struck me the most about Joon Ho, is how selfless and giving he is, when it comes to Je Hyuk. Even though they had been out of touch for literally years, before Je Hyuk’s arrival at the detention center, Joon Ho treats him with so much brotherly care and love, it’s as if they hadn’t ever been apart. He goes out of his way to protect his bestie, and even asks for a transfer to the very penitentiary that Je Hyuk is posted to – just so that he can continue to watch over his friend. And he does it in such a matter-of-fact fashion too, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, to uproot himself for Je Hyuk.

I’ll be talking a lot more about this bromance in the next section, but for now, I just wanted to highlight the moment in episode 5, when Je Hyuk announced that he’d had cancer. The Look on Joon Ho’s face says everything, it’s like his whole world came crashing down, in that moment. The horror, and the guilt, for not knowing, is written so clearly in his eyes. Ack. My heart.

With his colleagues

Joon Ho begins the show distinctly keeping a measured sort of distance from his colleagues, but it isn’t very long, before they get to him too. I especially love the scene in episode 12, when Joon Ho acts all gruff-cool and takes the junior officers to see Je Hyuk train, so that Lt. Paeng (Jung Woong In), who’s deeply secretive about his burn scars, can change his shirt in private. Such a total marshmallow on the inside, who so fiercely doesn’t want to show it on the outside. Aw.

With Je Hee

Joon Ho’s romance with Je Hee (Im Hwa Young) doesn’t kick into gear until the second half of our story, but when it does, I loved watching Joon Ho be so happy while dating Je Hee. The way he goes all out to impress her and make her happy is very sweet and super cute.

The moment that Joon Ho really stole my heart, though, is in episode 15, when he “confronts” Je Hee about keeping negative events in her life from him. I love that the way he talks to her about wanting to know even the bad things, is just so tender and gentle. And then, when he leans in to kiss her, he even stops short and asks for permission. SUCH a tenderheart. Melt. Meltmeltmelt. <3


3. The friendship between Je Hyuk and Joon Ho

The bromance between Je Hyuk and Joon Ho is truly one of the big highlights of this show, for me.

I mean, yes, these two are adorable together, but more than that, the love runs deep between them, and the trust and belief they have in each other, is steadfast and profound. It’s heart-grabby, moving stuff, and I just could not get enough of these two together.

Show provides each boy with his own loveline, but to me, the real loveline in this show is between Joon Ho and Je Hyuk. <3


Joon Ho cares so much about Je Hyuk, it almost hurts to watch. Most times, it’s endearing and poignant. But in episode 4, when I realized that he’d used his entire day – and risked offending his superiors at work by not turning up for the hike – completely focused on fulfilling Je Hyuk’s bucket list for him, it just hit me right in the heart.

I feel like Joon Ho will literally do anything for Je Hyuk. The way he is so invested in Je Hyuk’s training is very touching. And the way he takes on extra night duties, albeit with a bit of an evil eye, just because Je Hyuk said he wanted to sleep in the infirmary in episode 8.

The scene that stands out possibly the most with these two, for me, is in episode 6, where Joon Ho comes up behind Je Hyuk, who’s trying to pitch for the first time in ages and is failing miserably, and just backhugs him, silently patting Je Hyuk’s chest comfortingly, while sweat and tears glisten on Je Hyuk’s face.

The entire moment is just so raw, so intimate, and so sweetly poignant. Without saying a word, Joon Ho shows that he understands, and I flail into a puddle of gurgling feels.

I love that in episode 9, Joon Ho demands that Je Hyuk live with him at least for a year after his release, even specifying that he wants Je Hyuk to sleep next to him. Aw.

Importantly, the love flows both ways, and Je Hyuk, in his own way, loves Joon Ho just as much.

I loved the flashback to their reunion in the restaurant in the same episode, when Je Hyuk sincerely and without hesitation pronounces Joon Ho his best friend, in front of everyone, even though they had not seen each other in years. Aw. Joon Ho’s face, barely holding in the imploding feels on the inside, is just icing on the cake.

Another instance that I loved is in episode 11, which demonstrates that the trust that Je Hyuk has in Joon Ho is complete. He knew that Joon Ho would prevent him from actually killing Crony, and wholeheartedly trusted in Joon Ho to hold him back, when he knew that he couldn’t hold himself back. Augh. My heart. <3 


4. The dynamic among the cellmates

One of things about the Answer Me series that grabbed my heart the most, is the sense of community that gets brought to the surface. It’s that sense of community that sucks me in and makes me not ever want to leave that drama world.

To my delight, PD Shin brings forth that same essence of community and brotherhood in this show, and I found myself melting over and over again, at all the small details that spelled out in large letters, just how much these cellmates had come to treat one another as family. All the personal moments make this show feel warm and real, even though it’s set within cold prison walls.

Still, there is a bittersweet quality to it all, since our boys are bonding in the worst of circumstances – in prison – and to add to it all, the inevitable departure and arrival of cellmates means that there is a transient quality to the community that these boys build. Yet, in spite of it – or perhaps because of it? – these relationships feel extra precious and heartfelt. The deeper I got into this show, the more deeply these relationships touched my heart. <3


Here’s quick spotlight on some of my favorite moments among the cellmates:

E6. The cellmates orchestrating a fake dream so that Je Hyuk would have an excuse to take back his words on quitting baseball, is the dorkiest thing. The fact that Je Hyuk plays along, even though he isn’t fooled, is also so dorky sweet.

E6. It’s so sweet that Min Chul (Choi Moo Sung) trades in his precious radio to get Je Hyuk a proper dumbbell and a resistance band, so that he can work on his rehab properly even while in the cell.

E9. It’s cute that the cellmates exercise right along with Je Hyuk, and it’s also amusing that Je Hyuk and Jung Woo (Jung Hae In) have a bit of a fitness rivalry going on.

E10. Such sweet, thoughtful gifts. First, Min Chul giving Dr. Ko (Jung Min Sung) a bunch of transport cards, so that he can use it to buy something nice for his daughter. And then, Dr. Ko’s gift to Je Hyuk, which literally gave me goosebumps. Such a thoughtful, loyal gesture, to have journaled Je Hyuk’s entire recovery process through his various training sessions. That legit brought tears to my eyes. These boys love each other so thoughtfully and so creatively, and it feels so bittersweet that they are together but for a season – and in prison, at that.

E11. It’s adorable how protective the boys are, of Je Hyuk. The way they stare down Crony all the time, until it tires them out, and the way they don’t even sleep, just so that they can form a human shield for Je Hyuk, when he gets up to go to the bathroom.

E13. The affection between the cell-mates is so natural and so tangible. The way they let Han Yang (Lee Kyu Hyung) sleep with his head on their thighs, the way Je Hyuk gathers Han Yang up and carries him to his bedding, the way they all get anxious for Kaist (Park Ho Sun) as he goes for surgery, the way they are happy for Min Chul when he’s told that he’s being considered for parole.

E14. Even though Jung Woo and Han Yang fight like cats and dogs all the time, Jung Woo does care. When Han Yang was in danger, he was the one who sensed it, and he was the one who orchestrated Han Yang’s rescue. Gotta love that.

E14. I love the scene where Jung Woo, out of desperation, asks Han Yang for advice. The way Han Yang sits up immediately, ready to listen, is sweet. Han Yang talks in his typical devil-may-care way, but he really cuts to the heart of the matter, and gives Jung Woo the best advice possible: to be honest with his brother, to apologize, to tell his brother that he really needs him right now. The tears sheening in Jung Woo’s eyes say it all; this was exactly what he needed to hear, and he’s grateful. And then, for the first time, Jung Woo doesn’t protest, as Han Yang reaches for Jung Woo’s stash of chocolate – again, without permission. I LOVE IT.

E15. OMG everyone on tenterhooks, prisoners and guards alike, waiting for the announcement of Min Chul’s pardon on TV, then whooping their hearts out at the news, while Je Hyuk cradles a sobbing Min Chul. Augh. My heart.


5. Individual spotlights on our characters

Beyond giving us a strong sense of community among the cellmates, Show also takes the time to give each of the cellmates a context.

