Money Heist: Korea: It’s prettier—prettier—than the original Spanish series

The K stars look like K stars robbing the Mint. To their credit, they’re all convincing in their roles

Money Heist Korea Official poster from Netflix

Credit: The Swoon/YouTube

It’s been more than four years since the original Spanish caper series Money Heist conquered TV viewers the world over. Critical reception was largely positive and it’s also attracted a huge following among Filipinos.  With so much hype happening on the net, the show is probably our country’s most significant Spanish import since the Spaniards introduced Christianity to our forefathers.

Honestly, I wasn’t keen on binging on Money Heist just yet. I’ve read about it and the premise is hardly different from the old caper movies like Ocean’s 11, the original of which was produced back in 1960. Money Heist follows the same formula; the plan is to break into a tightly guarded building and steal the tons of cash stored in its giant vaults. This is made possible by using a group of thieves, each of whom has a specific talent that would ensure the heist’s success.

The group of thieves in Money Heist was  chosen and assembled by the mastermind who calls himself the Professor.  His cohorts are called by their code names. They’re all named after cities. The lead character’s name is Tokyo, a cynical young girl who is wanted by the police for robbing banks. The others such as Rio and Berlin also have their respective nefarious pasts. They’ve been brought together to rob The Royal Mint of Spain.

However, what distinguished this caper from the rest is they aren’t stealing the money. They plan to print their own cash, billions of them. It would take days to print the amount of bills they want so their plan is to pretend to be trapped in the Mint, which they knew would be quickly surrounded by the police.   To buy more time, they create a hostage scenario with the Mint’s staff and visitors. Meanwhile, one of the thieves, called Moscow, is drilling a tunnel for their escape route.

It’s an intriguing twist but still I refused to be swayed by the Money Heist internet bandwagon.  It finally got my full attention after I learned that a Korean remake is now streaming.  This was a surprise because it’s the Korean shows that are usually remade. Hollywood, for instance, produced its own version of The Good Doctor. On the local front, GMA-7 has redone K-dramas several times, for better or worse.

Money Heist is probably so good that it warranted a Korean remake. Thus I binged on both versions. I saw the Korean remake first and I’ve just finished the original just before I started to write this.

The remake has a long title; Money Heist Korean— Joint Economic Area. It’s longer as it has a much more grandiose premise. The story is set in 2025; North Korea and South Korea are paving the way for reunification. The first step is the establishment of the Joint Economic Area where North Koreans and South Koreans are employed. This is where the Mint is located.

Perhaps because of the hype, my expectations of Money Heist Korean were sky high

To make them more compatible to Korean culture, minor changes were also done to the character of some of the protagonists. The sex scenes have also been muted, slightly. This version’s plot is faithful to the original to a fault. Thus the heist is being supervised by the Professor (played by Yoo Ji Tae) who’s pretending to negotiate with the police. He has everyone thinking he’s in the Mint but he’s actually in his own house giving instructions to his minions while playing mind games with the female police negotiator (Yunjim Kim). Indeed, even thieves consider working from home preferable to face-to-face robberies.

Perhaps because of the hype, my expectations of Money Heist Korean were sky high. We’ve seen Tom Cruise engage in numerous death-defying heists in his Mission: Impossible movies.  They always left us at the edge of our seats. So I guess I was hoping for something remotely similar in Money Heist.  Yet even its climatic car chase isn’t done well and it’s sloppily edited. The script also lacks the cleverness and sense of irony that made Vincenzo so compelling and entertaining.

Unless you’re an avid K-pop fan, I see no reason for those who’ve seen the original to binge on this new version.  It’s the same boat through all its six one-hour episodes. Both versions are accompanied by flashbacks that feature the backstories of each thief.  Frankly, their sob stories are pure cliché.  So what we really have here is both a Spanish teleserye and K-drama disguised as an edgy heist series.

Even the police negotiator is involved in her own soap opera. The character is obviously inspired by Marcia Clarke, the Los Angeles district attorney who led the prosecution in the O.J. Simpson trial. At that time, Clarke was embroiled in a major personal crisis.  The situation of the police negotiator in both versions of Money Heist is astonishingly similar.

The young tech expert Rio (heartthrob Lee Hyun Woo) complains he’s getting bored.  He took the words right out of my mouth

Fortunately,  the Korean negotiator is played by a brilliant actress.  Yunjin Kim’s nuanced performance makes this show worth watching. She doesn’t need dialog to show how determined or vulnerable she is.  She can also be sensual like Jean Saburit and spunky like Kate Jackson was in Charlie’s Angels (I seem to be revealing my age here). Yet she’s a cunning negotiator who can con a con artist into trusting her.


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Heartthrob Lee Hyun Woo who plays Rio in Money Heist Korea (From official IG Lee Hyun Woo)

Aside from the flashbacks, most of the show happens in the Mint. Through the six episodes, power struggles happen among the thieves, the police, and the hostages.  This all happens because it’s taking too much time to print the money and drill the tunnel.  At one point, the young tech expert Rio (played by heartthrob Lee Hyun Woo) complains he’s getting bored.  He took the words right out of my mouth. You can skip the second to the fourth episodes because it’s only on the fifth when things start to stir up and get a bit more tense.

Rest assured, both the Spanish and Korean versions aren’t bad and neither one is better than the other.  Each has its share of memorable scenes. The pro-life stance in the Spanish version is heartwarming. The remake excludes this and consequently, it took some of the heart out of Denver (played by the hunky Kim Ji Hoon). Still it’s Denver and his dad Moscow (Lee Won Jong) who have some of the finest scenes. As a loving father-and-son team, the two actors provide a pleasant respite from the nasty state of affairs their characters got themselves in.

Money Heist Korea does serve as an acting showcase for K-stars and this should keep fans tuned in. They also look beautiful most of the time and are more amiable. In contrast, the Spanish cast was made to look like stressed out terrorists. The K stars look like K stars robbing the Mint. To their credit, they’re all convincing in their roles.

And unlike the original, the remake is somewhat more in touch with the real world, especially when it refers to the political and economic climate. The script is also occasionally spiced with a few amusing cultural references, such as the BTS, of course.

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About author


He is a freelance writer of lifestyle and entertainment, after having worked in Philippine broadsheets and magazines.

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