I definitely do enjoy Athena better than Iris, but I am starting to understand the appeal of Iris. I think it helps that as I’m watching Athena, my mom is watching Iris, and therefore I’m kinda reliving the series through her.
But I still stand by my original
dislike opinion for the predecessor (save for Kim! So! Yeon!). My thoughts on Athena might change within the last five episodes or so, and those last five episodes may make me start hating on it or absolutely loving it.
Until then, the opinions I form are based on the 15 episodes of Athena that I have seen so far. That also means, spoilers are bound to pop up.
1) Athena’s plot line execution is better than Iris.
When I look back on Iris I just think about how everything is all about the nuclear weapon, and getting it before Iris or North Korea does. It’s all about the nuclear bomb. That’s the plot, and then there was Kim Hyun Joon trying to get revenge on the people who abandoned him, only to find that he should be targeting Iris instead. Iris is THE insidious bad guy to beat.
In a way, the story line for Iris is better because it’s not as clear-cut, and there’s a revenge angle to the drama that is always juicy for K-dramas. But at a certain point, there’s only so much intrigue that I can handle, and while Iris had all the elements, I don’t think it was executed skillfully or in a comprehensive manner. I eventually forgot that Iris was about revenge. I just thought that it was all about a damned nuclear weapon – and once that fiasco was done (which pretty much constituted a majority of the series), I was done with the series; that’s why I thought the drama could end at episode 18. In fact, the last two episodes were ridiculous and could have easily been solved before episode 18 if the drama was more tightly plotted. It was as if an extra scenario was tacked on at the end.
Athena is way simpler – it’s about the good guys beating the bad guys, and nuclear energy is involved. I like the way that Athena unfolds because it’s not too overwhelming. I think what made Iris so god-damned confusing was the flashbacks. I know flashbacks are supposed to remind viewers of what happened, but there were too many of the romantic flashbacks and other useless scenes that I nearly wanted to tear out my hair and scream. Athena has thankfully done a little less (although in recent episodes they have shown it more often every time Jung Woo or Hye In is brooding), and therefore I can stay more focused on the meat of the matter – which is about the nuclear technology.
It is clear that Athena is the bad guy, but in recent episodes, Team North Korea has emerged as a very possible threat thanks to the betrayals within the team. Chul Young is less conflicted than he was in Iris, and I enjoy his assertiveness here. It also moves in steps – first the Russian mafia business, then the kidnapping of the president’s daughter business, then the Kim Myung Guk kidnapping business, and so forth. It keeps escalating, and I also think that it’s more fun when the organization steps out of the shadows and wages a full on war, rather than staying behind smoke and mirrors the way Iris did. Sure, Iris the organization finally made a public move – but in doing what? Hijacking a MALL!? Really, Iris? That the best you can do?
You know what Athena did? Their public move was ASSASSINATING THE PRESIDENT! Their second public move was OVERTAKING NTS. Beat that!
2) Athena characters have more depth.
Allow me to explain this one too – I like that we had conflicted characters all throughout. Hyun Joon was the most conflicted character in Iris but he was too moody and broody for love. Sun Hwa was the best conflicted character in Iris PERIOD because she had to choose between love and nation. That’s also what makes Hye In an awesome conflicted character for Athena.
Most of the characters in Athena, if conflicted, are torn between loyalty and love. Hye In loves Jung Woo, but she also loves Son Hyuk. She works for Athena, but she wants out. Athena = Son Hyuk. Jung Woo=freedom. What to choose?! Ki Soo is somewhat conflicted as well in that he totally wants out on the spy game, but is forced to play because of Chul Young. He’s forced to work for the country he so despises, but doesn’t know how to get out. Son Hyuk is conflicted because he thinks he’s so far gone now (again, that usual K-drama excuse) that he has to continue doing evil deeds, but he doesn’t want to lose his humanity and Hye In. Jung Woo – he’s surprisingly less conflicted than I’d have thought. His issues have to do with love; he loves Hye In but has to hate Hye In for who she is. His conflict is all centered on one person.
I also think that time and build-up is very important in character building. A Korean drama is shorter than an American series, and American series can grow through several seasons. Korean dramas are then forced to get on the ground up and running a little quicker. But I don’t think they should still sacrifice character build-up. In Iris, the love angle was done really quickly. “Oh my God it’s four episodes in and they’re in LOOOOOOOOOOVE.” Good thing both happened to be on the good side. But because I don’t think I got enough of them together, I didn’t really believe in their love for each other. As for Athena I am repeatedly pounded on the head by Jung Woo’s puppy love. I don’t agree with it, and I do hate it, but I also do believe it. He’s enthralled by her, and she’s…not. It takes her a good while – practically 10 episodes – before she comes around and lets herself fall in love with him. Whereas for Seung Hee – she was acting so hard-to-get in the first two episodes, and then BAM she’s falls in love with him in the next two. Really? You sure he just wasn’t a good shag you wanted to keep, Seung Hee?
