Drama Recaps
IRIS: Episode 2
by | October 26, 2009 | 43 Comments

I’m still not sure how I feel about this drama, and whether I want to recap it through the end. I enjoy watching it, and I will keep watching it, but… I was kind of bored this episode. After a nice beginning, this episode felt like a re-cobbling together of shows I’ve seen before. (I’ve seen Alias, I’ve seen 24.) For all the excitement of the plot — spies, plots, assassins, secret missions — it felt kind of ordinary, in a way. On the upside, it looked great and the plot unfolded smoothly. Which is why I think it’s interesting that I felt let down.


IRIS OST – “잊지 말아요” (Don’t Forget) by Baek Ji-young [ Download ]

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Breaking free of his restraints, Hyun-joon pounds on the reinforced one-way glass with a chair. A medic enters to administer a sedative, but Hyun-joon turns the tables and sticks him with his own needle. The NSS director Baek San watches stoically (as does Seung-hee) from the other side, waiting to see how this scenario will unfold. This is why he lets Hyun-joon escape his holding room, fight off guards, and head out into the hallway.

Hyun-joon finds Sa-woo half-unconscious in another room and frees him, dragging him along to seek freedom. But they come to a dead end and are cornered by a trio of armed agents. Trapped.

The two men are brought before Baek San, and coerced into remaining calm by the presence of shadowy figures pointing guns at them.

The director explains that they have been tested by the NSS. Now that they have passed the trial, they have the opportunity to join the NSS as agents fighting to preserve national security. He assures them, “The country has chosen you, but you have the right to decline. If you want to give up here, you may go back.” If they choose to join, however, they will undergo training with the agency and be made into agents.

They accept.

On their first day inside the NSS offices, they are both shocked to be introduced to two of their superiors. First is the head of their counterterrorism unit: Park Sang-hyun, Sa-woo’s sunbae. Second is profiler Choi Seung-hee: the girl both fell for, who soon disappeared.

After shock comes anger: Sa-woo wants to know if this was all part of Sang-hyun’s plan — did he call him out for drinks just to scope him out? Hearing that yes, Sang-hyun was intending to recruit him, Sa-woo feels used. It’s a further abuse of his trust to subject him to such a painful test — but Sang-hyun tells him that he went through it, too. They all did.

Hyun-joon also wonders if his meeting with Seung-hee was orchestrated ahead of time — did she plan everything, down to the classroom interaction? She answers yes; she needed to profile him.

Both men feel peeved, although Sa-woo is quicker to get over it. Or rather, his romantic admiration of Seung-hee helps him accept her apology more readily, and he tells her that he understands.

The new recruits are taken to a lunch at Baek San’s house with Seung-hee and Sang-hyun, and afterward, the four agents head out for drinks. There, Sang-hyun admits that it’s incredibly difficult to keep this secret from his own wife, although the director seems to be doing just fine. That just goes to show how cold he is.

All this time, Hyun-joon has been quietly seething, sending hard glances Seung-hee’s way, as though trying to figure her out. When she steps aside to take a phone call, he follows her outside. He wants to know what her profile of him says and demands an apology, but she doesn’t feel the need to give one, since she’s done nothing to apologize for.

However, she does decide to reveal, in a hard tone, what her profile turned up: He acts big to disguise a troubled and painful past. She even profiled the fact that he fell for her, and adds sardonically, “But what can you do? Dating is strictly forbidden among our employees, and even if it were permitted, you’re not my type.’ She warns him that she’s his superior — just as he suddenly reaches for her and kisses her. She breaks free angrily and slaps him. He grabs her in another kiss.

Again, Seung-hee struggles, but this time, she gives in after a few moments and starts to kiss him back.

It’s for this reason that Hyun-joon feels rather proud of himself when Seung-hee calls him aside at work, especially when she assures him that the roof is the only place at the NSS without surveillance cameras. His self-satisfied smile fades when she warns him again that she’s his superior, once again cool and removed. Also, does he think her so insignificant that he can act this way?

