Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
It’s never easy for a remake to be better than the original series. The new Netflix original series Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area, released on June 24th, is receiving mixed reactions, just as we expected. No, to be precise, it’s receiving criticisms more than praises. From the opening scene, where Tokyo (Jeon Jong Seo) appears dancing to BTS’ “DNA” in a school uniform and introduces herself by saying “Fans of the K-pop boy band BTS are called ARMY.” you’re left confused. Is this what you call K-style?
As you all know, Money Heist: Korea is a Korean remake of the Spanish hit series Money Heist. Last year, the show wrapped up after part 5 and a new spin-off centering around the popular character Berlin is in active development. The reason for the show’s global popularity, enough to get a remake in Korea, is all thanks to its fresh ideas, strong narrative, and unexpected twists. The story of robbers taking over the Mint and printing money is ingenious, the characters who constantly clash are instinctive and full of characters, and every episode with unexpected twists puts the viewers through a whirlwind of emotions. The combination of a unique tension of a heist genre and the romance genre provides a unique fun we’ve never seen before.
The Korean remake Money Heist: Korea follows this plot as well. Staged against the backdrop of the Korean peninsula that’s nearing unification, it depicts a hostage crisis in Korea involving a genius strategist and people with different personalities and abilities. But the Korean remake seems to focus more on the charms of the crime drama. It creates a new kind of fun by combining the original show’s unique setting with Korea’s special situation, the only divided country in the world. In 2026, ahead of reunification, the Mint, which issues a common currency between the two Koreas, becomes the stage for unprecedented crime. With this, the Korean remake differentiates itself from the Spanish series and tells a novel story. What sort of variables this unusual setting of reunification will create in the flow of the story raises curiosity. The localization strategy that the remake took to solidify the viewers’ anticipation for the genre seems successful. Moreover, Korean traditional music that flows out at the right time and place raises tension.
However, it’s quite disappointing that the intensity of the original series has been drilled. If you’ve enjoyed the Spanish series, you might find the remake where the characters’ personalities are halved and the storytelling that follows only the flow of events quite boring. This is because the story was adapted to revolve around the events rather than the characters. Unlike the original characters that get swayed around by emotions and instincts, Thus, conflicts and confrontations inside and outside the Mint do not produce that firelike tensity. The story itself is intriguing, but it’s true that it’s less compelling in a way. It’d have been nice if the setting of reunification, an interesting variation from the original show, played a bigger role, but unfortunately, it only remains as a backstory.
Another reason for the less-absorbing plot is the dulled-out characters. Tokyo is the best example. Úrsula Corberó’s Tokyo was like a ticking bomb. She stayed faithful to her instincts and made reckless choices even in desperate moments, causing even bigger troubles more than once, and her seething emotions brought the show to a dramatic turn. But Tokyo in Money Heist: Korea is different. She’s more rational than emotional and seems even innocent. That’s not a bad thing. But the problem is her awkward position within the robbers – how she steps away from the center of the events. Since Tokyo’s role is ambiguous, her charm as a narrator is also reduced. Nairobi (Jang Yoon Ju), a friendly and girl-crush character in the original show, turned into a shallow con artist, and the Professor (Yoo Ji Tae), who exuded nerdy yet intellectual charm conducting the heist both inside and outside the Mist in the original show, is somewhat vague. Additionally, the characters representing South and North Korea are just typical. Especially the North Korean officials are drawn as authoritative, oppressive people that conform to the system, which is just stereotypical. As the characters were portrayed so bland, the fun of the show that fluctuated and flowed anomalously is weakened.
So far, Money Heist: Korea was only a disappointment. Yes, the story flows in a similar pattern as the original show, but the intense rhythm has faded, and there’s no eye-catching characteristics unique to the remake. It’s making me even wonder if the remake was really necessary. How some female characters are illustrated at the beginning showed a lack of imagination. Yet, it may be too early to judge. There’s still part 2. I’m having my hopes up as there’s a possibility that part 2 will tell a story different from Money Heist, for example, the setting of reunification that was missed in part 1. Moreover, what could be the stories of the characters with different backgrounds from the original show, like the Professor and Berlin (Park Hae Soo)? Of course, I hope the character that didn’t quite live up to my expectations will play a bigger role in part 2. Now, I just pray that part 2 will make up for the disappointment I felt. (5/10)
Edited Hong Hyun Jung: I am a K-content guide who publishes various articles for people to enjoy Korean movies and dramas deeper and richer. I’ll introduce you to the works that you can laugh, cry and sympathize with.