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Drama review: Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area injects energising geopolitical twist to Spanish hit series

Despite the resounding success of Money Heist, its Korean rendition still has something valuable to offer, thanks to its geopolitical twist.

Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area (2022)
3.5 stars
Netflix 


With titles like Kingdom (2019), Squid Game (2021) and All Of Us Are Dead (2022) in its collection, Netflix proved time and again that their Korean originals never disappoint. 

Its recent addition, Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area, continued the streaming giant’s streak.

With the original series already a worldwide phenomenon, a remake could only mean two things. It either rides on the pre-established fanfare to propel the title to greater heights. Or gear yourself up for a complete flop.

Fortunately, there’s sufficient ground to believe that the Korean rendition is not just a slipshod copycat attempt of its Spanish counterpart.

Here’s why: its context is vastly different from the original. 

It is set in a fictional “Joint Economic Area”, a specialised area intended to boost economic growth in the unified Korea following the opening of the North and South borders. A unified country would naturally suggest the need for a new mint to churn out a unified currency, which seamlessly sets the stage for the impending heist.

Despite the reunification, though, tensions between the North and South are still rife. And showmakers have artfully used that to their advantage. After all, this is an exclusive edge that the Korean remake enjoys over the original.

By highlighting internal distrust between the police and hostages alike, this adds another layer to the otherwise largely similar plot. 

Kim Yun-jin plays South Korean crisis negotiation team leader Seon Woo-jin while Kim Sung-oh plays Captain Cha Moo-hyuk, a North Korean former special agent. The duo heads the combined task force set up to de-escalate tensions during the heist. 

Kim Yun-jin plays crisis negotiation team leader Seon Woo-jin. Photo: Jung Jaegu/Netflix

Further in the series, it’s interesting to watch how their superficial professionalism plays out into distrust, with suspicion that there could be a mole in the task force.

Like the two police officers who looked the part, casting for the other roles were also mostly done right. 

The series roped in veterans like Yoo Ji-tae who plays ‘Professor’, the heist mastermind and Park Hae-soo as Berlin, a former North Korean prisoner who oversees the heist on the ground. Model Jang Yoon-joo also made her return to acting as Nairobi, a con-artist who is involved in the heist.

Despite a stellar cast, it’s regrettable, and a waste, even, that the South Korean rendition is much less daunting than the original. 

The portrayal of the characters were less menacing and badass. The heist itself was also executed with restraint, as the robbers consistently assured hostages of their safety as long as they cooperated with them.

But they are not all to blame. 

Having watched the original series, it’s inevitable to have a mental preparation of what’s to come – where each plot twist diminishes in the surprise and impact it was intended to bring.

The money heist took place at the mint located in the Joint Economic Area (JEA). Photo: Jung Jaegu/Netflix

Symbolic elements of the heist like the red coveralls and Dali masks were still used as visual cues for audiences to identify with the series. However, the production teamt, most likely intentionally, left out the iconic “Bella ciao” folk song in its Korean remake.

Nevertheless, a compelling tidbit was introduced midway through the series.

In an attempt to differentiate themselves from an intruder, robbers and hostages wore Hahoetal masks. These masks were typically worn during traditional ceremonies dating back to the 12th century. In the series, however, they were intended to mock social elites and the concept of capitalism.

It is currently unknown whether more tidbits will be on the way, as the series ended on a cliffhanger. However, the second instalment of season 1 is rumoured to make its release in the last quarter of 2022.

Watch Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area on Netflix now.

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