I came into these first six episodes of Netflix’s Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area (종이의 집: 공동경제구역) with almost zero knowledge of the hit original Spanish series. I’ve of course heard of all the hype surrounding that breakout hit, but have not watched an episode nor really gotten into what the series was even about beyond a basic logline.
So for me, all I have to judge this series on is its own merits and my own experience in the greater world of Korean drama. And with that standard, I believe Money Heist: Korea is a fun and exciting ride powered by an excellent cast, sleek production and compelling storytelling.
The series is set in the near-future during the early days of a reunified Korean peninsula. There is a hope for a more prosperous and freer Korea, especially for North Koreans who had lived under oppression and a closed society for decades. But corruption has only seemed to worsen with the rich getting richer and everyone else having to settle for the same scraps they’ve been fed all along.
That disparate benefit post-unification is partly the motivation for a Robin Hood-like ragtag group planning an unprecedented heist at the mint printing the unified Korea’s new currency. Park Sun Ho aka The Professor (Yoo Ji Tae) is the brilliant mastermind who gathers a gang comprised of different characters, each with their own skills and expertise who together will work to pull off the heist.
Amongst the team, each of whom have taken on meaningful aliases inspired by cities around the world, include former North Korean prisoner Berlin (Park Hae Soo), young military-trained North Korean K-pop fan Tokyo (Jeon Jong Seo), ex-convict Moscow (Lee Won Jong) and son Denver (Kim Ji Hoon), con artist Nairobi (Jang Yoon Ju), hacker and maknae of the group Rio (Lee Hyun Woo) and former gang members Helsinki and Oslo (Kim Ji Hun and Lee Kyu Ho).
The team takes hostages at the mint, but the Professor makes clear no one is to be hurt in any way. And that should allow all of them to eventually take the money and slip away never to be heard of again.
The unified Korean government assembles a response task force led by Seon Woo Jin (Yunjin Kim), South Korea’s top crisis negotiator and Cha Moo Hyuk (Kim Sung Oh), a former North Korean special agent.
There are a lot of moving pieces in the Gang’s plan with seemingly everything mapped out thanks to the Professor’s foresight and planning. There will naturally be unexpected variables. And for some of them, the Gang has prepared contingency plans. But for many others, including unexpected personal and emotional developments, the Gang will have to be quick on their feet to avoid certain failure.
Money Heist: Korea is very much a character-driven series with the ensemble cast its strongest aspect. The series has enough edge of your seat tension needed for such a caper. But enough attention is also given to the character-driven story that enhances the thrilling and legitimately exciting twists and turns.
Creative surprises help bridge the gap between the two sides of the series. A balance between the sometimes over the top and familiar beats typical of the heist genre with the quieter, yet still engaging character moments really elevate the series to something more than just simple fun.
It all comes together for a dynamic and colorful narrative that may not necessarily reinvent the wheel, but provides a K-drama touch to what might otherwise be likened to a typical Hollywood summer blockbuster. The way the series is able to weave very Korean concepts and themes into the narrative, whether cultural or political, makes it feel refreshing and new. Drawing upon dynamics of the Korean peninsula in crafting the world the series is set in helps give that uniquely Korean feel while presenting a story that is atypical of your everyday Korean television drama.
Money Heist: Korea‘s first batch of six episodes are a breezy ride that more than wets the appetite for more. By the end of the sixth hour, the series has effectively forged connections between the audience and each character and between the characters themselves. And those connections help keep everyone invested in what’s ahead whenever the next batch of episodes gets released.
Ultimately, Money Heist: Korea delivers a fun and exciting thrill ride that is supported and elevated by an exceptional ensemble cast bringing to life full and deep characters.