- Release Date: 24/06/2022
- Platform: Netflix
- Cast: Yoo Ji-tae, Park Hae-soo, Jeon Jong-seo, Lee Won-jong, Park Myung-hoon
- Director: Kim Hong-sun
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area (MHK) is an official remake of the immensely popular series, Money Heist AKA La Casa De Papel created by Alex Pina that was later acquired by Netflix. While the basic story and the characters remain the same in the latest iteration, it is the backdrop of the North and South Korean conflict and the fictional idea of reunification between the two countries that make this iteration of the story different from its predecessor.
The makers of MHK have also changed certain characters and their back stories to better suit the narrative. These changes also tell us a lot more about the inspirations of these characters for doing what they are shown doing. These are the elements that grabbed my attention in the series and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was watching a series that tried to be similar to its predecessor but was also putting in enough new material and characterizations to present itself as a new show. It is pointless to review this series in terms of its story, action, surprises, thrill, and drama. What is required here is to look closely at what has been changed from the originals in this iteration and whether or not it has impacted the original story enough to make it worthy of a repeat viewing.
The fictional concept of Joint Economic Area:
The professor in La Casa de Papel was a thief and belonged to a family of crafty thieves and did what he was shown doing for the purposes of payback and also because stealing impossible things gave him a kick. Interestingly, the professor here is actually a professor. The series spawns from the fictional idea of the reunification of the two Koreas (North and South). During the implementation of this integration, the professor is roped in to draw plans for the merger and also suggest the best modus oparandi for the same. It is during this exercise that he comes across something that makes him question his actions and sets him on a path to loot the mint located inside the “Joint Economic Area” complex and make way with a huge sum of money. We have not yet been shown what triggered the professor but it is apparent that he was disillusioned by what he saw during his association with the politicians and bureaucrats and was inspired to do what he does throughout the rest of the series.
This for me was a far better and more affecting setup than what Alex Pina came up with in the original. This not only makes the professor a far better and respectable protagonist but also stacks up the stakes for him a lot higher than what was the case ever before. The loot is not only for them to have a great life but also to disarm a corrupt and polluted system that has been earning and flourishing at the cost of human lives and existence.
Characters from both sides of Korea that leave a considerable impact:
Be it the thieves, the law enforcement, or even the workforce at the mint, the characters are an eclectic mix of individuals from both sides of Korea. This creates some interesting dynamics and frictions between characters that can only be imagined and executed in a situation that prevails between the two Koreas. I cannot blame Alex Pina for missing out on this unique opportunity as he didn’t have this unique conflict to start with in his original iteration of the series.
The thieves are an eclectic mix from both Koreas and their backstories are just as interesting. Berlin is shown growing up in a concentration camp and that explains his maniacal ways around people and situations. Tokyo was nearly sold into prostitution as she looked for a better life in South Korea traveling all the way from the North. She is shown singing in a North Korean Karaoke bar and falling prey to South Korean loan sharks and pimps whom she ultimately kills. She is then on the run from the South Korean Police before she is recruited by the professor. Her story feels compelling and a lot more relatable and emotionally back-able as she endured true tragedy and was literally forced into a corner for doing what she was shown doing. Such depth was missing in the character development of Tokyo in the original.
The security forces are also a mix of North and South and they have major trust issues for each other, particularly the North for the South. It takes them a while to get in the groove and even after that they constantly withhold information from each other leading to some interesting situations. Even the mint workforce has characters from both sides of Korea and the Northern ones hate their cowardly and manipulative leader, Cho Young-Min (Park Myung- Hoon), a character that is a replica of Arturo Roman from the original series. As the story progresses, this hatred leads to some interesting situations and makes some of the members of the mint even side with the robbers.
Far more likable characters:
Every character in this series is noticeably more likable than in the original. Berlin was my favorite character in the first season of La Casa de Papel. The iteration of Berlin that we get here is easily going to be the favorite character for most of the audiences. He is someone who has had a torrid past that has made him into a marauding and psychotic go-getter who knows nothing else but to succeed and do things his way even if that means killing. Park Hae-Soo absolutely kills as the character and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that he makes the character his own and goes far beyond what Pedro Alonso could ever go.
Jeon Jong-seo as Tokyo is a breath of fresh air after Úrsula Corberó’s immensely irritating, annoying, and by the end, hateable rendition of a female character that was supposed to be inspiring and reminiscent of the burning flame of female empowerment. The makers of MHK skillfully create a believable back story for the character of Tokyo that explains her sense of comfort in combat and with weapons. They completely do away with the annoying love story that she was shown having before falling head over heels for Rio in the original. In the first 6 episodes of the series, the love angle between her and Rio has barely begun and it is being carried out in such a subtle manner that it immediately struck a chord with me. I don’t know which way the story will go in the next 6 episodes but I like the way the character has gone this far. Jeon Jong-seo is a lot more poised, hardly overacts, and is a lot more likable than Úrsula Corberó’s rendition of the same character.
Simmering chemistry between Kim Yun-jin and Yoo Ji-Tae:
Yoo Ji-tae as the professor and Kim Yun-jin as Seon Wo- Jin, the chief negotiator from the police cook up a storm between them. The chemistry between the professor and Raquel in the original was also fantastic but there is something so likable and natural about the pair here that it quickly overshadowed my memories of all that I loved about the professor and Raquel. The emotional bits between the two are a lot more pronounced and they get to spend a lot more time in each other’s company which leads to them understanding each other better. This in turn ensures that the romantic relationship between the two blossoms a lot more naturally and is much more believable. The fact that the two actors are at the top of their game only adds to the inherent charm of this aspect of the series.
I last saw Yoo Ji-Tae as the nefarious villain in Oldboy. Even there, he was so charming in his rendition of the character that it was hard to hate him. As the professor who has his heart in the right place from the very beginning, Yoo Ji-Tae has the luxury of turning on the charm and he does so in his trademark style. This was a character that was tailor-made for him and he plays to his strengths throughout. Kim Yun-jin complements him wonderfully throughout and at the same time leaves makes her mark too.
Serious and believable approach to the storytelling:
As I sat through the first 6 episodes of this series, I realized that the makers took a lot more serious and grounded approach to the storytelling, action set pieces, twists and turns, and above all the tone of the narrative. Some new angles and characters are added that change the narrative to a certain extent and are always there for the best. The performances are a lot more grounded too. This can be noticed in how the characters of Denver, Berlin, and even Nairobi are toned down from their previous iterations. All these changes worked well for me in the series.
The next 6 episodes of the series will determine if the makers dare to make substantial changes to the narrative making this series an essential watch or will they stick to the tried and tested formula and serve a dish that has proved its value before. Whatever may be the case, I will be waiting for the next 6 episodes of the series, and only after that will I decide whether to stick with this series in the future or give it a miss.