Updated: June 26, 2022 9:08:57 am
In one of the episodes of Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area, Professor welcomes Seon Woojin into a restaurant named ‘Café Bella Ciao’. This blink-and-miss reference to the original Spanish show is heartwarming, and also serves as a reminder that the original series set a benchmark that is going to be hard to match up to.
Before tuning in, I had exactly the same concern – Will the Korean version be as good as the Spanish one? We knew that this was going to be familiar territory and I am glad to report that the newness of the concept succeeded in keeping me on the edge of my seat for six hours of Money Heist Korea. Credit to the writers for understanding the extreme expectations they had to cater to. They don’t kneel under the pressure but keep their own perspective at the forefront.
So when Jun Jong-seo aka Tokyo, a former soldier from North Korea opens the show, dancing to BTS song DNA, it’s a realisation that despite the Korean Peninsula remaining the only divided nation in the world, it is still bound by the boy band.
The basic structure of the show remains the same – that of a mastermind Professor collecting a bunch of small-time criminals to undertake his meticulous plan of the biggest heist in the history of Korea. But unlike the Spanish series that highlighted themes like government oppression and economic freedom, this one is set in the near future around the soon-to-be unified Korea and the repercussions the common man faces because of the same. They target a mint set in an area on the lines of real-life Joint Security Area, a part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or the Truce Village, where all diplomatic negotiations between North Korea and South Korea are held.
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The remake borrows its characters from the original, but with varied backstories. This makes the new version more impactful with all of them bringing their local flavour. It’s like they have the same DNA as their Spanish twins, yet they are different individuals. In the Spanish one, Denver had a burst of signature laughter but here, he has a saturi accent. And both interpretations are unique.
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area is everything Korean, from its colors to geography and ideologies. The Dali masks give way to Hahoe masks. It’s not old wine in a new bottle but, it is a a standalone piece. The brilliance with which its writers bring in the socio-political debates into the story is its USP.
Roping in a stellar starcast is half the battle won for Money Heist: Korea. To pick one actor and laud them might be very difficult. Yoo Ji-tae as Professor is near-perfect, even if he doesn’t twitch his glasses like Alvaro Morte, he does adjust them as if immediately allowing his alter-ego to come into play, even during a delicate moment with Woojin.
Kim Yunjin as crisis negotiation team leader Seon Woojin appears powerful, and we are glad she pulled off Itziar Ituño’s Raquel Murillo with equal poise. Tokyo is fiery and a thunder, Nairobi is the calming force, Denver with an emotional core brings a breather, and Rio, the rich spoilt brat is the brains. The show has several romantic tracks in place, but the way this show builds the sexual tension between the characters is very different from what we’ve seen before.
The scene stealer, however, is Berlin. Squid Game fame Park Hae-soo gets to do the most, be the immensely unpredictable anti-hero. He’s dark and dreaded, much more than Pedro Alonso. He is outstanding, to say the least.
Money Heist Korea is loaded with dozens of new plot twists. From dramatic standoffs between the robbers and the police, to the hostage crisis, and a cop infiltrating inside the mint, it is fresh and nail-biting.
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area is a love letter to La Casa De Papel. We aren’t done with this romance yet. There’s a lot of action left to unfold in its season two.
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