I love the flashbacks that we get, of each cellmate. This show – just like its cousins – understands that personal history and context counts for so much. All the flashbacks have that warm retro nostalgic feel that’s characteristic of the Answer Me series, and I love ’em. Via these flashbacks, and by giving each prisoner his own time in the spotlight, Show excels at making each character so much more than just a number in a system. By giving them context and heart, these characters popped for me, so much, and I ended up caring a great deal for each one of them.

In the interest of relative brevity, I’m just going to highlight 3 of the cellmates and their personal stories.


Dr. Ko

When we first meet Dr. Ko, he just seems like an annoying stickler for doing things by the book, but once Show gave us insight into his backstory, I felt so sorry for him. Despite being disparaged openly by his superiors at work, he sucks it up and chooses to take the fall for the company, for the sake of his family.

In episode 4, the way Dr. Ko works so hard to prepare for the singing competition, thinking that that would be his chance to be by his daughter’s side while she got her ear surgery, only to be completely let down in the end, was so sad. Not only is he let down, the warden and Captain Na (Ahn Sang Woo and Park Hyung Soo) even scheme to force him into an interview that he didn’t want to do.

And so, when Dr. Ko decides to fight back at the slimeballs at his company in episode 9, I found that pretty satisfying to watch, if just for the fact that he finally speaks his mind and doesn’t swallow his pride.

Captain Yoo

Captain Yoo – both in character and in casting – is such a clear nod to Descendants of the Sun and Song Joong Ki. Here, just as in DOTS, Captain Yoo / Jung Woo is fresh-faced, clean-cut and youthful looking. Jung Hae In even kinda looks like he could be related to Song Joong Ki. Because of this, I was rather amused at Captain Yoo – but only just for a bit.

Despite his aggressively antisocial behavior with his cellmates, it soon becomes clear that he’s good at heart. It’s clear from how he saved Officer Song (Kang Ki Doong), and it’s clear too, when he writes the letter to request for Dr. Ko to get medical attention, even though he’d said he wouldn’t write it.

Once we get to see how Jung Woo had been unfairly framed for murder, despite being a model officer, it’s easy to understand his hostile behavior. I quickly started to root for Jung Woo’s retrial and release, and even though we don’t get to see that come to fruition onscreen, it was still an arc that grabbed my heart in a big way.

A scene that really stands out to me is in episode 9, when Jung Woo’s brother (Jung Moon Sung) comes to break the news that he’s found a witness confirming that it was Sergeant Oh (Lee Sang Yi) who had killed the Private. So much raw emotion, spurting out in gasps from Hyung, and then such a heartrending wail from Jung Woo. Oof.

Min Chul

Although I felt for all the cellmates, I do think that it’s Min Chul’s arc that I found most affecting.

First of all, the backstory of Min Chul and his young friend, who had died for his crime, is so sad. He’d tried to protect the boy, and tried to dissuade the boy from the thug life, and the boy had refused, saying he would live gloriously, even if for a day. And the boy had then signed his life away, by stabbing the guy who’d had Min Chul up against the wall. Augh. That is so sad.

That explains why Min Chul is so kind and forgiving of “Jean Valjean” (Kang Seung Yoon) even when the guy framed him. But I loved what Min Chul said, as he contemplated Jean Valjean’s discharge. He was good to these guys, just so that he could feel better, and so he doesn’t expect anything back. It’s so poignant, how he’s being as kind as he can, to the young inmates who come his way, as a way to honor and repay his friend who’d died.

In episode 10, I found it so poignant, that Min Chul’s visitor turns out to be his “son” Jean Valjean who’d betrayed him. He really makes up for it, by not forgetting Min Chul at all, and coming back to fulfill his promise to visit, and even promises to earn enough to get a place where they can live together. It’s so touching. These guys don’t seem to have any family, but the way they’re making each other family, totally made me cry.

And just when I thought I was done crying about this arc, Show levels up by revealing that the reason Jean Valjean hadn’t visited Min Chul earlier was because he’d wanted to earn enough money to buy treats for everyone in the wing, to be given in Min Chul’s name. Blubber.

The arc around Min Chul’s potential parole and release was also one that grabbed my heart in a big way. Min Chul’s emotional reaction at being picked for parole in episode 14, is so affecting. The subsequent emotional rollercoaster had me on the edge of my seat, on tenterhooks for him just as much as everyone around him, from cellmates to guards alike.

Another huge moment for me, with Min Chul’s story, is his reaction at realizing that the girl in front of him was his daughter. The cautious hope; the stunned realization; the complex mix of guilt, regret, and disbelief, expressed only through his heaving sobs. Oof. It hurts so good.


Special shout-outs: 

Jung Woong In as Lt. Paeng

Lt. Paeng is truly the dark horse of this show. For all his apparent laziness and prickly outer shell, it isn’t long before we get to see that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Episode upon episode, it was just so great to see Lt. Paeng’s innate goodness leak out, in spite of himself. By the end of the show, I luffed him, in a big way.


Here’re just a handful of awesome Lt. Paeng highlights:

E4. From the way he wanted to break Je Hyuk out of jail to get treatment, to the way he brought an extra blanket to the shivering inmate, to the way he turned out to be the My Way singer, Lt. Paeng is pretty darn awesome.

E8. Lt. Paeng buying nice food for Dr. Ko to eat in hospital, while he himself eats ramyun in a convenience store. The guy is gruff, but he’s all heart.

E9. It’s sweet that Lt. Paeng is taking a personal interest in Captain Yoo’s story, and the way he reacts, is so genuine. You can just tell that he cares.

E10. Lt. Paeng coming in for an additional shift, just to be able to be the one to transfer Dr. Ko.

E11. Lt. Paeng choosing to take the blame, instead of letting the inmate know that his sister doesn’t want to see him. Aw. He’s a good egg.

E12. That backstory of how he ran into the fire to save the inmates in his wing, says so much about Lt. Paeng. He truly cares. He sees the prisoners as people, not as mere numbers. And the fact that he feels so bad, towards the only inmate who died in the fire, under his watch, says even more about his humanity.

E13. Lt. Paeng looks like he’s the happiest one, about Min Chul’s possible parole.

E15. Aw, Lt. Paeng cares so intensely. The way he cries as he tells Min Chul that he’s getting a Christmas special pardon, just makes me tear up.


Krystal as Ji Ho

Krystal’s been pretty hit or miss for me so far; I liked her a lot in Heirs, but found her rather underwhelming in everything else I happened to see her in.

Happily for me, Krystal is solidly good in this. Ji Ho genuinely felt like a real person to me, and I felt like her scenes with Je Hyuk in particular really popped. I actually really liked Ji Ho’s loveline with Je Hyuk – which I’ll talk about next.

The loveline between Je Hyuk and Ji Ho

Park Hae Soo and Krystal have a pretty easy, charming chemistry, and I really enjoyed their scenes, especially the flashbacks to the backstory of their romance.


For the record, I did find it a tiny bit borderline squicky that Ji Ho turns out to be Dead Coach’s little girl that Je Hyuk and Joon Ho played with, when they were teenagers. Beyond that, though, I found the backstory of their romance very sweet. The way they hung out together, and kept getting mistaken for a couple, and the way they were basically dating without actually knowing that they were dating, is so cute. It totally reminded me of the Answer Me series.

Here are just 3 couple moments with these two, that I really liked.

E8. Je Hyuk, who’s usually slow to act, is so swoony when he moves in to kiss Ji Ho in that flashback. Faced with the headlines that Je Hyuk is dating some announcer, Ji Ho is galvanized into asking him to date her. When Je Hyuk hesitates, she says she’ll give him till the count of three. All she manages is, “One..” – before he’s ardently got his lips on hers. Squee!

And overwhelmed awkwardness and all, he takes his time kissing his new girl. Swoon.

E9. In the flashback, Je Hyuk is such a dorky sweet boyfriend, even singing to Ji Ho over the phone, while sitting in the team bus surrounded by other players.

E14. It’s funny and very touching, how Ji Ho knows Je Hyuk so well, that where the doctors failed to help Je Hyuk, she fixes it all in just one try. She truly knows him best, and that just makes me smile.



