In the Netflix Korea version of “Money Heist,” the iconic Salvador Dali-inspired masks worn by thieves have been replaced with hahoetalor traditional Korean masks, from Hahoe Folk Village in North Gyeongsang, a choice that was applauded by viewers.
The storyline of “Money Heist: Korea – Common Economic Area” is very similar to that of the Spanish original. The biggest difference is that Korean thieves are taking over the currency of a unified Korea.
Art director Seo Sung-kyung and her team racked their brains trying to find the perfect adaptations for the Korean remake.
“Because the original Dali mask was so powerfully impressive, we had to think about ours just as much,” Seo said via email with the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Dali is an artist considered the Freud of the art world. His wit and intelligence can be found through deceptions and tricks he often hid in his works, and he even showed his literary ingenuity through the Spanish novel “Hidden Faces”. The novel, coincidentally, was a love story between two protagonists who hid their faces and deceived each other in the time of apprehension and contradiction of World War II. Could we really find an adequate substitute for Dali? We weren’t sure. We thought of the hahoetal among the various options we thought of, and it’s the most representative mask any Korean would think of. But we were also hesitant because it was perhaps too obvious. However, we came to the conclusion that it was the most familiar mask that could represent us well, fueled by the fact that it was traditionally used by commoners. [which date back to mid-Goryeo period from 918 to 1392] satirize aristocrats.
The element of the mask design that Seo paid particular attention to was the eyes.
“Mostly to accentuate their smiles,” she explained. “There are many expressions and forms of hahoetal and we defined the standard as one that emphasized the curves of the laugh streaks around the eyes, to highlight the kindness [of its facial features].”
Another interesting item was the banknotes used in unified Korea. To make it plausible that the thieves could physically load 4 trillion won ($3 billion) worth of cash and get away, 100,000 won bills appear with the portrait of independent activist Yu Gwan-sun (1902-20 ). On the 50,000 won poster, independent activist Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910) takes the place of Shin Saimdang, an artist from the Joseon Dyansty, whose face adorns the actual poster.
“Several candidates for the bill were genuine candidates announced by the Bank of Korea for high-denomination notes,” Seo said. “Other candidates included Kim Gu [1876-1949]Yu, Ahn Chang-ho [1878-1938]Ju Si-gyeong (1876-1914) and Jang Yeong-sil [date of birth and death unknown]. Yu was not initially on the list, but I heard that she became a finalist after consulting experts and polls. We designed the 100,000 note based on his portrait.
It is widely believed in Korea that the best-known photograph of the teenage independent fighter is not an accurate depiction as it is believed to have been taken shortly after she was tortured at Seodaemun prison.
“We designed the bill based on a portrait that Professor Yoon Yeo-hwan [of Chungnam National University] drawn and the few photos we have of her, and memories of Yu’s friends,” Seo explained.
The roof of the Unified Korea Mint where the thieves are holding their heist is hanok (Korean traditional house) – an attempt to merge the antiquity of hanok with the contemporary city where the series is set.
“Director Kim Hong-sun wanted the Mint’s exterior image to be closed off, isolated from the rest of the city. So we thought about the castle walls and gates, and designed the appearance to look like Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Gyeonggi.”
All interiors of the Mint, brief glimpses of North Korea, and city streets were thoughtfully thought out by Seo and his team.
“The biggest push was that it was a remake of a worldwide hit,” she said. “Because a wonderful original and its fans already existed, we didn’t know how much we should reference the original and how much we should modify it to make it our own. When I first came across this project, I was interested in a city setting where North Korea and South Korea could interact freely. […] The idea of a city where both countries existed seemed new to me. With that kind of context, I became convinced that we could develop the story and make it our own unique show based on the superb original.
BY LEE JAE-LIM [[email protected]]