As a K-pop fan, one should be no stranger to the mafia game – idols are well-known for playing mafia for their reality shows or in their off-time, as a way for both entertainment and as a past-time. From March 2019 onwards on tvN, Prison Life of Fools brings a cast of actors, idols, and comedians together to play the mafia game with a lot more than just the traditional game at hand.
The following contain mild spoilers for episodes 9, 10, and 11.
As the first part of tvN’s Amazing Saturday line-up, Prison Life of Fools (otherwise known as Mafia Game in Prison) is a variety show starring Kim Tae-jin, IZ*ONE’s Choi Ye-na, Han Bo-Reum, Seventeen’s Seungkwan, GOT7’s JB, Lee Soogeun, Jeong Hyeong-don, Kim Jong-min, Hwang Je-sung, Lee Sang-yeob, and Jang Do-yeon as regular cast. Throughout the show, there have been various guest appearances wherein the members of the regular cast were absent, such as Monsta X’s Shownu, IZ*ONE’s Yujin, and more. The concept of the show is simple: it’s the well-known mafia game, but in a prison setting.
There are multiple games within the main mafia game referred to as “reformation activities”. The cast is split up into two teams – team honesty (blue), and team diligence (pink). The winning team of any reformation activity get to put more votes on who is the mafia – so naturally, those in the mafia would be more eager to win to gain more power in who gets voted out. These reformation activities are usually done in teams, but there are a few individual games as well where the cast compete for food. There are penalties for the losing teams as well, where they must show in one form or another, the word that only model prisoners know. In the traditional mafia game, there’s a lot less rules. One could argue this “version” is unnecessary. These same people will still get other opportunities to play mafia, so what makes this show entertaining and new?
With a cast of comedians, actors, and idols, the show is seemingly balanced with various backgrounds – and different opportunities to promote different things. It is perhaps refreshing to see these people come together to play something like the mafia game, it’s an environment that consists of a lot of teasing, betrayal, and lying. Even if it may be repetitive and predictable, it has its charms that makes one continue to watch. One of its bigger charms is the regular cast – and how dedicated the show clearly is to them. Despite not appearing for some episodes, GOT7’s JB was still referred to and talked about – same with Kim Jong-min, etc. There is chemistry and dedication among the regular cast, and many of them seem to share time off-screen as well. At the same time, new guests make dynamics interesting and keep it fresh. New faces also mean people don’t necessarily know how to read their behaviour yet, and this keeps the outcome a bit harder to predict.
When the chicken leg reformation activity was first introduced, Do-Yeon was the cast member who was well-known as being almost the unbeatable champion – that is, until episode 11, where she was bested by Seventeen’s Jeonghan. This created a rather dramatic showdown with the “queen” Do-Yeon nearly swearing, creating more entertainment for us viewers. A montage of her many conquests, followed by her losing to a guest player was memorable part of one of the newer episodes. With scenes such as this, new guests can surprise not just us, but the rest of the cast as well. Guest players are also harder to analyse – take GOT7’s Bambam who was briefly assumed to be mafia in round 5 (episodes 9 and 10) due to certain behaviour of his, which in actuality was merely because he wasn’t good at playing mafia in general. Like this, guest players can prove very suspicious and throw the voting off. Hence, more drama and uncertainty in terms of who really is the mafia.
There is also certain hilarity when someone is obvious in being mafia and actually is part of the mafia. Such is the case with queen Do-Yeon in episode 9, where she was forced to do a drawing penalty first without knowing what the model prisoners’ insider word was. Without any hints or any prior indications, anything too vague would be suspicious. The rest of the cast poked a lot of good-naturedly fun at her, and “kept her alive” because she was such a sure thing, so that they then could focus on catching the other two mafia members first.
At the end of the day, the show is establishing itself with a regular cast it is dedicated to and who continually promote the show. We all know and love the mafia game, and the regular cast makes the show easy to come back to. Regardless of old and new faces, there are accusations of each other being mafia for the simplest of reasons – and that’s what keeps making the show entertaining. The cast simply delivers with the confusion, dramatic accusations thrown left and right, etc., necessary to make the viewer interested in the outcome themselves.
Even model prisoners in the show continually lie and confuse both viewers and fellow model prisoners in terms of who is mafia, and this keeps everyone on their toes. That is not to say there is never need for changes to the concept and set-up of the game/show as a whole. As the show progresses, new rules and games are added when needed, such as a break being added wherein the mafia can communicate through a secret chat to talk strategy. This is all to help balance the game out and to make things more fair.
In conclusion, if you’re interested in watching a bunch of prisoners make fools of themselves, make sure to tune in on Saturdays on tvN for Prison Life of Fools!
(Images via tvN)