Tuesday, July 20, 2010


A Japanese national gets accused of a crime he did not commit and finds himself in jail in a country where the officials are corrupt, money tips the scales of justice and people speak Engrish, lots of ENGRISHHH!!! Shot entirely in Thailand, this 5-part miniseries plays out like a trash novel, taking a land-grabbing conspiracy theme and a not-so-elaborate prison break scenario to new heights of idiocy.

Fine, so it's not that bad... just overly ambitious. Prisoner is more of a tv-movie of the week feature than an action-suspense thriller  but I reckon those who want "something different" would still opt to see it.

Inspired from the real-life account of Sawai Kujira's detention in Phnom Penh, WOWOW TV's Prisoner follows the trials and tribulations of Izawa Keigo, a man falsely accused and imprisoned in the fictional country Seraivia, as he fights against the system to clear his name and regain his freedom.

It was a bad beginning as Izawa Keigo (Tamayama Tetsuji) seeks respite from his troubles by dropping in unannounced on his buddy, Yuzurihara Takuya (Nakamura Shunsuke), who's running an orphanage in a tropical country. Everything was going swimmingly, with Keigo finding solace in helping out at the orphanage, until Takuya was approached by a certain Joy Saga (John Kaminari) who pitched this song and dance number about investing all his savings in a business venture to secure the children's future. Convinced, Takuya decides to close the deal by dropping $700,000 of his hard-earned host[o] cash in buying what turns out to be inalienable, state-owned property.

Seeing Takuya broken and distraught, Keigo decides to rashly step in by tracking down Joy Saga to demand the return of the money. With nothing but words to persuade the hardened swindler, Keigo and Joy Saga end up in a scuffle wherein the former got arrested by the authorities on account of "attempting to kidnap" the latter. Money was [in]discreetly exchanged at the scene and evidence was later planted against him, so Keigo promptly got himself a one-way ticket to city jail.

Unknown to Keigo and Takuya, the swindled money was just part of a scheme to force them into closing the orphanage which happens to be on prime beach property. All the other properties in the vicinity were slowly being purchased by a multinational company which was in the course of developing a world-class resort. This is where investigative journalist Nishiyama Aki (Tsuruta Mayu) comes in, because according to her sources most of the properties in the coast were being acquired through illegal means. Having heard of Keigo's story, Aki decides to help him by finding out about Joy Saga and his associates; piecing together evidence for an exposé.

Meanwhile, Keigo gets sent off to kangaroo court where he's found guilty and sent to the state penitentiary, but not before police officer Ali (Ikeda Arushi) weasels a few thousand dollars from him. Without money to grease the pockets of those in the judiciary and without any legal assistance from Consul Ube Hajime (Kohinata Fumiyo), who was just waiting to be transferred out of the said country, Keigo was looking at a 10-year prison term ahead of him.

At this point, Prisoner becomes more of a ridiculous tragedy following Murphy's Law, as our protagonist gets bamboozled and beaten down again and again.... and again and again.... so much so, that it would have been more practical to send him to the meat grinders. It's just one careless mistake after another, as the main characters in this series were slow to internalize Chris Carter's simple and sage advice in the X-files to trust no one.

One would've thought that Takuya had more insight into human nature, having worked in an environment wherein being manipulative and deceitful brought about higher returns. Hosts are known to be quite perceptive of people's needs and quick to identify liars since their occupation requires that they be exceptional liars as well, but Takuya got his training from the Giragira-let's-heal-women's-hearts academy for hosts that's why taking money from him turned out to be so easy. It also helped that a grown man like him remained so naive as to pay in cash within a day of inspecting the property so con men all over the world can rejoice, for in Prisoner, it's no longer necessary to devise grand, intricate designs to steal someone's money.

This is one ambitious series that obviously bit off more than it can chew, as screenwriter Oishi Tetsuya (MW, Death Note, Death Note: The Last Name) poorly assembles a loose and exasperating account of a man caught in the middle of [what should be] a high-stakes corporate conspiracy  involving the construction of a leisure resort in a foreign country.  The concept behind it is rather easy to grasp, and  WOWOW should be applauded for shooting the whole thing in a foreign locale, however the finished product in itself appears to fall short of its intent to bring a riveting action thriller as the events in Prisoner became increasingly absurd by the minute.

About thirty percent of the dialogue in this series is spoken in Engrish and about 2/3 of it has Keigo in prison  planning an escape with the help of his cellmate, Pon (Ohmori Nao), while Aki on the outside, snoops around for information with hired bodyguard, Wada Akira (Ishiwada Ken). And it's pretty much in this Prison Break cum Oswald State Penitentiary set-up that writer Oishi Tetsuya went over the top.
This is no Shawshank Redemption or Stalag 17 as the interaction between Keigo and the inmates alongside the actual prison break make for one groan-out-loud, get-ready-to-tear-your-hair-out [of disbelief] viewing experience. Here, Keigo goes through the process of becoming a human punching bag, to fellow inmate to wronged comrade, earning the trust and respect of the other prisoners by playing an overextended game of Russian roulette. Sharpen those spoons mate and make duplicate keys for Keigo's gonna bust out of a state penitentiary!