Show touches on quite a lot of themes and ideas, which I won’t attempt to list in full. Instead, here are the ones that resonated with me the most, particularly as I reached the end of the show.

  • Being true to yourself, and trusting your gut, even in the darkest circumstances.
  • Everyone has a context and a backstory. Even the silent, hardened Lifer has a story – and a conscience.
  • Love and loyalty can cross all kinds of boundaries – if you’ll let them.
  • Not losing hope while chasing your dream. If your left shoulder gives out, you still have your right shoulder.
  • Not being afraid of starting over.
  • Second chances can be real. Hold onto them. Be brave.


What a heartwarming, poignant finale this turned out to be, while still characterized by Show’s unique brand of corny humor. At a whopping 1 hour and 40 minutes, this might just be the longest finale in kdrama history. But, y’know, I never wanted it to end.

As Show spends time giving us various degrees of closure with our various inmates and their arcs, my heart felt like it was tugged in so many different directions.

It’s deeply frustrating to see Yeom tormenting Je Hyuk and attacking those who are near and dear to him. But it’s really sweet how all of Je Hyuk’s cellmates tell him, sincerely, not to risk himself for them. They are literally willing to serve more jail time, if it means they can keep Je Hyuk safe. That’s deep. And in the end, I do love how everything and everyone comes together – planned and unplanned – to make sure that Yeom doesn’t get away with his evil blackmailing.

Je Hyuk’s brief final visit to Jailbird’s (Kim Sung Cheol) cell legit made me tear up. Je Hyuk basically makes a promise that will turn Jailbird’s life around; the promise of a job. Jailbird’s tears feel so real, and my heart is gripped by how much Je Hyuk is changing Jailbird’s life, and how much unspoken love there is, between these two.

Min Chul’s release is also so poignant. Everyone around him is just so happy for him, and it’s such an emotional moment, when he’s finally ready to step out of his cell for good. His heartfelt words to Je Hyuk and Jung Woo are touching, and his wordless rubbing of Crony’s bald head speaks of so much affection as well. I love that he’s not only got a chance to live life as a free man, but he’s got Jean Valjean and his daughter waiting for him, ready to embrace him.

Show had me on the edge of my seat, regarding the outcome of Jung Woo’s appeal. I knew his hyung would cry either way, at the result of the petition, but Jung Woo’s reaction, so wrought with overwhelmed emotion, his sobs so deeply guttural and heartfelt, made me want to cry with relief too. And how heartwarming, that the guards and cellmates alike, were on tenterhooks for him, and overjoyed for him. They were there with him, every step of the way.

I liked that we see both Joon Ho and Je Hee ‘fessing up to Je Hyuk that they’re dating. Je Hyuk pretends to get upset at Joon Ho, but I do love that he feels a sense of assurance, knowing that his baby sister is dating Joon Ho. Aw.

Je Hyuk’s release is so bittersweet when it finally arrives. It’s a day that we’ve waited for all series long, and now Je Hyuk is a free man. But it’s also deeply poignant because it also means saying goodbye to friends that he’s made. I’m especially touched by how deeply Je Hyuk has made a difference in Crony’s life, just by treating him with kindness and giving him dignity. How touching, too, that all the other inmates in other cells woke up early for his release, so that they could cheer for him and clap for him, from their cells.

I love that amid all the reporter’s questions and flashing cameras, Je Hyuk’s eyes searched only for Ji Ho. And when he found her, he honed in on her, blind to everything and everyone else, to wrap her up in his arms.

Je Hyuk takes the mound again, this time with a new anthem – which I love – and even though he doesn’t win his first game, I love that just being able to play brings him so much joy. Also, it’s great that his potential to shine again, is widely and unanimously acknowledged.

I kinda love that for all his cool-cat talk, that Joon Ho gets riled up on Lt. Paeng’s behalf and has to be held back from beating up the inmate who keeps taunting Lt. Paeng. I also kinda love that Joon Ho thereafter kinda-sorta channels Lt. Paeng, in the way he talks tough with the inmates.

In the end, we get an imperfect happy ending, in that not all arcs are completely tied up, and we don’t get to see Jung Woo win his retrial and be released from prison. We also don’t see what happened to Han Yang, after his re-capture. Also, while Show has been consistent in teasing out and celebrating the comradeship among our inmates, it’s a bittersweet thing to know that not all of their paths will cross again. But on the upside, my gut instinct says that these boys will remain comrades for life. They may not be hanging out 24/7 anymore, but something as trivial as geography isn’t going to keep these boys from going all in to help one of their own, if and when the need arises. And that’s definitely a solid silver lining to take away.


Heartwarming and homey, with lashings of poignance and corny humor.




76 thoughts on “Review: Prison Playbook [Wise Prison Life]

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  2. Prashil Prakash

    Hi Kfangurl.!
    And We meet again!
    Coming here right after finishing episode 15(needed to take a breath before the finale cuz my heart can only take so much, lol!😅)

    I love this show so much! And since Hospital Playlist was a show which I loved, I decided to start this one.
    But mostly because you listed it in the wholesome catagory.
    And ok, I was really skeptic earlier since it’s supposed to be a “Prison” Playbook, but how glad am I to be wrong.

    I think I love almost every character in this one. But special shoutout to Lt Paeng! Oh I love the guy so much!
    Everytime he’d come on the screen I’ll be seeing some or the other type of kindness or empathy. His compassion towards people (not just inmates IMO) is really inspiring.

    I love the show’s theme of “kill them with kindness” and the best example is crony’s arc. God I hated that guy so much! But the way they turned him around is solid commentry on us at human beings.
    After Je hyeok became his boss, you might think that’s where his arc ends. But the show subtly kept showing his change for example him awkwardly putting kimchi (I assume it was kimchi) on Min-chuls plate after being thanked cuz he’s not used to someone being kind to him!

    I really liked that fact the show was honest. For example Captian Yoo’s slight homophobia: I say slight cuz he was not judgemental and his view on the matter was that he simply doesn’t understand. And that’s so relevant!
    Even though we’re quite ahead of it, deep inside there are people who don’t understand. And these might not be bad people. A good example would be many of parents even.
    And of course how he ultimately cares for looney is great example to the fact that everyone can change. And if anything Captain Yoo was literally getting better, more cheery and more accepting every episode and it was really beautiful to see.
    Honestly though.. To see inmates leave like Dr. Ko’s, Jean Valjean, KAIST was pretty sad.( I loved KAIST and Looneys antics soo much)
    Another theme this team plays really well is intuitive actions by the characters. Like moving the table away whenever looney would say something as a fight will start. Its something I saw in Hospital playlist as well during the first episode in the funeral Home when they make pillow and blanket out of their jackets intuitively.

    To summarise (and not waste your time more) this team knows what I want in a series. And delivers. They are Flipping geniuses!

    Thanks for this amazing recommendations! As I would have definitely missed it cuz of the heavy premise of prison life. (This one’s going in my top 5, easy)


    1. kfangurl

      Aw, I’m super pleased that you trusted me enough to give this a try despite the prison setting, and that you loved it! 😀 It really is so wholesome and heartwarming. And YES, Lt Paeng is such a good egg, and all the characters were treated so lovingly by the writers, each with their own stories. Really well done. <3 I guess you'll be checking out the various Reply series next, since you enjoy this team's work so much? My favorite is Reply 1988. <3

      1. Prashil Prakash

        Yes I’ve started with the reply series!

        I’ve started with 1997 since you’ve mentioned 1988 is supposed to be the best. So I thought it’d make sense of i go in the original order and save the best for the last.

        I’m enjoying 97, and its nice to see the familiar elements from their other shows and its really cool cuz it feels like slightly unpolished as its their first show (like an origin story for the reply team😂)

        And thanks for your recommendations and reverts!😊

        1. kfangurl

          Starting with Reply 1997 and working your way up is a very excellent plan! 😀 I liked them in that order, actually. I liked Reply 1997, really liked 1994, and then loved 1988. <3 I hope you'll enjoy them too! 😀

          1. beez

            I made the mistake of watching 1998 first. It was so good that I felt let down by the others. Although, 1994 was good, I’ve started ’97 twice and haven’t been able to get into it. And Go Ara annoys me in it.

