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‘Money Heist: Korea’: What to know about Netflix’s new crossover series

From left: Jun Jong-seo as Tokyo, Lee Hyun-woo as Rio, Jang Yoon-ju as Nairobi, Park Hae-soo as Berlin, Lee Won-jong as Moscow and Kim Ji-hun as Denver in "Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area." (Jung Jaegu/Netflix)
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“Money Heist” (also known as “La Casa de Papel”) thrived on Netflix after a short-lived stint on Spanish TV, and the platform quickly capitalized on the hype with a documentary titled “Money Heist: The Phenomenon.” When the show ended its five-season run last year, Netflix put out another documentary, “Money Heist: From Tokyo to Berlin,” featuring the actors and crew discussing the end of the beloved series.

But that was not truly the end of “Money Heist,” which takes on new life, yet again, with the newly released “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area.”

“Money Heist: Korea” is more crossover than spinoff: The series stays true to the original plot, in which a mysterious criminal mastermind recruits a band of thieves to help him pull off a daring heist at Spain’s national mint. But the latest iteration manages to feel like a different show, because it’s specific to its setting — and very much a K-drama. Here is everything you need to know about “Money Heist: Korea.”

‘Money Heist’ flopped on Spanish TV. On Netflix, it became a global phenomenon.

There are a lot of familiar names and faces

Fans of the original “Money Heist” know that the Professor’s recruits use international city names to hide their identities from one another during their criminal exploits. The characters in “Money Heist: Korea” use the same monikers. As in the original, the Professor (Yoo Ji-tae) first links up with the series narrator, Tokyo (Jun Jong-seo), as she tries to elude authorities in the aftermath of a crime. Rounding out the team are Berlin (Park Hae-soo), Moscow (Lee Won-jong), Denver (Kim Ji-hun), Rio (Lee Hyun-woo), Nairobi (Jang Yoon-ju), Helsinki (Kim Ji-hoon) and Oslo (Lee Kyu-ho).

The first episode’s setup is largely the same: The thieves take over the Mint while high school students — including the daughter of a particularly high-profile figure — are touring the building. And the hostages are forced to dress as their captors to throw off police.

The characters also maintain some physical and personality parallels with their “Casa de Papel” counterparts: Tokyo rocks a blunt bob like none other. (Okay, maybe one other.) Moscow, husky and bearded, is often seen trying to calm his hotheaded, handsome son, Denver. Rio is a sweet goofball. Nairobi does whatever she wants. And Berlin — who will be instantly recognizable to “Squid Game” fans — is not to be messed with.

Kim Yunjin takes on the role of Seon Woojin, the police negotiator who tries to figure out what the Professor and his team want, unaware that she is closer to him than she could ever imagine. On top of the audacious crime she hopes to solve, Woojin (like Raquel Murillo before her) also faces sexism on the job, at which she is decidedly better than all of the men around her.

It’s culturally specific

“Money Heist: Korea” is subtitled “Joint Economic Area” because the series takes place in a near-future that finds North Korea and South Korea on the cusp of reunification. The Mint is located in the JEA, giving both Koreas jurisdiction over the crime scene. And because the Professor taps criminals from both sides of the border — Tokyo is among the North Koreans handpicked for the heist — “Money Heist: Korea” joins other K-dramas, including “Squid Game” and “Crash Landing on You,” in offering a rare window into life in the totalitarian dictatorship.

“La Casa de Papel” begins with Tokyo on the lam following a bank robbery. But in this version, Tokyo — a former soldier in the North Korean army — descends into a life of crime after being taken advantage of and forced to defend herself. When the Professor asks his task force to choose nicknames, “Tokyo” doesn’t go unnoticed. When Rio asks why she chose “Tokyo of all names,” she replies, “Because we’re going to do a bad thing,” an apparent reference to Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

The theme of inequality takes on a deeper significance in this version in alignment with Korean TV and films that are more wont to take on economic disparity. “South Korea has become a global exporter of culture (especially through movies, television and music), a fact to which American consumers are finally catching up,” Washington Post TV critic Inkoo Kang wrote after “Squid Game” became last year’s unexpected streaming juggernaut. “And Netflix, which has heavily invested in K-dramas in recent years, regularly encourages subscribers to overcome the ‘one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles,’ as ‘Parasite’ director Bong Joon-ho memorably called them, with foreign programming and international reality franchises.” (“Money Heist: Korea” is available with English subtitles or dubbed in English like the original.)

Viewers will also notice that although the thieves wear red jumpsuits like the characters in “Casa de Papel,” they don’t sport the same Salvador Dalí masks. Instead, they wear traditional Hahoe masks.

International streaming hits are proof that good TV translates, no matter the language

It’s more fast-paced

When Netflix picked up “La Casa de Papel,” the streamer made adjustments, cutting the 15-episode first season into 22 installments, split between two seasons. “Money Heist: Korea” launched with just six episodes and, as a result, gets to the characters’ backstories much more quickly. And, unlike in the original “Money Heist,” where the Professor purposely bumps into Raquel (Itziar Ituño) in the third episode, the Professor and Woojin know each other from the beginning.

It will probably be very popular

“Money Heist” has long ranked as one of Netflix’s most popular titles. And K-dramas — along with non-English titles, in general — have flourished on Netflix and other streaming services. We won’t be surprised to see “Money Heist: Korea — JEA” atop Netflix’s global TV chart next week.

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