When kind-hearted ER surgeon Na Yi-Je (Namgoong Min) gets his licence wrongfully suspended, he becomes the medical director at a prison with the intention of ingratiating himself to the rich and powerful inmates so they’ll help him get his revenge.
I’d started Doctor Prisoner back when it first aired, and ended up dropping it after two episodes out of sixteen. To be honest, I don’t really remember why. Then Chief Kim (re)introduced me to Namgoong Min and left me with a craving for more of his work, so I just had to come back to it. I really don’t regret it.
Clash of the Titans
Doctor Prisoner was the confrontation of three giants. The plot is incredibly fast-paced and doesn’t stop for a second, which comes largely from the fact that the three main characters are all equally smart and resourceful, and will stop at nothing to get what they want. Facing Namgoong Min are Choi Won Young and Kim Byung Chul, and while the latter was very good in his own right, Choi Won Young’s performance was out of this world. He’d already wowed me in my beloved Mad Dog, but this man’s control over his body, mimics and expressions is positively insane.
And of course, Namgoong Min. This man is incredible. I started watching the currently airing The Veil shortly after finishing Chief Kim and starting Doctor Prisoner again, and I am honestly shocked at how versatile an actor he is. He can really portray so many emotions and so many different characters in such a convincing way you can’t help but believe. His performance was blood-curdling, heart-wrenching, and, beyond all that, incredibly satisfying.
Na Yi-Je: The Antihero
Truly, Namgoong Min was perfect for this role, for what a mysterious character he is, this Na Yi-Je. It’s very hard not to doubt him, really. Has he lost all sense of morality? Has he truly let go of all of his principles? He’s a difficult character to play, a difficult character to watch, but one that is undoubtedly very easy to support, if only because the people he’s fighting are infinitely worse.
Which is, in fact, the very foundation of this drama and the interactions between the characters. There’s no friendship or loyalty here. They’ve all done bad things so they all hold compromising evidence over each other’s head, and in the end, it’s really the one who can adapt the quickest who wins, which is incredibly nerve-wracking.
I’ve seen some complaints about the lighting in this drama, but I’d have to disagree. Yes, it’s pretty dark, and the color palette is intense, but I think it does a very good job at keeping the characters’ motivations and expressions obscured. All of them have their own agenda and one plan after another, and while sometimes it was a bit frustrating, not being able to read their faces also contributed to the thrill of not knowing what was going to happen.
Plus, the general darkness of the show works very well with that in people’s hearts. This is not a light-hearted show: most of the characters are terrible people or have committed bad deeds, and the heavy play on contrasting shadows underlines that perfectly. On top of that, we got some very interesting shots, and the musical track which started with the steady beeping of a heart-rate monitor slowly going off tune is perfect.
The One Downside
The one thing I would have loved for the show to expand on a bit, however, would be the emotional side of things and the characters’ emotional ties to each other. For example, I’d have loved to see Na Yi-Je win over the prison staff and prisoners. I’d have loved some more vulnerability on his part, and for his natural kindness to shine through in his daily attributions, when he wasn’t working towards his goal (or even as he worked towards it). As it is, the plot kept careening so fast from beginning to end that those things were hardly developed.
All in All…
Carried through by three powerful performances, Doctor Prisoner is an intense, fast-paced thriller boasting a morally grey protagonist and many smart characters. Prepare yourself, you won’t be able to look away from your screen once you get started!
Title: Doctor Prisoner
Country: South Korea
Starring: Namgoong Min, Choi Won Young, Kim Byung Chul, Kwon Nara
Aired: 03/20/2019 to 05/15/2019
Number of Episodes: 16
Genres: Thriller, Crime, Medical
My Rating: ★★★★☆