            And what is up with the parents getting the same two actors and I think their characters have the same name yet their families (children) are different in each drama? Yes, they were good but it still bothers that part of me likes things to be just so.

            1. kfangurl Post author

              Ahaha, the repeat parents weirded me out too, Beez! 😆😆 And that’s with me watching in the order the shows came out, with a time lapse between the series! I can only imagine how magnified that must’ve been for you, when you watched the shows in reverse! 😝 I do think the shows got better as the team went on, so if you can’t get into R1997, it’s not such a huge loss?

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  5. liability

    Hey kfg!
    I tried watching the first few minutes and I wasn’t feelings very drawn in,so I decided to just put it aside. I came across your review and I decided that I had to at least give it a shot . I don’t regret watching it at all. I’m a sucker for community type dramas with strong family bonds and heartwarming moments(like reply 1988) and this show ticked all the right boxes. I have to say though that Han Yang deserved so much better. I had been rooting for him to get better from the start and seeing him fight his addiction so hard for months to have it thrown away in a few minutes was very heartbreaking.
    Could I get a recommendation for something light and fluffy that’s still good? Prison Playbook dealt with so much dark themes and I honestly feel so emotionally spent.

    1. kfangurl

      Dang. So sorry I missed your comment, liability! 😛 First of all, I’m really glad you loved Prison Playbook; it really is lovely and wonderful, despite its prison setting. And yes, sometimes it was heartbreaking too. For some good family bonds that’s feel-good, perhaps you’d like to try Life is Beautiful? I loved that show and never wanted it to end. <3

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  8. M

    Such a thoughtful review – watching this drama now and loving it! Thank you and hope you’re doing well and staying healthy during these strange times.

    1. kfangurl

      Glad to know that you’re enjoying this lovely little drama, M! 😀 I’m glad you’re liking the review as well.. it really is a gem of a show. <3 I'm doing well, thanks, and I hope you are too! 🙂

  9. Hana

    I loved this show and didn’t want it to end! Park Hae Soo is extremely easy on the eyes and looked so good in training mode! Shirts should be banned on athletes just as much as steroids.
    Sigh…. 😊

    One of favorite female characters, Ji Ho’s character was so refreshing and self confident, she really shone for me. Among female characters proliferating kdramas who usually act insane, nutty or extra (I’m looking at you, Miss Oh), Ji Ho was a breath of fresh air. She was dignified, very mature and had a lot of self respect. I thought her break up scene was stellar. She knew she wasn’t getting what she wanted in the relationship and felt she was being taken for granted, and she was ready to speak her mind and walk away without making a scene or having a meltdown. Mad props to her. I also loved how she knew Je Hyuk well enough to give him practical solutions to his issues and even speak to his doctor and scheme with Joon Ho. She held her own and wasn’t intimidated by her bf being a hotshot athlete. She doesn’t go crawling back just because he calls and instead takes her time, prioritizing her studies and her own life. I think this was particularly impressive because she’s so much younger than him and could have easily fallen into the role of follower and being led by him. Thought Krystal did a great job bringing out this great character.

    I totally agree with you on ep 15 and the scene with Ji Hee and Joon Ho. It was so sweet and tender and just shows what a NICE person Joon Ho is, I was sitting there with heart eyes!! I loved the way he was with Ji Hee, such a caring sweetheart… I just can’t!

    My gripe:
    I just wish Je Hyok thanked Joon Ho in his farewell prison speech. I felt he seriously shortchanged Joon Ho on that and wasn’t very happy about it. He wouldn’t have survived without Joon Ho and should have expressed some heartfelt gratitude towards the end.

    Crony was such an interesting arc. I could never do what Je Hyuk did and it was so impressive how he won him over with compassion. Reminds me of the Buddhist saying, hatred doesn’t kill hatred, it is overcome by kindness alone. I noticed quite a few religious angles as well that really added depth to this already wonderful show.
    Crony’s reversal from sworn enemy to loyal follower was a study in psychology for me. I also liked how the show portrayed that nobody was too small or insignificant to make an impact in someone important’s life. From Jailbird covering for Je Hyuk to a drug addict noticing the medicine switch to an old lifer knocking out Yeom, this show really focused on the importance of humanity and just being nice to people in whatever walk of life you’re currently in.

    Also, love the flashback showing Capt Na to be the same stinker as back then. It’s amazing that he survived to adulthood.

    As for the other characters, my heart broke for Loony’s boyfriend and family waiting for him. He had so much potential and so much waiting for him, it was tragic to see him throw it all away. Kids, say no to drugs!

    I could go on and on because this was such a great drama on so many levels. Wonderful characters, amazing acting, and a killer soundtrack. Kim Kwang Suk’s voice and the range and depth of emotion in that song Unfortunate Man is something beyond words. If nothing else, I’m grateful this show introduced me to that song and Snail by Panic.

    1. kfangurl

      Ah, I’m so glad you loved this show too, Hana!! 😀 And yes, Park Hae Soo is indeed lovely on the eyes. I support you on that shirt ban! 😂😂

      That’s a great insight about Ji Ho! I confess it hadn’t occurred to me while I was watching, how she was pretty awesome in the ways you described, but now that you mention it, I have to agree she was pretty darn awesome indeed! 😀

      That’s true, I wonder why Je Hyuk didn’t think Joon Ho in his speech? Is it because they are so close that some things don’t need saying, because they just know it in their bones? Or is it because, it’s farewell to everyone at the prison, but it will never be a farewell to Joon Ho, and that’s why he didn’t feel the need to say it..? 🤔

      Crony was fascinating for sure, but it was Loony’s story that really gutted me. I was so heartbroken that he fell prey to temptation, all over again. 😭😭 But it’s also so true, that it’s so hard to get away from drugs – especially if the system is rigged against you. 😥

      A lovely, lovely show overall, and yes, the music really expressed a lot of the emotion in this show, so well. <3

  10. Storyteller

    Admittedly, Ep 1-4 felt rather draggy for me, but by Ep 5, this community and the humor really clicked for me. I enjoyed their banter (in particular Han Yang and Capt. Yoo), character growth and backstory unravelling. Min Chul’s reunion with his daughter and his eventual parole had my eyeballs sweating. 🙂 Though received with seeming indifference, I found the muted loveline between with Joon Ho and Je-hee amusing.

    Have you seen the second installment of the Playbook series, Hospital Playlist? From my brief glimpse of Ep. 1, I found its slice-of-life storytelling engaging (though I plan to watch post-airing as I still have dramas on my plate). 🙂

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  12. Widya

    If you watch Answer Me 1988 first, like I did, you probably won’t enjoy the other two as you should. Sorry, I had to drop the other Answer Me series because the 1998 one was just waaaaay too good for me. It’s also has a significant difference with the other series. While R1994 and R1997 focused on the kids (and of course their grown-up version), R1998 brought the whole neighborhood to the table, along with their quirkiest side as the cherry on top. Each and everyone of them were given enough screen time to shine, with some warmed your heart more than the other.

    so yeah, don’t start with R1988. I am warning you. hehehe.

    PS: actually Answer Me 1988 was the last of the series to be produced. No wonder it became the best of the trilogy (for me, at least).

    1. liability

      I totally agree. It didn’t completely ruin the other installments (reply 1994 and 1997) but I couldn’t help making comparisons the entire time.I think that even if I had watched them in the order that they were released,I would’ve still picked 1988 as the best. The focus on the community made it so much more heartwarming and refreshing .There wasn’t that much emphasis put on ‘guess the hubs’ which definitely annoyed me less than in the other installments. Even the with the ost’s,1988 comes out on top.Unfortunately my ship sunk in that one 🙁 and my fave got treated so badly(poor JH 😭) but that doesn’t take away from the special family moments that gave me so much good feels.I felt so emotionally invested in their stories and it even felt like I was a part of the community.

  13. MC

    Oh, Fangirl!! I’ve FINALLY finished this show and what a show. THANK YOU FOR RECOMMENDING THIS TO ME. I would never have watched it otherwise because prison-ish shows are totally not my jam. I really only watched this because of your recommendation and like I said, your recommendations are gold. My heart has been broken, healed, ripped apart and put back together throughout the 16 eps. So many feelingsssssss about this one.

