Berlin, the iconic character from Money Heist, returns in an enthralling Korean remake of the cult Spanish crime drama as a ruthless North Korean prison camp escapee.
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area sees a grand heist and hostage crisis unfold inside a Korean mint against the fictional backdrop of a soon-to-be-reunited Korean peninsula.
While paying homage to the original work, the latest spin-off is peppered with unique Korean touches that breathe new life into the heist members from the Spanish series, including Berlin, played by Park Hae-soo.
The Screen Actors Guild award-nominee, who shot to international fame following his role as player no. 218 in Squid Game, has been a huge fan of the Spanish smash hit, he told Newsweek.
Speaking to Newsweek from Seoul, the South Korean capital, Park said: “I was drawn to Berlin because it’s such a strong and energetic character, and as an actor, it was a type of role I’d really wanted to play.”
As in the original series, Berlin in the Korean remake is a formidable presence who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to ensure the heist goes to plan.
“Where there is light, a shadow always follows. That’s the role I’ve taken, so you can shine,” Berlin tells the Professor (the mastermind behind the heist plan, played by Yoo Ji-tae, who communicates with the thieves from outside the mint) in the Korean series.
While known for his “take no prisoners” approach to various situations, there are some relatable elements to Berlin, Park said.
“The part I could relate to most is how he’s a man on a mission. He runs towards a singular goal with a tunnel vision type mindset. I also leaned into the rivalry element of his character, that sense of competition he feels with the others on the team,” the actor said.
The K-drama sees Berlin maintain order and authority inside the mint by instilling fear in others—but always with a haunting Joker-style smile, which is a reflection of his greatest weapons, the actor explained.
“I think kindness is key. When a wild beast is trying to catch its prey, sometimes you’re required to take it slow and smoothly to be able to manipulate them. Berlin’s greatest weapons are his kindness and gentleness, which I tapped into and portrayed with his smiles.”
So what makes “the most-wanted man in the history of North Korea”—as he’s described in the show—vulnerable? Park said: “Berlin’s greatest weakness would be his past,” of which viewers get a glimpse in the series.
Perhaps his merciless nature and cold-hearted exterior are just byproducts of his troubled past and survival instincts.
The show reveals that Berlin (whose real name is Song Jun-ho) attempted to escape North Korea with his mother by swimming across the Amrok river, which crosses the border between China and North Korea. They got caught one night and his mother was shot dead in the river, while he was taken to the Kaechon forced labor camp, which is infamous for no one making it out alive.
At the camp, Berlin is seen being violently beaten as a child by older prisoners. But one day he fights back by brutally attacking another with a shovel to defend himself. Every time he was placed in isolation at the camp as punishment for the attacks, the number of those who feared him kept increasing.
A jail break later ensues, which sees the prison being turned upside down, with Berlin sauntering out of the camp amid the chaos. His final words while leaving the camp were: “I think I might actually miss the smell of this place.”
Berlin is also brought to his knees in a battle with mortality. Ousted from his position as the team leader inside the mint, Berlin is tied to a chair and locked in a room where he is seen shaking and profusely sweating, before revealing he is terminally ill (as also disclosed in the Spanish work) to Rio, who doesn’t believe him.
Berlin has often been characterized as a psychopath, but could there be some level of psychopathic tendencies in all of us?
Park said: “I think we all have the capacity to rationalize everything in life. When it comes to Berlin, I think it’s hard to describe him by a certain medical term like psychopath.
“But I can say he’s very selfish and very rational in the choices he makes. It was hard to approach the character in some ways for these reasons but I knew there would be ways for me to relate to him to interpret the character,” the actor said.
Other highlights of the latest remake for Park include its dynamic camera work, while he also “enjoyed some of the dramatic monologues my character has in the show,” which saw him tap into his years of stage work experience.
But the best part of the new series is “of course the characters, who are so full of life,” for their individuality and their shared chemistry, the actor said.
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area is available for streaming on Netflix from June 24.
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