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Money Heist Korea: Joint Economic Area Review
Red overalls, Dali masks and talent managed by the Professor who pulls all kinds of strings and stunts to rob the Spanish Mint of € 2.4 billion: Money Heist has run for not one, not two, but five seasons. And viewers worldwide are still hooked, to find out what the Professor and the team will do next, after pulling off a daring gold robbery and taking off in a helicopter in the last season…
The Korean version of the show is faithful to the original Spanish. The additional beauty of it is its use of geopolitics: Given the distrust between North Koreans and South Koreans, the robbers use the textbook ‘divide and rule’ techniques to keep the hostages from trusting one another. But manipulations have a way of backfiring and the hostage-takers themselves begin to fight over the moral question: how can you let anyone persuade you to kill a hostage?
By the third episode, you are already shaken by the turn of events. The Professor here is played by the super-talented Yoo Ji-Tae (you have seen him in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy – if you haven’t, you must. The film is on Amazon Prime Video. The Indian version of the film is Zinda). Yoo Ji-Tae has a face you can trust. Still, the more he adjusts his glasses like Alvaro Morte in the original Spanish versions of the show, the more you are in awe of his ability to plan and execute (remotely, of course) a daring robbery of the Korean mint.
You will love the backstories of every character, giving viewers reasons to support them. If Berlin is crazy in the head, it’s because his childhood was spent in a solitary cell, being beaten up by the North Koreans. If Tokyo cannot abide violence toward women, it is because she has seen the corrupt immigration agents torture a young woman…
If you’ve watched the five seasons of the Spanish Money Heist, you know that the characters are named after cities around the world (the original cast were Tokyo, Rio, Palermo, Denver, Berlin, and Nairobi) and here we have Oslo and Helsinki too but no Palermo. I wish they had used the names of cities in Korea (Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, and so on…) instead. But they explain it right away: where would you like to settle down when you have all the money you wished for? Pause, and answer that question. That would be your heist name.
The show is proof that South Korean entertainers are also good at adapting a show and making it their own. Yes, I’m talking about the mask. Whilst the Spanish show chose the Salvadore Dali mask (Dali broke rules, and the mask is an appropriate homage to the larger-than-life Spanish artist), the Koreans have the Hahoe mask. This mask has a smile that could be at once a humorous take on the politics of the two nations that try to come together and also a sharp, sinister commentary on the fact that no matter how much the two Koreas try to unite toward a common goal, the more the things stay the same: the poor get poorer and the rich get richer…
The lead negotiator Sun Woo-Jin is played beautifully by Kim Yun-Jin. You know that the Professor is playing her, so you feel bad for her, and yet, she’s clever and really good at her job. The cops who are parked outside the Mint also share their own tensions of North VS South, but then they work beautifully together to hack into the smartwatch that the director of the Mint manages to switch on.
Park Myung-Hoon plays the wily director of the Mint really well. Come to think of it, each of the characters involved in the heist as well as the hostages is played by such a good actor, you are reminded of the recent Korean phenomenon Squid Game. Here there are no stark life and death situations as in the Squid Game, but you are compelled to watch the human drama unfold in front of you.
In this show when the hostages are pitted against the gun-toting heist members and are forced to work, there is always that doubt at the back of your mind: will they turn against their captors? Will the police win? Or will the Professor and his planned attack against thoughtless capitalism bring the two Koreas to their knees?
By the time you get to the sixth episode, you too are wondering about the real-life impact of unification on the two countries if things are not thought through. The torn note is a clue to something big, isn’t it?
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