    I won’t say so much about what you covered in this review because it would be a repeat and nobody needs to read another 30 paragraphs of the same thing expressed less eloquently, right?! But I agree 100% with everything you said.

    Before I got into my super long post (as always), about the humour – I’ve not had any experience with this PD or the Reply series style, so I didn’t know what to expect. I quite enjoyed the humour though. Like I mentioned elsewhere, because this topic of prison life is so grim, the zany humour lightened it up for me and I enjoyed it. I thought the ramen hot water thing was hilarious, so yes, the humour worked for me. The thing I didn’t like so much was the super long episodes though – because it was hard to find 1.5 hr blocks to watch so I often had to split into many small 15mins/30mins/45mins watches over a couple of days in order to finish 1 episode, so that made it harder because I was constantly having to re-engage and remember what happened earlier.

    The things I loved –
    I loved the way they all came together and created their own little community. I loved how Capt Yoo wanted to have nothing to do with them but slowly opened up and became part of the family. I loved how they all supported and encouraged each other through their journeys (Capt Yoo’s re-trial, Kaist’s surgery, Looney’s quitting of drugs, Min-chul’s parole, Jean Valjean’s release, Dr Ko’s blackmail against his company plan). Even how they were so willing to support Kim Je-hyuk throughout his rehabilitation. Interestingly enough, it’s true that Je-hyuk had so much preferential treatment yet none of his cellmates were jealous about it, in fact they worked so hard to protect him. I agree it’s Je-hyuk’s genuine heart and love for people that won everybody over. When the guy manning the incinerator protected him from the ex-woodshop Yeom guy… it was so lovely to see his belief and love for people repaid even in the hardest of hearts.

    I loved the bromance between the 2 JHs. I loved Joon-ho and his brother. I also really liked Joon-ho and Je-hee’s romance line (more than Jiho/Je-hyuk) (and what’s with all the names starting with J??? Haha). Joon-ho and Je-hee were ADORABLE before and after they got together. The “he’s my dream guy/what can I do? you’re my dream girl’ was SQUEE and LOVE. I almost wished this show was more of a romance show cos the little sprinklings of romance might have given me more feelzz than other rom-coms (lol).

    I loved the way this show subverts our expectations – the murderer (Min-chul) was the most repentant one. The most gruff and full of curses (I think my knowledge of Korean swear words grew 100% from this show, lol) Lt Paeng turned out to be such a sweet person. I really love all of them. Also, Looney/Han-yang being gay was done so gracefully (looking sternly at SWDBS…..)

    I love that this show is so realistic too. Looney/Han-yang… my heart is still broken about that. The night I watched his release from prison and re-capture, I literally had a hard time falling asleep because I was so sad. Addiction is really hard to quit, it’s true that the highest rates of recidivism are for those who take drugs. In reality (at least in our country) there is more of a transition/pre and post-release programme because just throwing them out of jail without preparation is simply asking for trouble. I know this is just a show. But that scene of him in the van, utterly conflicted, with the music in the background was so well-done. I won’t be forgetting that scene anytime soon that’s for sure. And also seeing his boyfriend and his parents waiting… and the boyfriend with the ring… and the ambulance rushing past them – that hurt a lot.

    Having said that some parts of this show is not realistic (I know, I know, it’s just a show…). There’s NO WAY there would be so many items in a jail cell that can be turned into weapons. It’s quite unlikely for the Shop in a prison to be pretty much in clear view (hiding under the potted plant is… not hiding at all). And it’s so unlikely that in a cell of 6, 2 are innocent (Dr Ko, Capt Yoo) and the rest are such good people, right? But I love this show to bits anyway.

    Ending wise, it was so bittersweet. Firstly it was hard to leave this drama world, I’m gonna miss them. I wish I could see what happened to Kaist, to Dr Ko, to Crony (hope he finds a good “boss’!). I wish I could’ve seen Min-chul living with Jean Valjean. I wish I could’ve seen Capt Yoo a free man. But it’s true that prison is a transitory place and I’m fully hopeful that maybe when they’re all out, they’ll continue to keep in contact with each other and encourage each other.

    Ok, I really should end this off. On a superficial note, I didn’t really know any of the actors before this show but MY GOSH I LAUGHED SO HARD when you said Capt Yoo/Jung Hae-in is a replica of Soong Joon-ki in DOTS. I did NOT see that but that is SO TRUE! No wonder I thought he was handsome (cos I think SJK in DOTS was so good looking). I’ll skip Something in the Rain but I’ll try out One Spring Night for him, lol. And also, Jung Kyung-ho is so cute too. It wasn’t a hardship to watch either of them 😀

    Ok, I’m finally done. What a lovely show! I am really glad I watched it. Thank you once again! <3

    1. MC

      oh I forgot to add too. I really liked how elements in the finale mirrored that of the opening scene. How the car went through a tunnel and it’s occupants holding their breaths to make their wishes come true, but instead of the driver being the lawyer, it was now Jailbird. Je-hyuk really changed Jailbird’s life. 😢 Also, I liked how Je-hyuk’s song changed from Time to Say Goodbye to Bravo, My Life! Quite a nice encapsulation of his (and our) journey!

      1. kfangurl

        Oh, that’s a great observation, MC! I’m not sure if I even noticed that. But yes, that’s a lovely way to bring everything full circle. I loved the change in entry song too! I thought it was PERFECT. 😍

    2. kfangurl

      My dear MC, I’m SO GLAD that you loved this one too! <3 I mean, I was pretty sure you would, but just hearing that you loved it as much as you did, just makes me so happy. 😀 I agree; prison shows aren't usually my thing either, but this one just treats it all with such a human touch, that everything and everyone just ends up coming alive and becoming real, to my eyes. And yes, So Many feeels! <3

      It's great that humor in this show worked for you – this bodes very well for how you're likely to respond to the Answer Me series. Like I said, my favorite is AM1988, so I hope you'll watch that one, at least. My second favorite was AM1994, and my least favorite AM1997. So I'm the opposite of a lot of folks that way. Most people seem to like the shows in the opposite order, with AM97 being a favorite, and then AM88 being the least. But, if your drama taste is like mine, then my gut feel is that you'd like AM88 like I did. 😉 As for the long episodes, if I was feeling the length, I would stop at the halfway point, and watch the other half the next day, as if they were 45 minute episodes instead of 1.5 hours. That worked nicely for me personally, and I never felt like it was that difficult to do. 🙂

      I completely agree with you; it was just lovely to watch Je Hyuk win over everyone just by being himself; his genuine, sincere, caring self. <3 And yes, I loved the bromance between him and Joon Ho as well. And yes, the romance between Joon Ho and Je Hee was very sweet indeed! If you're keen to see more romance with similar sweet vibes, the Answer Me shows all have a central romance, so there's another lure for ya, heh. 😉 You can tell I'm on a mission to get you to watch at least one of the Answer Me dramas! 😆

      Oh yes, the way Han Yang's narrative arc was treated was so poignant and true-to-life. I was all, "No, no, no, don't do eeet!!!" while practically having to peep through closed fingers; it was just that hard to watch him throw it all away in a moment of temptation. 😭😭 And yes, everything was so open-ended, which I thought was fitting, but I agree, I would've loved to have seen more of these characters' stories unfold.

      YES. Capt Yoo was SO MUCH a replica of SJK in DOTS! 😆😆 It took me a long while to unsee it, after I saw it! I just finished One Spring Night, and I can finally endorse it as a solid watch, YAY! And, PHEW. 😆

      1. MC

        Haha yes, I’ve really enjoyed all your recommendations so far! Thank you for them, our tastes are REALLY SIMILAR! <3 Prison Playbook was so sweet and wonderful and funny despite being about prison. Though sometimes it was hard to watch – not because it was depressing but more because I cared so much about them that I would be so worried about them. That's the mark of really good writing and acting, to be able to make me care so deeply for fictional characters!

        Yes, you have totally convinced me to watch the Answer Me series! It is now high up on my to-watch list (I must clarify that it's high up – the list is growing longer and longer and if it's at the bottom it may never get watched!) 😀 Do you need to watch them in order (1997 then 1994 then 1988?) Are the stories all linked and you need to watch them in order to understand the rest, or is it ok to start anywhere?