Having put him in his place, she’s about to stalk off, but he stops her. Surprisingly, he admits openly that he’s not really in this job for the loyalty or patriotism. He just thought it would be fun, and he figured, “Ah, this must be my fate.” He’d seen NSS — “this dangerous, complicated organization” — in very simple terms: “If I risk my life, I can do this fun work that I consider my fate.”

Still, even if he isn’t motivated by deeper loyalty and isn’t a patriotic agent, he commits fully to his choices. Also, he adds that he’s never thought her insignificant, and this time he’s the one to excuse himself first. After the exchange, Seung-hee regards him in a new light, perhaps pleasantly surprised that there’s more to him than she may have seen.

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Justin James – “Love Me More.” This is the song prominently featured in the following scenes.
[ Download ]

And so, over the course of the following days, their dynamic undergoes a shift. Seung-hee eyes him with newfound interest, and the two engage in subtle worktime flirting, trading small glances and keeping their smiles from being noticed by their colleagues.

Seung-hee even initiates a game of footsie during a group briefing, which takes Hyun-joon off-guard. Both maintain composed expressions, not betraying the fact that he’s teasing her foot under the table…

…and certainly nobody catches on to the fact that he has retaliated by handcuffing her foot to the table. Ha.

They also meet their support staff, such as the eccentric older Oh Hyun-kyu who works in crime-scene investigation and forensics. (This drama seems to have adopted the Alias theory that wacky support staff is jokey and funny. I’ll just say that every time Marshall appeared onscreen with his “quirky” and oddball behavior, I felt the urge to spork him.)

After meeting the new recruits, Oh Hyun-kyu imparts the men with some Nietzchean advice: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.” He explains to Seung-hee later that he read Hyun-joon’s file, and has seen that he has the makings of becoming a monster.

Also: Hwang Tae-sung is another member of the support staff; Yang Mi-jung (singer-actress Juni) is the resident computer programmer/hacker.

We don’t specifically see how Hyun-joon and Seung-hee’s romance starts, but by this point they’re dating, albeit secretly. Hyun-joon slips away from home (which he shares with Sa-woo) and heads over to Seung-hee’s house for a date. The moment he leaves, however, Sa-woo also gets spruced up and heads out — and arrives at her place unannounced, just ahead of Hyun-joon.

Luckily, Hyun-joon sees his friend at the door and hides out of view. Seung-hee is surprised, and Sa-woo hems and haws in a cutely insecure way. Fumbling for a reason to explain his presence, he asks about profiling. Thankfully (?), both men receive calls at the same time — it’s the office.

The counterterrorism team reconvenes for a briefing: their target is a Japanese man with Syrian citizenship named Yamamoto Takashi, who is wanted not only by the NSS but also Japan’s security agency. They have intelligence informing them that Takashi will be arriving at Incheon Airport tomorrow, and he is a known terrorist.

However, they can’t merely prevent his entrance to the country, because if he has an act of terror planned, it’s more important to suss out what he’s working on. It also means that his accomplices have already bypassed security to slip into the country. Therefore, it’s imperative that they survey Takashi and find out what he’s up to. This will be Sa-woo and Hyun-joo’s first mission.

The team is deployed and follows Takashi from the airport to an outdoor plaza (Cheonggyecheon), and then to a casino. Hyun-joon takes a seat a few tables away, where Sa-woo joins him, eager to get their first mission into action.

Until, of course, they both take note of an unexpected figure sitting at Takashi’s table: an undercover Seung-hee, decked out in her Austin Powers glitz. She flirts lightly with Takashi in Japanese, complimenting his gambling. She bets based on his actions, and happily cheers on as he wins them both money. The guys watch grimly, not liking this at all, especially when Takashi invites Seung-hee up to her room for champagne.

Because she’s wired, the guys can eavesdrop on her interactions, but both really hate seeing her put herself on the line like this. (I think Hyun-joon particularly hates how comfortable she is in this role.)

She defers the man’s advances by asking to shower first, and lets him use the bathroom first. When she hears the sound of the shower, she gets moving, and uses a special device to transfer all the data on Takashi’s cell phone to headquarters. There’s a moment of tension as the device slowly transfers its data and time ticks down, but she finishes just in time and leaves before Takashi catches her. He finds a note scrawled on a napkin, which asks for a postponement of their date till tomorrow.