For most of the characters in Athena, they’re drawn in with shades with each episode and you get to see what kind of person they are. I think Jung Woo manages to grow – especially in episodes 10-15 – and show another side of his character and resolve. Hyun Joon on the other hand stays broody, mad, and resentful. The characters in Iris are presented as is – and don’t ever really change until like, what, episode 20? (I excuse Kim So Yeon and Kim Seung Woo from this statement.)
3) The action.
Hands down Iris had an awesome Hollywood-blockbuster feel to it. It was great. It was great for like, five episodes. Then it went downhill. Then it went back up with episode 16-17 with the whole nuclear detonation in the middle of Seoul.
HOWEVER – that also means that for about 12 episodes I thought that all I got was blah-worthy action (Two standouts might be Seung Hee’s fight scene with Sun Hwa on the Japanese train and her fight with a big North Korean during the NSS takeover). Athena is packed with action and running and amazing stunts, and while there were times that it was kind of typical, the fight scenes are AMAZING! Especially in episode 1. The dream sequence in episode 2 (OHMIGOD it was so good I don’t care that it wasn’t real). The kidnapping in Italy in episode 4 or 5. The Japan/SNC mission in episode 9. The attack on the bridge in episode 14. The NTS takeover in episode 15 (which was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than Iris’ plan. It was simple and it worked).
You might say Athena had a bigger budget or what not. Either way, I think their action scenes were more dependent on the actors and their stunts, and that really impressed me. My two standout scenes from Iris, if you notice, show off Kim Tae Hee fighting and clawing her way to victory. It’s personal, because it involves the actor showing off her skills. The standout scene in Iris that occurred in the first five episodes was when Hyun Joon was running from an abandoned warehouse/train factory and a helicopter blows a missile into an empty train car beside him. But it was just the series being explosive like Hollywood.
4) The actors.
Don’t say I’m biased because I love Kim So Yeon in Iris, and so they have a BIG point in their favor. However, I have always enjoyed Cha Seung Won (and I do not think he is as wooden as others may think he is). Kim Min Jong now has a fan in me with his comedic role, and Choi Si Won I had faith in after Oh My Lady. So Athena has three points in their favor, and Kim So Yeon is worth that much. Kim Seung Woo is split evenly in the middle for showing up in both. Su Ae trumps Kim Tae Hee any day. Jung Joon Ho is unfortunate, and Lee Byung Hun – man that fellow I just can’t like. I used to like him, but after Iris I got sick of him. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, but I do think he plays Hyun Joon very one-dimensionally and it’s annoying. Always angry and always having red, watery eyes (which, now if I think about it might be because he was so exhausted. But still.) As for Jung Woo Sung, I like the actor, but he’s a little plastic here. I think because he isn’t given enough to work with (until the later episodes when he discovers Hye In’s betrayal), and the same goes for Lee Byung Hun. I won’t detract points from either side for these two actors – I just think they weren’t given enough or better material to really show off their range, which totally sucks.
Also, let me give a special mention to the president, Lee Jung Gil. Poor guy – he gets hit with all the evil organizations during his presidency. In Iris he’s an absolute fool. It’s all about the all-important summit – when things are crashing down around him and everyone’s telling him it is absolutely unsafe to proceed (good and bad guys alike), he’s still insisting that he must go through with the summit. Screw his safety. I’m surprised he didn’t get any gray hair from all the bad news that comes into his office every meeting. In Athena he has similar difficulties, but at least he’s not always so bullheaded about one thing. He’s bullheaded about keeping the nuclear technology safe and sharing it with the North (quite perfectly politic and strategic), and about other meetings. At least he’s not so stupid this time.
I definitely enjoyed both, and I definitely have my share of hatin’ for both. However, right now, Athena strikes the right chord with me. Even if it is trying to recreate some of that Iris magic – and it’s not – at least they’re not sacrificing story for it. At least it hasn’t lost its direction just yet.
I know that this impressions post comes a little early, so I’m fully prepared to eat my words. I’m fully prepared to not like the ending and find that it was an utter waste of time like Iris had felt once I saw the ending. (I actually predict that Son Hyuk will die, Hye In will disappear and then tempt Jung Woo to leave NTS and run away with her, and that Athena will not be destroyed, but will be hunted down by Jae Hee and Joon Ho.) However, rewatching parts of Iris reawakened the combative side of me, so I wanted to get it all out of my system before I burst – because I don’t know if I can hold it in for that much longer.