SEOUL—“Are you a professor?” a neighbor of Yoo Ji-tae once asked him.
“I am not. I am an actor who plays the Professor in ‘Money Heist,’” Yoo answered.
The neighbor was taken aback. He didn’t know that there was going to be a Korean remake of the hit Spanish show. Yoo laughed at the thought that he spoiled it for his neighbor.
Yoo shared the story on Wednesday during the press conference of the Netflix original, “Money Heist: Korea-Joint Economic Area,” held at Intercontinental Coex Hotel in Gangnam. The show started streaming on Friday.
He was accompanied by the entire cast of the show, namely, Kim Yun-jin (Woo-jin), Park Hae-soo (Berlin), Jun Jong-seo (Tokyo), Lee Won-jong (Moscow), Park Myung-hoon (Young-min), Kim Sung-o (Moo-hyuk), Kim Ji-hun (Denver), Jang Yoon-ju (Nairobi), Lee Joo-bin (Mi-sun), Lee Hyun-woo (Rio), Kim Ji-hoon (Helsinki) and Lee Kyu-ho (Oslo).
Director Kim Hong-sun and writer Ryu Yong-jae were also there. The creators confess that they are big fans of the original show.
“I saw the original for the first time in 2018. I thought that there were so many characters in the show, but what’s amazing is that all of them have their own personalities and charms. It was just so fun to watch them all. I knew that the characters would be very intriguing whenever and wherever they would be placed in. So, I thought, if we translate the background and characters into something Korean, I thought we could give birth to something novel. And that’s how we started,” said Hong-sun, the director.
Relatable but realistic
The challenge of remaking the show is to make it relatable but realistic as well. That’s where Hong-sun said he placed most of his efforts. He wanted a story that would spark the curiosity of global fans.
“The Joint Economic Area is a fictitious city. The North and South Korea situation is something that I wanted to depict in the show. And if this happens in the future, if we are on the cusp of reunification in the future, and if this is happening in reality, what would happen—I wanted to infuse that kind of sense of hope into the show as well,” he said.
Comparisons are bound to happen, and not just with the original. The show also comes after the success of “Squid Game.”
Director Hong-sun took these questions in stride. He said that “Squid Game” paved the way for a series like “Money Heist: Korea” to reach a global audience.
Hae-soo is part of both shows, playing Sang-woo in “Squid Game” and Berlin in “Money Heist.” He said that he couldn’t predict how the audience will react to “Money Heist,” but he noted that the strength of the show is the ensemble cast.
It’s expected that the bigger comparison will be made between the original and the remake. Writer Ryu used food to help viewers understand the similarities and differences between the two.
“Paella is a really popular Spanish dish. If the original series is paella, our version is bokkeumbap, the Korean version of fried rice. They might seem similar, but they are different dishes. You have a lot to look out for. A big show in Spain is transformed into a Korean tale,” he said.
It’s true. The remake may have the same characters but their backgrounds are different. The dynamics have changed. The values, as expected, are Korean. There are no talks of abortion or teenage sex.
Most importantly, the characters make sense to Asian sensibilities. A daughter of an ambassador will be at the top of the food chain instead of an outcast. To be considered a filial son, a rich boy is expected to study medicine.
And there are differences in the style of storytelling. The pace is faster in the Korean version. It doesn’t dawdle with details. A lot of things happen in one episode.
Even the masks are different. The original used what have become the iconic Dali masks, while the remake made use of the hahoe (pronounced ha-hwe).
“In Spain, the Dali mask was used to send a message of freedom. In Korea, we used the hahoe mask from the Andong area. It symbolizes the criticism of the powerful. But there’s a sense of humor as well,” said Hae-soo.
“Money Heist: Korea” has the same plot as the original but the changes made in the characters and the storyline give fans of the original show something to look forward to.