For this second date, Hyun-joon and Sa-woo act as her backup team, monitoring her conversation while waiting in a nearby car. Seung-hee and Takashi go on a seemingly normal date as they browse the stores and she tries on clothing.

She keeps an eye on him, and her ruse seems to be going well… until he suddenly grabs her roughly and pulls her aside to a deserted storage area. Slamming hear against the wall, Takashi demands to know who she’s working for, and yanks off her earring (thankfully a clip-on), which contains her bugging device. He crushes it, and the transmission to headquarters fuzzes out.

The instant the conversation turns dire, both guys race out of the car and head toward the department store to intervene, now that Seung-hee’s in trouble and her cover blown. She fights back but he’s a lot stronger, and he manages to get a firm grip on her throat and chokes her. At the approach of Sa-woo and Hyun-joon, however, he runs away while Sa-woo chases. Hyun-joon’s first instinct is to check on Seung-hee, but she demands that he hurry and chase Takashi.

Using satellite tracking, the support staff relays Takashi’s movements to the two agents, who follow on foot. When Takashi grabs a delivery scooter, the agents follow by car, again guided by their backup staff.

The pursuit takes them to the subway station, where Takashi buys some time by blending with the crowd. The guys maneuver through the throngs of commuters, and Hyun-joon spies his target slipping onto the subway car. Shoving people aside, he gets on and races from car to car, his eye fixed on Takashi.

But when he catches up to him, a shocked murmur rises from the crowd. On the ground is Takashi, unmoving, with blood pooling around his head.

They’re too late: someone else has gotten to Takashi first. As the subway starts to move, Hyun-joon sees a man in black, who has just stepped off the subway, walking away on the platform. They don’t know who he is, but we do, since it’s North Korean agent Park Chul-young from Episode 1.

Examination of the body shows a clean, single shot through the back of the head — definitely the work of a pro.

NSS deduces that Takashi’s motive was terrorism, but the target of the act remains unknown. In a meeting, the likely possibilities are discussed — the South Korean president, an American ambassador, and the like — but that’s still too vague. They need to narrow down the search.

Hyun-joon speaks up about his own hunch about Takashi’s motives, but he’s unable to provide proof. His speculation comes from a feeling he got during his pursuit and he’s just putting out another possibility — but the agent leading the meeting angrily cuts him off. They have enough trouble with the info they do have; they don’t need to be mucking up the investigation with one agent’s gut feelings.

As a result, Hyun-joon and Sa-woo are taken off the mission and told to stand by. Seung-hee actually defends him, saying that a field agent’s hunch could be more accurate than data analysis — but Sang-hyun shushes her. She is also told to stand by.

They’re all irritated to be taken off the case, but Seung-hee and Hyun-joon don’t let this stop them from continuing to work on it (separately). Seung-hee analyzes her map for clues, while Hyun-joon asks for the schedule of a politician, Jo Myung-ho, who is running for president.

Scanning the agenda, something catches Hyun-joon’s eye. He recognizes that one of the locations on the schedule, Cheonggyecheon, was one of the places Takashi had been. Could this be coincidence?

Working on their own (without authorization), Hyun-joon and Sa-woo check out Cheonggyecheon, which is a large public square in Seoul. Jo Myung-ho is delivering an election speech here, and a large crowd has gathered to participate in the rally.

The agents scope out the surroundings, wondering where they would set up their hypothetical base if they were working on a terrorist operation. They both come to the conclusion — a balcony in one of the adjacent buildings — and Hyun-joon sends Sa-woo up to investigate, while he’ll keep an eye out on the ground.

Sa-woo calls Mi-jung in their tech team, who is reluctant to bend the rules to help him on an unauthorized job. However, he persuades her to go to Seung-hee, who takes responsibility and instructs Mi-jung to use the satellite tracking system to zoom in on the spot the guys picked out. To her surprise, they see a man setting up a rifle — it’s a sniper.

Sa-woo races to stop him, and shoots the sniper. But they know that there should be a second sniper setting up in another location, and Hyun-joon looks around trying to figure out where.

