Review | Netflix K-drama review: Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area Part 2, action-thriller starring Park Hae-soo begins to ring hollow
- Part 2 of the thriller based on a hit Spanish series finds the forgers still in the mint with hostages, including the daughter of a US ambassador
- The characters seem neither love- nor hate-worthy, and the series has given up on exploring the unified Korea theme and lost much of its spark
When last we met the Professor, Tokyo, Berlin and company, they were in the thick of a caper to print and make off with four trillion won at the JEA Mint, the money printing heart of the fictional Joint Economic Area of a unified Korea in the near future.
As Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area Part 2 kicks off, the team remain largely where we left them, but their by now familiar struggles lack the spark they had earlier this year.
Hot-tempered Berlin (Park Hae-soo) is still a loose cannon, and the focus of his rage is now a traitor in their midst who has been colluding with shady bigwigs on the outside to deal with the most valuable hostage in the mint, Anne Kim (Lee Si-woo), the teenage daughter of the US ambassador to Korea.
The Professor (Yoo Ji-tae), who coordinates the elaborate heist from the outside and who has been dating chief negotiator Seon Woo-jin (Kim Yunjin) to gain crucial intel on the investigation, begins to feel the walls close in.
His true identity is at risk of being revealed, especially when Woo-jin’s North Korean colleague Cha Moo-hyuk (Kim Sung-oh) comes snooping around his cafe.
The Professor’s loyal follower Tokyo (Jeon Jong-seo) tries to keep a handle on the situation as various problems flare up during the day-long heist and hostage situation, all the while tangoing with the flirtatious hacker Rio (Lee Hyun-woo).
Denver (Kim Ji-hoon) is finding it hard to control his feelings for hostage Yun Mi-sun (Lee Joo-bin), who seems to feel the same way.
Part 1 was for the most part an enjoyable romp that largely stayed true to the original series – but, precisely because of that, struggled to find a local or international audience.
Over the past half-dozen years, Korean producers have remade several foreign- language films, many of them Spanish, in a process known as localisation. This involves taking a story that worked in one market and introducing it to a new market where viewers are unfamiliar with it.
But Money Heist wasn’t a local hit, it was global and arguably the most popular Spanish-language series ever made. Add to this the fact that Korean Netflix series are expected to attract a global audience and it begs the question: who was this project intended for? Its target audience would for the most part already be familiar with the still current original show.
Of course, familiarity alone is scarcely cause for not adapting stories. Lord knows we get a new Macbeth film every two years, but as long as creators give us fresh interpretations of the source material they can be worth seeking out.
Money Heist: Korea features the same characters and many of the same plot points, but it differs in one key respect: its unified Korean peninsula backdrop, hence the subtitle “Joint Economic Area” to differentiate it.
When Money Heist: Korea began this summer this came across as a novel approach. It gave us some fun world-building as we imagined a unified Korea in 2026, which included the BTS-loving North Korean soldier Tokyo going about her life as a criminal in the South.
It also introduced extra layers of tension and opposition between the characters.
The basic story already included cops vs robbers and robbers vs hostages, but in the Korean version all those groups are additionally subdivided into North and South Koreans and, in such a recently unified country, they still don’t really know how to get along with each other.
But in Part 2, the distinction between North and South Koreans becomes far less important. Beyond Berlin’s North Korean prison camp backstory, most of the intrigue and tension dissipates, and in their wake precious little remains.
Suddenly the backdrop is revealed for what it is, a hollow novelty that merely alludes to interesting issues without exploring them.
The surface-level treatment of this Korean update’s major innovation sadly extends to its characterisations.
In heist stories it’s important to lure us in with attractive anti-heroes and give us someone to dislike on the enforcement side, like an odious captain, but Money Heist: Korea doesn’t really do much to help the characters win us over – it just expects us to root for them.
That’s fine at first, as the cast is charismatic enough, but in these six episodes we come to realise there isn’t much about the characters to latch on to. Instead of adding layers, the story instead tries to create contrast by making the antagonists more villainous.
These include assemblyman Kim Sang-man (Jang Hyun-sung), who exudes corrupt authority; and the craven mint-director-turned-hostage Cho Young-min (Park Myung-hoon), who continues to throw other people under the bus to save his own skin. But these are also thin stereotypes.
Part 2 also adds more emotion and more bullets but this also rings hollow. Much like its red-suited and Salvador Dali-masked criminals, the show seems to struggle to find a way out its quagmire following a confident start.
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area Part 2 will start streaming on Netflix on December 9.