Contrary to hype, this drama is not so much Prison Break but more of a wannabe a cloak and dagger series with a huge chunk of mystery and nail-biting suspense missing in between. Fictional Seraivia is depicted as  home to a lot of shady dealings, with most of its folk easily bought off and ready to switch loyalties. The foreign characters in it are caricature villains that would fit in nicely had this been an era wherein Sean Connery's 007 still held sway-- there's the Chinese troubleshooter (Takehana Azusa)  for the corporation with his tea and jigsaw puzzle, his lovely assistant/sexytary (Kusakari Mayu) who poisons drinks; the swindler who irons his money; and the rotund police chief (Walter Roberts) who smokes cigars and listens to Puccini. Its whole presentation is outdated and clichéd, almost everyone in it  is a double crosser or a money grubber, and what makes the show unappealing is that it takes Keigo and Saki quite a while to realize that they're surrounded by people who have ulterior motives. That's why the protagonists in this story remain victims for the greater part of the show. If Act I of this series is "Trust No One", then Act II could just as easily be entitled, "Abandon All Hope" as Keigo finds himself betrayed once again by the person he relied on the most.

The upside is that Keigo and Aki don't remain gullible forever, so the third act of this series is concluded with  "Just Deserts". It's not exactly clear what brought on the change in their attitude but it's quite a relief that they acted with caution and used their heads for a change. Taking a page off of the bad guys' playbook, Keigo gets to dispense justice by forming a strategic alliance and getting help from a man who roasted armadillos in schezuan sauce... and to think all this was made possible because of a can of sardines. It's all a bit contrived but the sudden turnaround in the flow of events was long-awaited, if not long overdue.

Prisoner, like your regular tv-movie of the week ends with the requisite happy ending-- with the baddies getting their comeuppance and a hero's homecoming. Seeing this show is not at all that rewarding but having that all's-well, justice-prevails ending acts like a soothing balm for the mental lashing that one gets in enduring this drama's rickety plotting.

Notwithstanding the garbled english and the atrociously bad, community theater-type of acting from its foreign [actors and] extras, Prisoner has a respectable cast of Japanese actors holding supporting roles-- there's  Ohmori Nao as the sly and manipulative Pon; Ishiguro Ken as the ambivalent bodyguard; Ikeda Narushi as the corrupt cop; Kohinata Fumiyo as the indifferent consul; and Tanaka Yoji who seems to be everybody's  bartender. These five actors made this drama less excruciating, playing their characters with aplomb and gravity that it would not be surprising if their individual performances in this would be the only  thing worth remembering. Tamayama Tetsuji's performance in this series was intermittently overwrought and disengaging,  he has eyes that spoke volumes but the emotions conveyed lacked subtlety and focus. Tsuruta Mayu as the female lead was serviceable but the female characters were mostly nondescript accessories to this less than realistic cautionary tale of life overseas.

The problem with Prisoner is that this drama is composed of a  series of unfortunate events, the likes of which, could have been easily  avoided had the main characters possessed an iota of common sense and exercised due diligence. It suffers from insipid storytelling, bogged down by maudlin sections that defy logic and description, but what it offers though is its relatively short entry, taking up only five episodes in telling this quasi-action/suspense thriller of a story. 


  1. Reading your description and review I felt like I had wandered into a... Kdrama, lol. (Or one of our local soaps? XD) You had me wincing and groaning at the implausible scenarios, convoluted plot twists and "community theater-type of acting" (lmao) -- and I've never even watched this mini-series, heh heh.

    Seraivia? Seriously? lulz Like... Genovia! From Princess Diaries! If the producers were too scared to spell out Cambodia or Kampuchea (or Burma) they could've thought of something more Asian-sounding, like... Diaamboc or Chamkapue, hah hah.

    Anyway, there's prolly no way in haylll Imma watching this, but dayum this review was vicariously entertaining. =D

    Ohhh you're reviewing Pandora? Yessssssss
    (Have not seen it but of all the Jdramas-I-don't-have-yet-but-always-wanted-to-watch, it has the most compelling premise of the bunch.)

  2. Still, for something that sounds like something from a kdrama, you'd have to agree that it's very uhm... economical at 5 episodes. I'd take that any day over a 20-episode dramafest. You can watch one ep a day and you're done within a week. :D

    Seraivia is indeed a funny name for a fictional Southeast Asian country. Also, it was kinda entertaining to see how dead serious they were about this thing even when the plot got really stupid.

    I do plan to review Pandora but not until I'm done with Hagetaka. Kinda started this blog, upon a friend's recommendation, to feature jdoramas that don't normally get as much attention or blog activity, so hopefully I get to fulfill her request by starting with WOWOW and NHK dramas.

