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In ‘Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area,’ masked members get an interesting twist

Ysa Abad
In ‘Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area,’ masked members get an interesting twist

Netflix

'Naturally, we were able to see what kind of variations should be given to each individual character because they are set in a different time and space,' says writer Ryu Yong-jae

It’s no easy feat to follow in the footsteps of as widely successful a series as La Casa de Papel. But if there’s anyone who can give the adaptation of this crime drama justice, it would be the South Koreans, who have already established themselves for creating high-quality series. 

In Money Heist Korea Joint Economic Area, the crime of the century will take place in a fictitious city called the “Joint Economic Area,” where South Korea and North Korea are on the brink of reunification. This, as director Kim Hong-sun said in a press conference, is what sets the adaptation apart from the original. 

“It had to be really convincing. It should feel like it is realistic…. As I thought deeply about it, I thought maybe the inter-Korean relationship can be put into a near-future kind of time setting.… I was thinking that these stories of the two Koreas can be told to the global audience once again,” he said. 

In ‘Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area,’ masked members get an interesting twist

Writer Ryu Yong-jae said that incorporating the inter-Korean relationship into the series will make the story more interesting. “Even within the gang and even within the task force, North and South Koreans sometimes have dynamic chemistry among themselves because of the long history of the divided nation. So there is another layer that is always on top of the overall situation and that adds tension. There is another angle, or a lens, that is always put on that show,” he explained. 

Ryu continued, “There is a layer of the South and North story, and it might not seem novel because we have seen a lot of those, but we have never seen the inter-Korean relations come together with a heist. And robbers of North and South Korean people coming together, and North Korean and South Korean police coming together – that is totally new. I don’t think we saw this before, and I think this is something that could happen in Korea in the near to far future.” 

“And I like this concept of the Joint Economic Area where people from the North and South can roam freely, and the background looks North Korean but at the same time also South Korean. So I think Korean people could really enjoy the show, thinking this could be something that could happen in the future for us.” 

Both director Kim and writer Ryu admit to being huge fans of the original series, and for them, the characters played a big role in the show’s success. “What’s amazing is that all of them have their own personalities and charms, and it was just so fun to watch them all. And I knew that the characters would be very intriguing whenever and wherever they would be placed in. So I thought, if we translate the background and characters into something Korean, we could give birth to something novel.” 

Yoo Ji-tae, who will portray the Professor, describes his character as a genius strategist: “He is full of convictions. So even when he’s committing a crime, there should be no victims, no people who get injured or hurt.” While he played the role of villain before, Yoo said that this is the first time for him to give life to this kind of character. 

Kim Yun-jin, who takes on the role of senior inspector Seon Woojin, said of her character: “As a negotiator in the joint task force team, she is really excellent in her own prowess and she is really calm and cold-hearted.” 

Park Hae-soo said that his character Berlin is an “embodiment of the pain and sorrow that the two Koreas are experiencing.” “He was serving in a forced labor camp in North Korea for a long time and he escaped. And within the confined space of the Mint, he is using different methods to control the hostages there, and he is a cold-hearted person.” 

Jung Jong-seo, meanwhile, teased viewers that her version of Tokyo will be “most different from the original character.” “She is an ordinary girl who was living in North Korea and she is in her 20s, and hoping to live the Korean dream, she came to South Korea. And she had to taste the bitterness of capitalism, and at that moment, she meets with the Professor, so she is just following the Professor unconditionally because she is convinced by his convictions. So she is, in fact, gambling with her own life.”

She continued, “[Tokyo] is a Gen Z, she’s in her 20s, and the realistic elements of those in her 20s are reflected in the show. She is the most pure, I would say, and she is so much into the conviction of the Professor so she doesn’t get distracted, she’s very stable, and she is just focusing on one goal.” 

Lee Won-jong portrays Moscow. “He has lived life in a dead end, and he has a son who might end up in the dead end once again, and he cares so much about this son. And he must have some hopes, right? In fact, this is the last string of hope that Moscow is trying to hold onto,” he said. 

Jang Yoon-ju plays Nairobi, a “counterfeit expert and con woman.” “Even within the Mint, she feels like she’s partying. [She’s] cheerful and like the life of the party,” she remarked. 

For Lee Hyun-woo, his character Rio is a cheerful, naive, and childish boy. “While he is part of the gang, I think you can see a growth arc of the character. He is a genius hacker so he uses this expertise to help connect Professor with the gang inside the Mint. And he’s the youngest of the crew.” 

Lee Kyu-ho plays Oslo, “the biggest guy in the gang.” “He may look scary but sometimes he is kind of giving a warm heart to the hostages and he acts with warmth. He is warm on the inside,” he said. 

And Kim Ji-hun portrays Denver. “He is very simple-minded and you can really stir him up easily. So when he sees something not just, he would be fired up. But he’s also innocent and naive so I think he’s quite charming.” 

Writer Ryu said that they made sure to approach each character in a way that they retain the charm of the original version, but also give them their own backstories and reasons to strive for survival. “Mimicking [the original] or replicating that was not exactly a great idea. But I still didn’t want to miss out on the great charm of the original characters. So the uniquely Korean tale will be the structure embracing all these characters, and the characters will be coming in and playing around there,” he said. 

“Naturally, we were able to see what kind of variations should be given to each individual character because they are set in a different time and space.… The actors also gave me a lot of input and insight and what kind of interpretations they wanted to add on to the characters. So we actually developed the characters together,” he added.  

Director Kim then asked viewers – both fans of the original series and those who haven’t watched the Spanish version ​​– to give their adaptation a chance. 

In ‘Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area,’ masked members get an interesting twist

“Money Heist Korea: Joint Economic Area is set in the same genre, but the characters are really diverse and multi-layered, so it’s going to be quite fun to watch. And for the fans of the original series, you’ll be able to find out which elements have changed and which elements have become more Korean-like, and how the characters have incorporated some of the Korean aspects to them,” he said. 

The original Money Heist follows a group of thieves behind elaborate bank robberies, masterminded by the mysterious Professor (played by Alvaro Morte). Part 1 premiered on Netflix in 2017, and was a hit around the world, becoming Netflix’s most-watched non-English series.

The Korean adaptation is directed by Kim Hong-sun, with the first six episodes of the first season premiering on June 24. – Rappler.com