Indeed there is a second sniper in another building. Hyun-joon spies him just as Jo Myung-ho takes the podium to deliver his rousing stump speech. There’s no time for either Sa-woo or Hyun-joon to make it up to the second building to stop him, so Sa-woo grabs the first sniper’s rifle and takes aim at the second sniper. Hyun-joon races toward the stage to get to the politician in time.

(How badass does Jung Jun-ho look?)

Sa-woo spots his target and shoots, but it’s a split-second too late and the sniper gets off a shot. Lucky for the presidential candidate, Hyun-joon arrives in the nick of time and launches himself at him, knocking the man to the ground just a moment before the bullet rips through the banner behind him.

In the crowd, a familiar black-clad man watches over the proceedings. He’d been watching from a position on the ground, in the midst of the crowd. Now that the plan is thwarted, he walks away unnoticed.

Now for TOP. Dressed in crisp black and sporting a badass scowl, we know very little about him so far but his profile tells us this is “Vic,” an assassin with the shadowy organization called “IRIS.” (I suppose the name could be “Big” (빅), but I’m going with Vic.)

He hangs out in a dark graffiti-decorated den and is shown a video clip by an English-speaking colleague. It’s the footage of Hyun-joon saving the politician, and as soon as he watches it, he gets a call from a “Mr. Black.” Vic answers the phone in his gangsta English, “You got it. I’m on my way.”

Despite the fact that our agents acted without permission in a dangerous and highly visible mission, at the end of the day they prevented the assassination of an important politician, and Sang-hyun says that what’s important is that the job got done. The team heads out for drinks and celebrates. The two best friends indulge in a shameless round of karaoke singing, while the forensics guy Hyun-kyu again cautions Seung-hee that Hyun-joon may turn into a monster.

Afterward, a slightly tipsy and very cheery Seung-hee prods the guys to join her in another round of drinks, and they end up continuing the celebration at her place.

Seung-hee is in a particularly lighthearted mood and invites her two subordinates to use common banmal speech with her. She’s younger than both of them, but because of her higher rank, she typically gets to use banmal with them while they have to use the elevated polite speech with her. But in the spirit of the moment, she urges them to drop the formalities.

Hyun-joon tests it out first, enjoying the sound of the informal words. Sa-woo is more bashful, and has to be urged by Seung-hee to go ahead. He can barely bring himself to say it, but once he does call her “Seung-hee-ya,” he really enjoys the intimacy of calling her by her name rather than the strictly professional “team leader.”

The three pass out on the floor. They start out lying in fairly close proximity to each other, but by morning the bodies have shifted in sleep and Sa-woo wakes up on the sidelines. Perhaps acting unconsciously, Seung-hee and Hyun-joon are now sleeping in each other’s arms. I’m not sure if Sa-woo suspects more to their relationship, but he doesn’t mention it.

Later, Sa-woo and Hyun-joon are called to the Blue House (Korea’s White House), presumably in response to their service. Their posture above should tell you all you need to know about their respective personalities. For instance, Hyun-joon eats a cookie that’s been set out for them, while Sa-woo nervously tells him to wait until after their meeting.

But something else catches Hyun-joon’s eye: a painting hanging on the wall. He approaches it.

As he stands looking at his own reflection, he starts to hear echoes of the past, of a little boy named Hyun-joon standing here in this room and exclaiming to a man — possibly the then-president — that when he grows up, he wants to be a Superman who protects the earth.

At Sa-woo’s curious inquiry, Hyun-joon answers, “I think I’ve been here before.”

But that’s not the end of the memory, because there are flashes of the scene afterward, when his happy parents had been driving that night, a happily gurgling young Hyun-joon playing in the backseat. Out of nowhere, a truck had slammed straight into their car. The boy had cried in fear while his parents lay injured in their seats.

And if that weren’t bad enough, a dark figure had come up to the car and fired a bullet through the windshield.


All right, let me start with the positive. The pacing is good, and the music definitely a standout feature (I don’t mean the soundtrack, although that’s fine, but the background score). Acting is solid, and the series continues to have the high-quality visual look of a film more than a television series. The subject material is certainly dramatic, and there is a lot of room for an exciting blend of mystery, intrigue, and action.

On the other hand, it’s a little too… slick.