  3. At this point, Prisoner becomes more of a ridiculous tragedy following Murphy's Law...
    ^lol My favourite line of your whole review. lol @ the Engrish, too. Cross-cultural collaborations / filming in another language always worries me because it often takes away so much from the actors' abilities to express the characters' emotions well.

    You think that would deter me from seeing this drama but atm I am blindly loving on Tamayama Tetsuji & slowly working through his dramaography (I want to shoot myself for picking up yet another actor ><") Too bad you said his performance here was a little under the weather but I absolutely back your comment that his eyes do speak volumes^^

    BTW, love this picture of him & the Thai kiddies >>> http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_D8LTkmG14_4/TDqWIvuT15I/AAAAAAAAAbY/z040NaCeY4I/s1600/vlcsnap-2010-06-17-08h54m31s80.png

    Okay, gomen, gomen, need to shoosh up on my fandomness now ;O

  4. Yeah, speaking another language really does take a toll on their acting. If there's anything I've learned from watching kdramas is that it's kinda hard to remember one's lines and emote in engrish.

    Oh, I don't blame you one bit for blindly loving Tamayama Tetsuji. I first noticed him in Brother Beat and he was gorgeous in it. The guy can act but I wish he would tone it down a little, his angry face in Prisoner simply cried murder. Lol. I do appreciate that he's doing his best to transition from being a pretty boy to serious actor but does he have to look scruffy in the process? I also think he did a good job in Sunao ni Narenakute, it's just that his character and the drama weren't all that fetching. I'd still take Prisoner any day over Sunare's rehashed script.

  5. ^When you mention Engrish in Kdramas, the first thing I thought of was Hyun Bin in My Name Is Kim Sam Soon. I seem to distinctly remember him speaking ajevoiajwlkajscdj... & he wasn't even swearing lol It always amuses me when they make a certain character "return from abroad" & apparently all of a sudden they are super fluent in English. I mean, having hung out w/ international students during uni, I can definitely vouch strongly against that myth.

    Well... I'm one of the ones who actually liked SunaNare. I get what you mean by the rehashed script but the characters did it for me xD

  6. Argh, I know... for me it was Lee Jung-Jin in Love Story in Harvard. For eff's sake, the character was supposed to be Korean-American. @.@

    A bit off topic here, but Sunare's okay as long as one doesn't factor in all the things that were supposed to be going for it but didn't pan out-- like the much-awaited pairing of Juri and Eita, or how it was a Kitagawa Eriko screenplay, or Jaejong's debut drama, or Tamayama Tetsuji's most challenging role to date, or how it was supposed to be about twitter.... It just didn't meet with a majority of people's expectations.

  7. i just found out a few days ago that Mr Pon of prisoner is the lead of Hagetaka and Mr Hanpeita of Ryoma den. now he is one of my favorite actors. maybe the next time i see him in a drama, he'll be taking a female role. but i would love to see him as gay. i wonder how that turns out. i really cant identify him in any of his dramas until i read wikidrama. it's either he is good as an actor or im having memory problems.

    im a fan of national geographic's lock abroad series. so this for me looks like it. i dont mind the engrish. totallly understandable. the funny part for me in this series are the foreign actors. watching them act kinda reminds me of 80's or 90's forgotten hollywood films. the van damme days or my dads old movie collection a long time ago.

  8. Lol. Ohmori Nao really is quite the actor, I'm actually impressed with how he manages to change his look to fit each character he plays. Liked him in Hagetaka, loved the quiet intensity that he brought to it, kinda reminded me of the Korean actor Kim Myung Min. I say let's stick to the assumption that he's quite the chameleon... that's way better than the alternative which is premature dementia hehe.

    I didn't really mind the engrish as much, had no problem figuring out what they were saying. My only issue with it is that it usually takes away from their acting. I find it rather awkward watching actors fumble their lines. And man, the foreign extras were really bad in this one. As in is-there-really-no-one-else-out-there? type of bad. x)

  9. oh yeah kim myung min. that guy is really good. i havent seen white tower korea which im dying to see. i saw beethoven virus and bad guy which i cant finish because of bad story korean cliche.

    there is another actor that i admire, his name is Kagawa Teruyuki. i just copy pasted the name from dramawiki. i dont know if you know him. he is really good in ryoma den. i think he's the guest in shinzanmono episode 1 and the lead from the movie Tokyo Sonata.

    i really like the term chameleon. good excuse for my dementia. "i was chameleonized by these great actors!".. haha...

  10. Saw White Tower and Beethoven Virus, I dropped Bad Family and I haven't gotten around to watching Bad Guy. There's just too many shows out there to see that it's impossible to keep up. And then there's this crazy/stupid idea of mine to start blogging pa. Sheesh.

    Haven't seen Tokyo Sonata though I remember my friend giving me a copy of it a year back. I'm not all that familiar with Kagawa Teruyuki but he's more than likely someone that I've seen around in a few dramas.

    So it's a deal then. When stumped about where an actor's been seen before, just thoughtfully scratch head and mutter, "chameleon..." hehehe