Money Heist Korea – Joint Economic Area 2: Episodes 7-12 (Series review)
The latter half of our robbers’ heist is fraught with conflict, heralding the introduction of a character exclusive to the Korean adaptation. It’s certainly a thrilling ride with compelling narrative beats, but overall the drama doesn’t quite manage to live up to the potential it set up for itself.
PART 2 SERIES REVIEW
After a long wait, Part 2 of Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area is finally here to conclude the tale it began half a year ago. It’s an action-packed second half that ramps up the stakes and the ensuing conflicts, sending us hurtling towards its conclusion at breakneck speed. If you need a refresher on our sprawling cast of characters, we’ve covered the first part of the drama in an Episode 1 First Impressions and a Episodes 2-6 series review.
Unfortunately, although the drama finally breaks away from the framework of the original work that constrained its creativity in the first half, much of it feels like too little, too late. The drama doesn’t quite live up to the potential of all the elements it introduced, making its conclusion one that’s as narratively satisfying as it is disappointing.
The drama finally capitalizes on its unique premise in this half by shifting its focus onto the political agenda surrounding the Joint Economic Area, which entails much arrogance and avarice. The pretext of reunification serves as a veil to hide the under-the-table dealings by South Korean representative ASSEMBLYMAN KIM SANG-MAN (Jang Hyun-sung) and North Korean representative CHIEF JEON YONG-SOO (Im Hyung-kook).
Sang-man is one crafty opponent, and he exploits the robbers’ weaknesses to coerce one of them into betraying the rest and becoming a mole. The presence of an unknown traitor sows the seeds of distrust, sending our robbers into disarray yet again. A chain of events results in the destruction of the robbers’ communication system, effectively cutting them off from the Professor and the outside world.
That’s where our new player SEOUL (Im Ji-yeon) comes in, exuding charisma and confidence in spades. She’s a North Korean mercenary on Berlin’s side, and she proves to be a valuable asset to the heist — turns out she’s the stepdaughter of Chief Jeon, and she effectively turns public opinion against him by revealing his sordid crimes.
As a character that’s exclusive to the Korean adaptation, I was excitedly anticipating how Seoul would shake up the playing field, only for my excitement to wane alongside her dwindling role in the heist as the story progressed. So much more could have been done with the setup of having an accomplice on the outside, yet Seoul was mostly relegated to providing back-up for Tokyo and assisting the Professor when he needed manpower beyond himself.
It’s a role that belies what Seoul is painted as being capable of, and I think that’s a real shame. Not only would this show have benefited from having another strong female character at the forefront, but it was also a perfect opportunity for the show to set itself apart from the original La Casa de Papel. I’d expected Seoul to be the catalyst that shifts the show into finally delving into its reunification premise with gusto, but yet again it mostly remains as a backdrop to the tried-and-tested theme of economic exploitation.
Where Seoul shines, though, is in her relationship with Berlin. Both of them are warriors forged by the fire of their shared traumatic past, which is the basis for Seoul’s unwavering loyalty to Berlin. She was the impetus behind Berlin’s revolt in the concentration camp, which makes it all the more meaningful that she’s the one who comes through for him just like how he once saved her.
Again, the drama shines in its heist strategies, drawing its viewers’ attention with its endless twists and turns. Although the pace meandered on occasion, the drama consistently one-upped itself with every new reveal. It sent our motley crew into roadblocks and pitfalls time and time again, only for unexpected lifelines to emerge just when all seemed lost.
However, this format also did a disservice to the show — its formulaic repetition became predictable, and I soon found myself expecting an upheaval every time an episode neared its end. While such cliffhangers do work to a certain extent by heightening the intrigue and the anticipation for the next episode, this trick is one that loses its novelty pretty quickly. That’s not a good sign for a show that relies on its surprise factor to throw its curveballs.
Still, this drama had a message to deliver about being human, and I think it succeeded on that front. Assemblyman Kim and Chief Jeon’s greed-driven irrationality results in their own undoing, while the Professor’s burgeoning feelings for Woo-jin wind up causing the plan to go awry several times.
Yet it is also the inevitable imperfection of being human that led to some of the most brilliant moments in the show — Berlin’s apparent descent into insanity, and Tokyo’s courageous solo mission, for example. In the former case, it creates a terrifying unpredictability that’s elevated by Park Hae-soo’s stellar acting. It’s also these human emotions that lend credibility to the other robbers’ reactions, making that arc a truly intense and nerve-wracking watch.
Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area had a lot of heart in its character relationships, and this was further expanded upon in this second half. Our characters’ pasts are illuminated further, fleshing out their backstories in ways that make them sympathetic and relatable. Ranging from a painstakingly-concealed connection between the Professor and Berlin, to an unexpected solidarity between Nairobi, Helsinki, and Oslo, our ragtag robbers have forged bonds that go beyond just a shared goal.
I wish these complex relationships were explored further, instead of merely serving as the setup to make certain plot points hit harder. Perhaps action fans might beg to differ, but as someone who’s a lot more invested in the narrative and its characters, the final drawn-out shootout felt tedious and bland to me. I’m also not a fan of the shaky-camera filming style, and the flashy camerawork sometimes felt like a distraction that detracted from the show instead of enhancing it.
Furthermore, I think the show didn’t quite manage to establish and commit to the direction it wanted to take. Part 2 opened with Moo-hyuk’s backstory, and ended with a scene teasing some relationship development for the Professor and Woo-jin. However, at the heart of the show were the robbers and their ideology, with Tokyo’s narration forming its backbone.
The tale ought to have come full circle, but instead it drifted from point to point until it reached the finish line; its lack of focus diminished its narrative cohesion. It feels like the show tried to do too many things at once — rousing ideology, nail-biting action, whirlwind romance — and, as they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.
All that considered, my biggest gripe with Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area has to be the decision to split it into two separately-released parts. It effectively squandered its own momentum, which is the last thing any action thriller wants to do. With the oversaturation of the drama market nowadays, viewers are inundated with so much content that it’s difficult for us to recall what happened in Part 1, much less maintain excitement for Part 2. And I say this as someone who actually enjoyed the first half!
Ultimately, if you’ve seen the first half, I do think the second half is worth a watch for its emotional core and political slant. However, as a whole, I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend this drama to new viewers. It’s certainly an entertaining watch, but it’s one that’s tempered by all the what-could-have-beens. At the end of the day, I’m left wanting more — not in terms of a sequel, but in terms of what this drama could have delivered if only it had the courage to break out of the mold that its predecessor set.
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