        Oh that sounds great! I saw your short review for One Spring Night and it sounds promising. I'll also watch One Spring Night! But, after Reply I promise!

        On a side note (no pressure! I know there's so many shows, on top of Real Life) I'm waiting for your review/thoughts on This Week My Wife Will Have An Affair! 😀 I think your thoughtful reviews would do justice to that show with its meaty content! Haha, no stress though… 🙂

  14. lotusgirl

    Another fantastic review! I just finished watching this and reading your reviews has become my ritual wrap-up for shows now. It was such an amazing watch. I loved how Je Hyuk was such a positive influence on those around him just by being kind and determined. I also loved that he was unapologetically himself. I was moved by the cellmates backstories and their journeys. I was left reeling at Han Yang’s final choice, but I have seen the reality of that happen. As much as I hated it, I know it depicts reality for many even after all he went through to kick the habit. Devastating and a waste. Since I loved this show so much, I will now have to watch the Answer Me shows.

    1. kfangurl

      Ah, I’m glad you loved this show, lotusgirl!! <3 (And AWW thank you for including me in your ritual show wrap-up! I feel honored and very special! 😘)

      This show really is such a lovely one, isn't it? And all the more surprising, because of its dark prison context. I'm totally with you on Je Hyuk; I loved him and found him consistently surprising, in his gentle quirky way. <3 I was gutted by Han Yang's choice as well.. I so wanted him to succeed at getting clean and starting a new life. But like you said, it's a case of reality bites; it really does happen in real life, and it really is hard for people. But I feel like Han Yang won't just give up, but will try again, so in my head he eventually does get out and get clean. 🙂

      I LOVE the Answer Me series! <3 My favorite is AM1988, followed by AM1994, and then AM1997. There's a frustratingly long-drawn-out Who's The Hubs that gets dangled in front of viewers in all 3 shows, but it's most well-handled and therefore most agreeable in AM1988. I'm looking forward to hear how you like the Answer Me shows. Despite their flaws, they do exactly what Prison Playbook does – bring characters to life and bring warmth to our screens via their relationships. <3

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  17. Michelle

    I just finished watching the drama and decided to look around for some drama reviews. Can I just tell you that I really enjoyed reading your review because DAMN YOU CAN WRITE!

    But more than ever, thank you for penning down your thoughts on the show, I really relate to it. From how you took awhile to settle down on the tone of the drama, to how you started to enjoy learning the back story of each character. Similar to you, I felt as if this drama was really going to be either a hit or a miss for me. Initially, the pace of the drama really made me wonder if I should continue watching it, but as I gritted my teeth and held on… it became a show that I could fall back on, and like how you phrased it “comfort food”.

    The stories were all so well-written, it was so clear that every single character had their own story to tell. I loved the way you analyse the drama through their character development, their relationship with other character and how it all contributed to the drama atmosphere.

    Thank you for this because I found myself nodding along as I read your review, and I couldn’t agree more. You make me want to write my own drama review too haha!

    1. kfangurl

      Hi there Michelle! Thanks for enjoying this review – and thank you for the compliment! 😘

      Yes, this drama is quite special in how it gives every character time in the spotlight, and no one and nothing is usually ever as it first appears. Major props to the cast, coz every single actor did a fantastic job bringing their characters to life. It’s rare that a drama is peopled with such good actors all-around! 🙂

      If you haven’t checked out the Answer Me franchise by the same director, I highly recommend checking them out. Especially Answer Me 1988 (aka Reply 1988), which is my personal favorite. It’s got a similar ensemble approach, and just like this show, every character gets some time in the spotlight. I also loved the sense of community in AM1988. You can check out my review here, I hope that helps! 🙂

  18. putri novianti (@putrinopi)

    have i told you that i love you? I Love You. I watch this drama because i saw it on your review (i regularly check your web, read your short verdict and rating) and i’m so happy that i found this review while waiting for ep 15-16 Why Secretary Kim (end up i finished this show first and makes WWSK not so interesting anymore :p)
    As usual, i agree with all your point, i just want to add what i also love very much is Joon Ho and his brother, the way Joon dol always mock his hyung, but he always helps him (accompany Je Hee and Officer Song), the way Joon Ho hit him with pillow but in ep 3 Joon Ho cheer Joon Dol when Je Hyuk’s trial not go well.
    Oh and i want to add one of my fave Min Chul scene is when Corny first join their cell, and he throw pillow to Min Chul end up MinChul attack and break glass to threat him. Aw, our kind heart Min Chul is so Badass!
    This is a very special show that warms my heart, bring tears and laugh, every time i finished an episode there must be something special on that ep that makes me repeat some scene over and over.
    thank you for write this review and led me to watch this wonderful show. I Love you, keep writing !

    1. kfangurl

      Ah! I’m SO glad that this review managed to persuade you to give this show a try, putri!! 😀 It really is quite special. <3 Oh yes, I agree that the dynamic between Joon Ho and his brother was amusing, yet also, quite touching. And Min Chul, oh my goodness, he just had a way of stealing my heart and ripping it out, and making it ache, all at the same time. I did love that badass moment, and it showed Min Chul's loyalty and care so intensely too. <3

      PS: Thanks for the lurve, I'm feelin' it! HUGS. <3

  19. escapismworldblog

    Ahhh this was my entry back into K-drama and I’m so glad I chanced upon this drama on your site! It is brilliant, from the characters to the music used to the writing itself. And the casts were all soooo on point. I agree with all the things you said, including the “comedic” scene of Je-Hyeuk at the testing. I think the show was trying to touch on a little dark humour there but…no…just no…lol.

    My fav character has to be Dr Ko, Han Yang and Joon Ho. Dr Ko was introduced as pretty annoying but the show also revealed quite early Dr Ko’s good side and his caring nature for his cell mates. It’s so sweeeet. And Han Yang is so amazing. Honestly I didn’t expect to like him as much as I did. But it was only after his recapture, that I was truly heartbroken, and I also realised how much I rooted for Han Yang. Credit definitely goes to Lee Kyu Hyung for bringing out the character with such depth. And finally, Joon Ho. That scene when he jokingly tells Je-Hee that she’s his dream girl, I fell – hard.

    Thanks for doing the review though!!

    1. kfangurl

      Ahh! I’m so glad you watched this one! 😀 It really is so good, isn’t it?? I didn’t dare have high expectations despite the widespread raves, because I generally don’t do well with prison shows, but this one ended up stealing my heart, so much. <3

      Oh yes, those characters really crept up on me too! I didn't expect to like Han Yang, but in the end, I was so upset when he got in trouble again and got recaptured. Like, whyyy? 😫 But I guess writer-nim wanted to show that despite the warmth these guys created in their community, there were still no easy answers, particularly when it comes to something like drugs. But still. Poor Han Yang. 😫 But that just goes to show how much these characters wormed themselves into my heart, the fact that I ended up caring about them so much. I would definitely watch this one again <3 But I'd probably FF through Je Hyuk's painfully embarrassing check-up scene 😛

      1. escapismworldblog

        Yes! It’s really well-written and each characters have their own backstories which were nicely fleshed-out. I would definitely watch it all over again. Shows like these really change my impression of K-dramas hahahaha.

        Omg I skipped through half the scene cuz I couldn’t take it. Too much too much

        1. kfangurl

          Indeed, this is one of the better kdramas; I can feel like it was written with heart and with care. Except for that terrible ass-ogling scene. That was definitely too much! 🙈😆

  20. Widya

    Put this show on my must-watch-soon list, but still have to make time for it to happen at this moment (or for the next 3 months, sadly). I usually avoided prison stories as they are too grim for me, but your review convinced me otherwise, especially since you mentioned that the PD is the one who also direct the Reply Series. And Reply 1988 is my most favorite k-drama of all time! Really enjoy your review here, but I carefully avoided your spoiler haha….

