The Korean remake of “La Casa de Papel” is similar to the original in terms of the plot and characters, but the difference lies in the details. “Money Heist Korea: Joint Economic Area” follows the same story of how a few outcasts and criminals are brought together by the “Professor,” who takes over the Mint in an attempt to print 4 trillion won. The characters are named after the characters from the original show: Rio, Berlin, Denver, Moscow, Tokyo, Helsinki, Oslo, and Nairobi. The Director of the Mint is a sly man, just like the character Arturo, whom we had in the original. His lover later falls in love with Denver, resembling the original. The major events are kept the same, and it follows a similar (although hurried) progression, but listed below are the differences between the Korean adaptation and the original “Money Heist.”
The Joint Economic Area
The “Money Heist” Korean remake is set in 2025. The two countries, North and South Korea, have agreed to reunify and form a unified Korean peninsula. What used to be the Joint Security Area has now become the Joint Economic Area. The Mint is busy printing the common currency that will be used for the new nation. The series comments on the reunification of the two countries with contradictory ideologies—dictatorship in North Korea and capitalist South Korea. Since the Joint Economic Area is of the utmost importance for the two nations, the heist takes place there.
Money Heist commented on the economic divide in a capitalist society, and the Korean edition tries to do the same with the North and South Unification. But the Korean edition is a lot more direct and uses the character’s backstory to comment on the current situation. When one country is richer than the other, it would result in an imbalanced unification, and that is what the Professor discussed in his classes. He mentioned how the goal for both nations must be to become wealthy. This becomes crucial in understanding the political motive behind the heist. The heist was a resistance against the imbalanced unification that would eventually result in an unstable society.
The Spanish series used the Dali masks, and that became a symbol of resistance all over the globe. The influence of “La Casa De Papel” was tremendous in global protests, and a remake of such a popular series could be challenging on some fronts. In the original series, the Dali mask acted as a unified symbol of resistance against the system while the Korean adaptation uses Hahoetal, a traditional Korean folk mask, used in several folk dance dramas to play a character that these masks represent. While there are twelve traditional Hahoetal masks, the one used in the series is called Yangban, which translates to “the aristocrat.” The privileged Yangbans are often mocked, and that is the reason why it is used by the robbers in “Money Heist Korea.” By using the masks, the groups mocked the authorities who were watching them on television. Though the mask might not be able to create the ripple that the Dali masks did, the meaning behind this mask and, therefore, its significance might not be clear to the audience who are not familiar with Korean traditions.
Tokyo was a North Korean immigrant who was fascinated by the BTS Army. She always imagined that her life in South Korea would be nothing short of a magical dream, but it turned out to be a catastrophe. After coming to South Korea, she realized that the housing and job she had been promised were a scam. She worked the tables as a waitress during the day and performed at a club at night. She saw her colleague salvage food from what was thrown away by the customers. The North Koreans were cheap laborers who were exploited, and Tokyo soon realized that she could not survive through honest means. When her boss was about to rape her, she fought back and shot the group of gangsters. That was the beginning of Tokyo’s journey. She began to rob and murder all those who tried to take advantage of North Korean immigrants. Though in the end, she was wanted by the police, and to avoid an arrest, she was about to shoot herself, the Professor stopped her and proposed to her the idea of the heist.
Berlin witnessed the death of his mother when he was a child. His mother was shot dead when they attempted to escape North Korea. Berlin was forced to work at a labor camp since he was an orphan and a defector. Since Berlin was exposed to brutality from a young age, he learned to fight back. Due to his record of murders, he was always kept in isolation, which impacted his psyche. Berlin grew up to be a cold-hearted person who never thought twice before killing someone.
Seon Woojin was chosen to manage the crisis, and she opted for negotiation. The romantic tension that was present during the negotiation between the Professor and the negotiator is kept intact in the remake. In the Korean series, Seon Woojin is a single mother who barely has time for her family. She lives with her mother and her daughter. Woojin is often heartbroken to see her aging mother struggle with memory loss, another resemblance with the original.
In the remake, Seon Woojin is also fighting a legal custody battle with her ex-husband, who is an influential politician and a potential presidential candidate. The Professor pretends to be a cafe owner named Park Sun-ho, who runs a cafe called “Bella Ciao,” a homage to the original series. Under the disguise of Park Sun-ho, the Professor builds a romantic relationship with Woojin two months before the heist.
While nothing much is revealed about the Professor in Season 1, in the last episode, we get to know through Tokyo’s narration that the Professor was probably the one who came up with the plan to establish the Joint Economic Area. In a flashback, we see Seon Woojin’s husband accompany the National Assembly Member, Kim Sangman, to attend the Professor’s lecture. The Professor knew him, and the two had previously worked together, but whether or not he was involved in the heist and the greater reason for it will be perhaps explained in the second season.
These backstories have a touch of originality due to the politics attached to them. The stories of Tokyo and Berlin are different, though the rest of the gang has a somewhat similar backstory: Rio is young, rich, and rebellious; Nairobi is a con artist; Moscow and Denver are the father-son pair; Helsinki and Oslo are cousins and the muscles of the heist.
“Money Heist Korea: Joint Economic Area” infuses the Korean touch through the use of colors and framing (particularly while narrating Tokyo’s story), which was somewhat interesting. Though, in its entirety, the Korean adaptation is a bore, it does not have the charm and appeal that the original had. There is no scope for unpredictability for those who are familiar with the original story. The political commentary is what separates the adaptation from the original, while the rest is just the same, which is disappointing. The Korean Professor is awkward, unoriginal, and no match for Alvaro Morte’s Professor. Tokyo is not the short-tempered, razor-sharp woman we know from the Spanish series; she is a lot calmer and collected in the remake. And ultimately, the Korean remake lacks an anthem. “Bella Ciao,” the Italian protest folk song that was incorporated into the Spanish original, became a global sensation. The anti-fascist song was adopted by millions of protestors worldwide as a result of the series. The Korean adaptation fails to create that effect and ends up becoming a poor attempt at recreating an iconic series.