It has all the makings of something interesting, but I felt this episode really showed that IRIS is merely utilizing the spy cliches rather than moving past them. What I mean by that is, this episode had high stakes and exciting setups, but the story was told in such a familiar way that everything was rather expected. Seung-hee’s disguise and cell-phone tapping was not particularly ingenious, and the sting operation to catch Takashi was — if you really look at it — kind of laughably simple.

Here’s the problem: IRIS doesn’t seem to be making its own mark on the genre, and seems to instead be borrowing someone else’s clothes. This episode could have been an Alias episode, circa Season 1. Now, I loved Alias Season 1, but that was eight years ago, and I think a show that airs now has got to offer something new. If you’re a new show that repackages the same old cliches (albeit in a well-made, good-looking way), it actually comes off rather silly, so I cringed a bit in some of the chase scenes. And particularly whenever a spy touched his finger to his ear to “communicate” via his high-tech communication device. No wonder Takashi caught on to Seung-hee’s act. The team was practically screaming, “Look at me! I’m a spy cliche!”

(Counterargument: But you say, JB, what about all those cliched romantic comedies you seem to love so much? Are THEY “making their mark” on the genre, or are they just copying the formula too? Why don’t you hold them to the same standard you’re holding IRIS to?

My answer: IRIS is probably the biggest-hyped show of the year, perhaps even more than East of Eden, definitely more than Cain & Abel, Hero, and the rest. It has a ridiculous amount of money poured into it and filmed months in advance. It was so hyped that there were licensing agreements to produce a movie and a manhwa even before the drama aired. It was supposed to be the newer, better, badder Swiri, which practically created the blockbuster genre in Korean film and was the highest-grossing film of its time, at the time. A fluff romance or a simple family drama — say, Smile or Sol Pharmacy — isn’t aiming to reinvent the genre so I’m pleased when it does its thing well. It’s like this: If you order mac n’ cheese, and you get a damn good mac n’ cheese, you’re going to be comforted and pleased. If you order some fancy haute cuisine and it comes out mac n’ cheese, you’re going to (1) feel cheated, and (2) say, “Bish plz, that’s a damn good mac n’ cheese but don’t try to sell it to me as gourmet reinvention.”)

I don’t need a drama to be realistic, but I do need it to speak to me. I don’t really mind that IRIS feels Western, but I do feel a little disappointed that it seems to have (voluntarily) ditched all semblance of a kdrama. I don’t mean I want melodramas and makjang plots (secret babies, adultery plots, switched-at-birth shenanigans), but I wish it didn’t feel like it was trying to be an American show. It wears the trappings well, to be sure, but I’m sorta sad that it’s not more… I dunno, taking ownership of itself?

(Example: Horror films. There are amazing examples from both the West and in Asia, but Asia has managed to carve out its niche and put its stamp on the genre.)

Okay, I think that came out a little harsher than I intended, because I enjoyed the episode. But when something is close to being good, it frustrates me more than if it were outright bad — because it was so close. But I feel like the writer is sorta half-assing the story. It sounds like people really loved Episodes 3 and 4, so I’ll give it another shot, because the North Korean political stuff is where I think the drama can set itself apart.

On a completely separate note, I find the romance between Seung-hee and Hyun-joon interesting in that the initial stages are glossed over in a music-video-like montage and suddenly they’re dating. Maybe it’s their way of sliding past Seung-hee’s change of heart from being a cool, distant professional to being won over by Hyun-joon’s charm. As we see, Hyun-joon surprises her early on with his frank admission that he’s no great hero; I wonder if she admires his openness or sees a hero inside anyway. (Or, as Hyun-kyu says, a monster.) It’s ironic, then, that she sold him short initially based on her profiling, because as a profiler she has all this insight into people’s characters and delves into their inner lives, even the parts that they keep hidden from others and perhaps even themselves. Yet she was swift to size Hyun-joon up and reduce him to his profile. In a way, in Seung-hee’s mind, people fit into profiles, rather than profiles fitting people.


43 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. loveydovey

    i do agree on you with some stuff but i thought that this episode was soo much better than the first. i thought the first episode was way more corny and cliche. i do agree100% though, that for all the hype for this drama, it didn’t live out to be all it was cracked up to be. although it is still enjoyable. i wasn’t surprised at how it turned out actually, you could tell it was gonna be cheesy from the posters but i had a little hope it might turn out to be better than i excpected.