    Anyway, I am currently waiting for your review on Something in the Rain, in which Jung Hae In (Capt. Yoo) is in (and make a hell LOT of kdrama fans go ga-ga), and directed by my beloved PD Ahn Pan Seok who also direct Secret Love Affairs (and we BOTH love that one show, don’t we?). I am very curious at what you might say about this show. So please do review it soon hehehe….

    1. kfangurl

      Oh, if you loved Reply 1988, I’m pretty sure you will like this one too, Widya! 🙂 This one took a while to grow on me, but it was absolutely worth hanging in there even when I wasn’t sure I was going to like this one. The Reply series’ warmth shows up, and strongly, after a while. <3

      I do plan to review Something in the Rain sometime soonish.. I'm still watching it coz I took a break from it after E10. I've just gone back to watching it, so hopefully the review will be done in the not-so-distant future. Stay tuned! 😀

      1. Widya

        Reply 1988 also took a while to grow on me. At first, I cringed every time Bo-ra physically abused Deok-sun or yell incessantly at her with virtually the lamest reason there was! I also found the yelling between spouses a little bit off at first. But then at one point I was very surprised to find myself so totally in love with everything about it. And the rest is history haha…

        As for SITR, frankly I stopped myself at epi 9 as I cannot stand to watch it any further, for the sake of my sanity. I don’t think I can stand the angst, the agony, and especially THE MOTHER! Jin-Ah’s mom is at an entirely different level from all despicable moms in the world! I might continue watching after I finished my project report which is due soon because I need my brain to be in mint condition while writing the report. JA’s mom might ruin the integrity of my brain heeee….. So I wish you luck with this one haha

        1. kfangurl

          Oh yes, I remember cringing too, when Bo Ra yelled at Deok Sun or pulled her hair, so you’re not alone on that! And yes, after all that, I still grew to love AM88 SO MUCH. <3 I do think you'll end up liking Prison Playbook a lot, Widya. So even though you're busy now, do keep it on your list! 🙂

          As for Something in the Rain.. yes, it's turned into a very different watch after the initial cute episodes. I was tempted to drop it after E10, but eventually went back, because I was curious about the divide between viewers, on this show. Most people got really upset with the show, while some actually love it. I wanted to know which side of the fence I fell on. I've still got one more episode to go, so perhaps you'll soon see that review posted on this site! 😉

  21. Elle Blu

    Love your review esp.

    You are right, The “revolt” that was hot water for instant ramyun’ in disguise joke was lame. It was not funny at all.But the rest of the show – love,,,love the cheeky banter of Jung Kyung Ho, Park Hae Soo’s dorkiness , and of course the alpha hottie Jung Hae-in!! I just discover the awesomeness of Jung Kyung Ho & only managed to watch Falling for Innocence on Nexflix. Am still trying to find Heartless City yet. Will try watching Missing & Life on Mars on VIU in the meantime.

    Back to Prison Playbook, what I love about the show was how they managed to put together such a fab cast with cracking chemistry even the baddies, and the flow of the plots just flow seamlessly.

    I loved how you described Je Hyuk character in one of his scary encounter with Yeom, how shrewed & twisted, yet so brilliant a simple brain can be!

    Don’t miss ‘My Ajusshi’ – the acting, cast & IU & Lee Sun Kyun are excellent.Am blown away by IU acting who is almost unrecogizable from her sweetie pie image & Lee Sun Kyun portrayed the kind of character you want to get marry to! Just keep an open mind of a darker version of the normal K-drama fluff with its intelligent plots & script – you will enjoy the show.

    1. kfangurl

      Hi there Elle! Glad you enjoyed the show – and this review! 😀 Yes, this show and its cast really surpassed my expectations. And Jung Kyung Ho really is awesome.. and Heartless City is definitely something to check out. It’s very different from most other kdramas, especially in how noir it is, in its vibe. I’m not sure about geo-restrictions where you are. Are you able to view it on Viki here?

      Thanks for the suggestion on My Ajusshi, I’m watching it right now, and it is very good indeed. I’m liking it WAY more than I thought I would. <3

    2. Blenny

      “Falling for Innocence” was one of my first Kdramas. I adore Jung Kyung Ho and will watch anything he’s in…I just think he’s a very good actor. He even managed to rise above the hot mess of “Missing,” although it’s still not worth it, I’m sorry to say. Still waiting for “Life on Mars” to become available.

      I started “My Ajusshi” but it was so dreary…I admit to watching Kdramas as a means of escaping reality. But I plan to give it another go…too many people are raving about it to do otherwise. Thanks!

      I didn’t think I would love “Prison Playbook” either, but wow…this one has really stayed with me. Totally binge-worthy, and Netflix makes that particular vice easy! 🙂

  22. Simple

    i love the storyline and characters of this drama, the actors are also awesome in their roles.. Can you also make a review of the drama LIVE? i was surprised the storyline or maybe this was my first kdrama i watched about policeman and policewoman.. its not the typical action/crime – detective/ prosecutor crime dramas. .. i watched it because of kwang soo.. he was not comic in this drama ..
    hope you have time to watch it.

    1. kfangurl

      I’ve got Live on my list, but haven’t started watching it yet! 🙂 I’ve heard pretty good things, so I’m looking forward to checking it out. Thanks for the recommendation, m’dear! 😀

  23. Olga

    I did not want it to end either. I’m going to drag my daughter in front of the tv and make her watch it with me. Then we’ll be crying together. Thank you for your review. You never fail to deliver. Keep it up 😊❤

    1. kfangurl

      Aw, thank you Olga, that is so sweet of you to say! <3 I'm so glad you enjoyed this review, and I love the idea of you rewatching this with your daughter! I hope she loves the show as much as we do! 🙂

  24. Blenny

    Like you, Fangurl, it took me an episode or two to get into this…mostly because it seemed so grim and dark. I left it for awhile and then came back…after all, Jung Kyung Ho is in it,right? And I’ve watched some awful drecht because of JKH, God knows (although he manages to improve even the drecht stuff he does.) So I had to give it another try.

    And then…and then, OMG, I LOVE this show! Everything you say is spot-on perfect. The corniness, the characters, such amazing actors…not a weak link anywhere, I don’t think. And even though I am usually totally creeped out by she-was-like-my-little-sister-but-now-I-have-the-hots-for-her romance, I LOVED their relationship. What a lovely ending after all their travails.

    I have to admit, I totally binged watched this…and it was a show that stayed with me for days, weeks even. So glad I gave it a second look. I don’t know how it is doing with American audiences; I suspect it isn’t gritty enough to be a true success here. I wish I could convince my friends that this is definitely worth a look-see. I managed to convince a few about “Incomplete Life,” so I’ll keep trying.

    Thanks for the review, Fangurl! Brilliant! 🙂

    1. kfangurl

      Aw! Thanks for enjoying this review, Blenny! ❤😘 So funny, that we both took a while to get into this one, but ended up loving it so much. It definitely has a different feel from US shows about prison, so I suspect most folks who are used to that would find this one too jarringly different in comparison. But.. if you managed to sell Incomplete Life, who knows? 😉

  25. Andy

    Amazing review! I’ve wanted to watch this show for so long but despite the glowing reviews, I couldn’t get myself invested in the prison theme. Your review has convinced me otherwise by laying everything out and drawing parallels to the Reply series. I’ve followed your blog ever since the glorious Secret Love Affair review but only found out that you’d posted this by seeing it on Kethysk’s (above) fanwall. I really need to subscribe so I can keep track off all the great dramas you’re reviewing!

    1. kfangurl

      Thanks for enjoying this review even though you haven’t watched the show, Andy! <3 I get what you mean about being wary of the prison theme. I also approached this show very cautiously because of that. Even though Show only really stole my heart proper after a few episodes, I do remember that by the end of E1, I'd felt fully engaged and curious to know more. The long episodes made it a slower watch for me as well, since I would sometimes split the episodes in two, and watch them on two separate days in two sittings. Once that sense of community was properly established, though, I found myself watching whole episodes at a time, despite their length. You can really feel the Answer Me vibe, after a while. I hope that helps entice you to actually hit the play button on this one, finally! 😉

  26. Kethy-chan

    OMG finally, someone on the internet who gives this awesome show the perfect review it deserves!
    I honestly teared up, reading your review, remembering those great moments you were highlighting! this show was just so amazing! how did you manage to get all my feelings in writing so well??????

    thank you!
    you just made this girl’s Tuesday Morning at Work !

