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Money Heist: Korea review: a promising, lively crossover

Expectations were sky high for Robbery: Korea – Joint Economic Area, even before launch. The original money robbery from Spain (La Casa de Papel) was one of Netflix’s most-watched series, later winning the International Emmy Award for Best Drama Series in 2018. This crossover with the seismic power of Korean content – in the golden age it is now in – certainly throws open its sheer scope. of what Netflix can achieve with its ever-expanding library of popular franchises.

For the most part, Part 1 is a lively adventure, spearheaded by a very capable cast. The set design of the labyrinthine Unified Korea Mint deserves special recognition for its versatility – full of possibilities to reveal the restless mechanisms of earning money or to hide the machinations of those who crave its wealth. Viewers of the original money robbery will also recognize familiar story structures that underpin the Korean remake: the achronological narrative, which both drives suspense and withholds information, and the unreliable narrator, Tokyo, who constantly shifts the sands of the story’s reality.

Receive the blessing of money robbery creator Álex Pina for a Korean remake, Money Robbery: Korea – Joint Economic Area launched the first six episodes (part 1) on June 24. It takes place in the near future, where the current Joint Security Area between North and South Korea has been transformed into a Joint Economic Area. An area of ​​bitter division soon becomes the shining symbol of unification, with the exciting promise of new business opportunities and a shared currency – printed at the Unified Korea Mint.

However, a professor specializing in research into the economic impact of unification becomes increasingly disillusioned with the exploitation of low-paid migrant workers and the growing divide between the haves and have-nots after unification. He then assembles a ragtag squad of eight thieves to carry out a heist worth 4 trillion won at the Unified Korea Mint.

Each character in the main ensemble feels equally capable of innocence or evil, mercy or violence. Veteran actor Yoo Ji-tae, as the professor, dances between a righteous, Robinhood-esque charm and a penchant for cold manipulation. LostKim Yunjin’s delicately balances the immense personal struggle her character, Senior Inspector Seon Woo-jin, faces and a high-stakes crisis negotiation amid the heist. Park Hae-soo (most recently from Squid Game fame) plays the formidable Berlin, who believes in exercising power through fear. Privately, though, his unresolved trauma of surviving in North Korea’s infamous Gaecheon concentration camp can quickly turn him into a fearful figure, breaking out in a cold sweat. Jeon Jong Seo (Burning) plays a North Korean woman, Tokyo, who quietly tries to reassemble her dreams after suffering fraud and abuse as a migrant worker.

Relying on the strength of its cast and streamlined action sequences, Robbery: Korea seems more confident about his means – go to the Mint, hold people hostage (but don’t kill anyone!), print the money, get out – then his goals. After establishing such a promising context and convincing universe, Robbery: Korea sometimes feels like he is trapped in his own ambition and unsure of how to get out.

Arguably the most important thing for any story to achieve is convincing the viewer to advocate for its protagonist(s) – however flawed they may be. We must grow to see the world from their perspective, sympathize with them in their triumphs and defeats, and stand up for their victory. However, if we look beyond the charm of the main ensemble, we may ask: why should I support this group of thieves who are essentially seeking personal wealth at the expense of the hard-won reunification of the peninsula? (And maybe not for the hungry, overworked hostages, who really have nothing to do with this?) Considering the endings of previous seasons of the original money robberymaybe this is a question that will be answered when part 2 comes out (date unannounced).

Some of the most acclaimed Netflix Korean original series of recent years — such as KingdomDPor Squid Game — have shown that their action-packed shows are immensely capable of sharp, sharp social commentary. However, the comment in Robbery: Korea feels a bit more nuanced. It is certainly there, but it is lost amid the buzz of the La Monnaie hostage situation.

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Robbery: Korea.
Image: Jung Jaegu / Netflix

The strongest and most reasonable motivation comes through Tokyo. Tokyo sees her own “Korean dream” shattered after she leaves the North Korean military and emigrates south. In the first episode, she swears under her breath, “Welcome to capitalism.” The heist is her chance for a breakthrough – and to regain many times over what she feels she has lost to the atrocities of such an economic system.

Some of the best sequences of the series actually come in the first few minutes of each episode, where the show begins with a glimpse of each character’s backstory. It helps to outline each character’s journey in a more nuanced way, gives weight to their case and allows us to understand why they joined the Professor’s heist in the first place.

Another critical comment is given by the masks worn by the raiding crew, which are modeled after the Korean hahoe masks. The hahoe masks, in their various shapes, forms and expressions, traditionally represent the social status of its characters. In the original money robberyThe Salvador Dali mask was used to protest injustice, and the heist was a way to bring financial recovery to those hardest hit by capitalism’s brutal fringes.

With the heist crew adamant that what they’re doing is honorable and right, the six unreleased episodes that make up Part 2 must answer: Will the ends really justify the means?

part one of Money Robbery: Korea – Joint Economic Area streaming on Netflix now.

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