  2. mngsk

    Given the competition, I’m going to stick with You’re Beautiful. I really enjoy watching it better and it makes me feel bubbly inside. 🙂

  3. Nikon

    I agree with you JB that IRIS feels very westernized. In fact, while I was watching the first three episodes, I was reminded by 24 and Alias. I understand that IRIS is not exactly 24 nor Alias but there’s familiarity in IRIS that makes me feel like watching an American prime time show. I miss my K-drama …even the relationship between LBH and KTH is going too hot too fast. Again, reminded me of a typical american series. BUT, maybe why IRIS appeals to many people…because it’s americanized. I don’t know just my thought

  4. langdon813

    Excellent recap, JB. I agree with a lot of this and would be hard-pressed to argue that what kept me watching after the first two episodes was anything more than the ridiculous amount of eye-candy this drama has to offer. Hell, I’m the most excited over having guys in my general age bracket to drool over, if nothing else. BUT…

    I won’t say anything more than this because I fear rampant spoilerage in a thread that (in my opinion) should be limited to discussion of the episode being recapped, but Episode 4 definitely sealed the deal for me and insured that I won’t be giving up on this one anytime soon.

    Back on track with Ep 2…I was also annoyed at the high number of hey-look-at-me-I’m-really-a-SPY tactics like the finger-to-ear thing you mentioned, but also the all-black wardrobe with a hat pulled down low to hide your face as you enter the GOVERNMENT BUILDING where there’s tons of security? Really??

    Ah well…that kiss was smoking hot and went a LONG way towards making me forget exactly what I didn’t like about IRIS, in much the same way that it made Seung-hee forget exactly what she didn’t like about Hyun-joon. 😀

  5. Nom_Kitteh

    I fast forwarded my way through ep 3 and 4, and i don’t think it gets any better. I found Ep 1 rather boring and Ep 2 more so. Ep 3 was yawn-inducing and Ep 4 was similar, with a weak-ass attempt to redeem itself in the end. Basically, my verdict after 4 episodes: Nothing new, but slick and fun if you’re into this genre.

    I was hoping for something like Syriana, which had a genuinely unusual-for-America look at the Middle East (with America as the imperial, evil power player — but presented in a very nuanced, almost horror-movie-like way) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS3GFnSGOfk . The ending of Syriana fills you with dread, but only because how quietly — QUIETLY — the real conflict unfolds. Iris is so loud — it is hard to imagine it being nuanced in any way. Maybe later on there will be attempts to make the much-maligned North Korea seemingly humane…but so far I see no indication of that.

    I did like that KTH’s character is sexual — and strongly confident in her sexuality. She chooses her man confidently, but with play. KTH is also lovely to watch. The sidekick — oh my word, can someone be more boring and bland. A second male lead should have some shot in hell to get the girl, and I could not even imagine someone as interesting as KTH’s character seeing anything in the sidekick. Now if KTH and TOP get it on, that I want to see!

    I guess this entire series is pre-shot? So there is no way the writers can make changes now if audiences start tuning out and the ratings start to fall? Oh well.

    I really like your point about how the drama is very “Western.” I found the quick jump-in-the-bed instance to be pretty “Western,” and hence disappointing. I really wanted K-drama-like play with tension, and this series, with its high explosions, etc., would have benefited from a mating-dance.

  6. Reese

    I have to disagree. I love Alias (watched every season) and this in no way feels like I’m watching Alias. Actually, I think I prefer this over Alias.

    I have up to episode four watched and while I like the drama so far, I wish what happened at the end of episode four didn’t happen. So annoying. But I like it so far, hopefully it stays that way.