    PS: May I post a link of this page on my wall on Dramabeans? I’d love for my fellow Prison Playbook Beanies to read it and feel all the feels ! PLEAAASE!

    1. kfangurl

      Aw! Thanks for enjoying this review, Kethy! <3 Yes, this show was lovely in so many ways, and legit had me ugly-crying at my screen. Thanks for re-living the feels with me – I agree this show seems to have flown under the radar for a lot of people (probably coz of the issue with subtitles at first), and it's always great to have more love for this show in the house! 😀

      And yes, feel free to share a link to this review with other fans, that would make my day! 😉 Thanks for the love, and I’m glad your Tuesday’s off to a great start! 😘

    1. kfangurl

      Yay that you’re loving this one! I took my time with this one too (which explains why this review is on the late side, heh), but it truly is worth savoring. <3

      1. FreeTheKimchi

        And have you seen LIVE? I would say it’s on par or better. The harsh realities are truly eye-opening. I just finished it and it was amazing and I loved the sound track!

        1. kfangurl

          Thanks for the recommendation on Live! I was going to give it a miss, but a reader wrote to me today to earnestly recommend it too, and it sounded like just my kind of show. Your positive recommendation definitely works to bump it up my watch list! <3

  27. Timescout

    Yup, definitely one of the better ones in recent years. It had plenty of memorable characters and I just loved the little “found family” that formed around Je Hyuk. 🙂 There were fiew things I could have done without but they were minor quibbles and did not prevent me from enjoying the show. Even the typically bloated TvN episode length didn’t bother me this time. As for the trolling… I kind of expected it in some form, as it’s sort of like a trademark of the Answer Me crew. ;D

    I’m once again having a really hard time finding a kdrma to stick to. Haven’t tried Come and Hug Me yet but it seems like the most promising one in the new batch. Only, I’m not really in the mood for crime, nor melodrama atm, sigh. Hence I’m watching Chinese supernatural fluff, LOL!

    1. kfangurl

      Ahh! I’m glad you enjoyed this one, Timescout! I know how rare it is these days, for you to find a drama that feels worthy of your time. 🙂 And YES, I LOVED the found family that the boys built. Je Hyuk was such a unifying force, just by being himself. I loved that too. <3 Also, you're so right, trolling is one of the things that the Answer Me crew just seems to delight in. I guess this was their prison version of Who's The Hubs? Except it was more of Who's Je Hyuk and Who's Joon Ho? 🤣 I'm just thankful that it was short-lived, and didn't drag out through the entire series like the real Who's The Hubs games that they pulled with all of the Answer Me shows! 😅

      I've been hearing positive things about Come and Hug Me.. but the premise does seem kinda on the Doomed to Darkness side, so I'm hesitant. I'm actually really enjoying Suits right now.. so if you're in the mood to mix things up a bit with your supernatural fluff, you could consider that one. Park Hyung Sik and Jang Dong Gun make a great pair. 😍 I'm 8 eps in as I type this, and I'm happy with the balance overall, between cases and character development, victory and defeat. I like the pacing too. I'm not hot on Go Sung Hee's character, but it isn't bothering me too much. 🙂

      1. Timescout

        I don’t know about worthy but something that actually makes me feel more than mild boredom would be nice. ☺ There’s not much variety in kdramaland when it comes to the plot/premise. It feels like we’ve been knee deep in leagal/crime shows for ages now.

        I did give Suits a go but leagal dramas just ain’t my thing. Especially if they are sided more on the “lawyering” side. Courtroom/leagal battles have a tendency to make my eyes glaze over. Dunno, I just find law very boring. 😁 Even with Law & Order, which I faithfully followed through all the seasons, I often skipped the actual “law” part. I’m always more interested in the investigative side of things.

        1. kfangurl

          That’s true.. there’s been a whole lot of legal/crime shows of late. I feel like every other drama coming out of dramaland has some kind of legal or crime connection. I’ve been recommended Mad Dog, which sounds like a reasonably solid watch. But because I’m still watching Suits, I don’t want to dive into another show that deals with investigation etc.

          I feel you, about not generally taking to legal dramas. I don’t have a great track record when it comes to legal dramas, but so far, Suits is.. suiting me nicely, heh. 😉 It’s not too much for me, at least so far, and I’m actually rather curious to about the next episode, when I get to the end of one. That’s pretty huge for me and a legal show, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to enjoy it all the way to the end! Oh, I’ve also been recommended My Ahjusshi.. have you watched that one? I’ve heard it’s really good.. but it also sounds pretty dark and depressing 😛

          1. Kethy-chan

            My Ahjusshi is suuuuch a precious gem!
            I was crying throughout ep 16 (finale) ! The casting of Lee Sun-Kyun as Park Dong-Hoon and IU as Lee Ji-An is sooooo perfect! They literally embodied their roles and *tears* it was just magical ! their interactions are so raw and believable and beautiful. I just loved them!

            1. kfangurl

              It isn’t often that someone uses the word “magical” to describe a show or its characters and their casting, so thanks Kethy, My Ahjusshi is firmly on my watch list, and suitably bumped up too, at that! 😉

              1. Kethy-chan

                oh please, watch it!
                I started late and had to catch up on 10 eps before hitting the live watch, but oh was it worth it. I typically don’t do melodramas but this one has been worth all my tears and smiles! it’s a 5½ stars on 5 !
                Very well written and very well acted!
                I look forward to your review in the next few days/weeks/months! *wink*

                1. kfangurl

                  Lol. I do think I’ll start on it soon – and if I do watch it, I’m very likely going to write about it. I guess it’s safe to say: Stay tuned! 😅

          2. Timescout

            My Ahjussi is on the list, I just haven’t had time to tackle it yet. I haven’t really been in a melo-mood either. Show seems like a very solid one so I’ll probably start it later in the summer, when I’m less busy.

            1. kfangurl

              I know what you mean – it feels like ’tis the season for melos, there are so many out in dramaland lately, and it’s the melos that generally have better reactions from audiences. And I’m in my corner thinking, “B-But.. I only have so much appetite for melos..?” 😆 I’ve heard too many good things about My Ahjusshi to miss it though. I need to see why everyone’s raving about it, and whether I’ll rave about it too. 😅

          3. SFE

            Don’t wait to watch My Ajusshi. I have no words to describe the perfection that it is, from script, to directing, and finally to the actors who brought the characters to life! And you will fall in love with the OSTs, I guarantee. I really have no words, you should watch it and write a review, and soon. 🙂

            1. kfangurl

              I’ve started on My Ajusshi! And 3 eps in, I must agree that it is very good. I like the OSTs very well so far as well! A very good start indeed 😀

  28. panda

    So far, my best 2018 drama. I’ve seen it about 3 times and each tine feels so fresh.
    This review truly brought tears to my eyes. Like when Joon Ho told Je Hee to share everything with him and asked for permission!!
    The bromance with JH and JH 😁😁
    And everything with Min chul and Lt Paeng!!

    Love all of them. Love.
    Thank you

    1. kfangurl

      Aww! Thank you dear Panda, it’s so great to know that you enjoyed this review <3 And yes, it really is one of tbe best dramas I've seen so far, in 2018. I think the other contender for best drama so far, for me, is Money Flower.

      I loved everything with Je Hyuk and Joon Ho (I'm only just now realizing that they share the same initials, ha – thanks to you!).. they make SUCH a great pair. 😍😍😍 And OMG that backhug just knocked me right over, with how potently emotional it was. ❤❤❤ And YES, Min Chul's story got me literally crying in front of my screen, it was all so heartrendingly moving. I think what got me about Min Chul, is how simple and grateful he is, in spite of how messed up his life turned out. Like, Lt. Paeng seemed to think that parole was Min Chul's right, after serving so many years and being a model prisoner. But Min Chul seemed to consider it a privilege, and that just got me right in the heart. <3 And of course, Lt Paeng turned out to be such a gruff, quiet, secretive tenderheart, I couldn't help but luff him. I can absolutely understand why you watched this one 3 times, m'dear! 🙂


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