  7. mie

    so i wasn’t the only one who felt that the clothes didn’t quite fit on this drama. i thought it was just my high expectations (LOVE lee byung-hun). was bored during most of episode 2 (except where they play footsie… and other “cutesy” scenes). the entire plot about takashi felt so played out – definitely seen that before. i perked up near the end but only because kim seung-woo showed up (is it just me or is kim seung-woo outshining EVERYONE in terms of charisma? just his presence alone makes things more interesting and electrifying).

    then i was bored again in the beginning of episode 3 (which, again, picked up near the middle when the real action began – and it involved north korean agents).

    i feel like this drama has such beautiful cinematography and potential – but then something disappoints, like the NSS headquarters looking like someone’s basement rather than the super sleek, high-tech place it should be (i mean, come on, elevators that scan you and then you’re in someone’s basement? doesn’t make sense).

    but episode 4 was loads of fun. no more original, but tightly packed.

    i’m still looking forward to “you’re beautiful” more.

  8. Deena

    JB, I am really glad that you recapped ep.2! Reading what you write, I inevitably compare your analysis with mine, and I am happy to find the things I haven’t seen/thought of.

    As I wrote before, LBH factor just takes over in my case, and I am waiting to see him act. However, I have to admit, that even though I liked watching the first 4 episodes, I didn’t see it as special as I would expect. It was too americanized, imo. JB, I totally agree with you on that one…(in general, most of the times I find myself nodding enthusiastically while reading your posts. )

    I hope that the directors keep the plot without too many bed scenes interruptions! (Not that I am complaining, but where is that hyped spy-action drama???)

  9. Molly

    I hadn’t kept my hopes up that you’d recap this drama, but I’m so glad to see episode two on Dramabeans! It would be wonderful if you could recap the whole drama – your insight is always appreciated and honored.

    Ooh this is such a treat for a Monday. 🙂

  10. 10 langdon813

    @7 mie

    Nope, definitely not just you! Kim Seung-woo and Jung Jun-ho both have definitely got my curiosity piqued. I know I sound like a broken record but it’s great not to feel quite so pervy for a change. Even the President of the ICOMYM club needs a break every now and again. 🙂 And hey, there’s always TOP to fill that niche anyway! I love his Barry White voice.

    I am definitely looking forward to recaps for 3 and 4, because it took those two eps to take me from “yeah, it’s pretty good” to “OMG, I can’t wait until next week”.

    IRIS has turned me back into a nail biter, a habit I thought I’d finally broken…but NO.

  11. 11 Molly

    It’s true that Iris has Western vibes and feels very familiar, but that’s what appeals to me personally. I’m such a fan of action movies, and Iris has delivered on suspense, cinematography, and soundtrack for me so far. It hasn’t required too much thinking in terms of plot complexity yet, but I’m fine with that for now.

    I too thought that episode 3 and 4 were better. I won’t spoil anything but in those two episodes, there were moments where I felt like saying, “ENOUGH ALREADY. We get the idea.” But apart from those parts, the building plot and developing characters made the series even more addictive and enjoyable. And Lee Byung-hun! -swoons- I will definitely be watching every minute of Iris.

    However, I do hope that it becomes more unique and standout in the genre, in addition to focusing more on the spy aspect of the drama, as Javabeans mentions.

    Javabeans, thanks so much for the recap! I especially liked your analysis of Seung-hee at the very end; I didn’t think of that at all.

  12. 12 'dalia

    i LOVE that mac n’ cheese analogy 🙂

  13. 13 Molly

    @12, me too. 🙂

  14. 14 saranga

    same, i felt that i’d seen it all somewhere before.

    i enjoyed 3 & 4 more, because we finally got to see kim so yeon and kim seung woo- who are my “more favorite” actors to start off with. don’t get me wrong, i like lee byung heon a lot (amazinggg voice) and my mother is a huge jung junho fan haha.

    it doesn’t live up to my expectations, but it doesn’t really sell me short either. i think i was just expecting something different. but i agree that for something that has had so much money poured into- it doesn’t deliver THAT well.

    anyway, i am really looking forward to the rest of this drama. i want to see more of kim so yeon and kim seung woo- i think they will be the most interesting characters of the series. they’re both so different in this drama than from their usual images, that i am very intrigued. kim so yeon has come a long way since her soonpoong clinic days too…

  15. 15 news

    I haven’t decided if I’ll watch this drama to the very end (I gave it a viewing b/c of the high ratings) but on the contrary, I found the love development and sequence between Seung-hee and Hyun-joon boring and uninteresting, even more so in episodes 3 & 4. What I mean by boring and uninteresting is:

    1) Characterization – I don’t find Seung-hee’s character very engaging.
    2) The love development and sequence in comparison to the drama’s aesthetic as a whole – It doesn’t fit. They could’ve woven the development of their love better into the story and made it more compelling. As Nom_Kitteh mentioned above, a little mating game doesn’t hurt and why the rush anyway? Yeah, it might be love at first sight but please give me a little substance. And in regards to the love montage, it was out of rhythm with the high-tech spy plot. I felt like I was watching a movie and was interrupted with a boring love music video. At least in movies like Queen Seon Duk, it goes with the flow.

    On the other hand, the North Korean spies are looking a lot more interesting and…cool. Give me more of Seung-woo Kim and So-yeon Kim.

  16. 16 Amy

    You wanted to spork Marshall every time he appeared with his quirky behavior?! :O

  17. 17 sophia

    Thanks for the caps JB. I always love reading them – but IRIS has lost me already, I found myself fast forwarding through both episodes one and two, I haven’t even bothered with three and four.

    Its as you said, this feels like we’ve seen this before and moved on since then – and i’m really disappointed because I love this stuff normally – but I can’t get on with any of the characters they all are too cliché, only one who grabbed my interest is the north Korean spy, don’t know why. – Probably because there is still some mystery to him.

    I think I’ve pin pointed what I find wrong with it. – The way they have chosen to introduce us to the characters are far to clichéd. The male bonding, the senior female falling for the rookie spy “cos he’s different”. All we need is the spy to “do it his own way ” OH wait we’ve had that too yawn. We’ve seen it all before and because of that, I found it boring and predicable.

    For me, the real interesting story would be set in the present, set in real time and I think that’s coming, just don’t know if I can be arsed to wait the 15 episodes of back story they are going to supply me with first.

  18. 18 belleza

    I flat out loved Episode 4. The problem with most American spy shows is that they often don’t spend enough time going through the preparation, execution, and then failure of the mission. The 2nd half of Episode 4 played a little bit like Michael Mann, in that there’s a lot of mundane procedural stuff. Even if it’s not really that realistic, it establishes place, mood and texture within the narrative of a mission.

    Above all, it makes you more aware how LBH’s character is set up to fail. There’s no real good reason why he had to go lone wolf here. There’s no true exit strategy. There’s no real plan. For all those things — and because we already know the outcome — the viewer becomes anxious over the agenda of the vice director. The Choi Seung Hee character is important here, because she — who is in charge of direction missions — immediately picks up that this is no way to execute a mission.

    I don’t really see this as Western vs. Eastern, per se. Korean cinema, in general, really sticks out to me compared to Chinese or Japanese cinema, because a lot of the visual idioms and pacing (such as the behind-the-person camera shot) are reminiscent of 70s American cinema (which is great.) The first 2 episodes of Kim Kyu Tae’s drama “Love to Kill” play a little bit like a David Fincher. It’s not surprising.

    I think the story still needs to work on balancing its action bits and its lovey-dovey bits. It’s conventional, but necessarily so. (Can’t realistically do a story like Story of a Man or Mawang, even though it would have made a more original story.) The spy bits needs to set up the romance, not the way around.


    “(is it just me or is kim seung-woo outshining EVERYONE in terms of charisma? just his presence alone makes things more interesting and electrifying).”

    But it’s not surprising. KSW’s already done the movie Yesterday, so this is really his second run at a thriller. We don’t get to see it often because he often gets cast in the same kind of K-drama roles, but he brings a kind of Humphrey Bogart swagger when allowed.

    And when the story shifts to Kim So Yeon, you’ll see what she brings to her role. This cast is loaded with charisma.

  19. 19 theedie

    just curious, but do you think you would have liked it better had you not ever seen anything from the spy genre?

  20. 20 javabeans

    @theedie, good question — I can’t say for certain, but I suspect I would still have problems with it. With any drama (or film, or book), you can’t just create in a vacuum; you’re making it in a certain social, literary, cinematic context. So while you don’t necessarily have to create specifically around the other films in your genre, you have to be aware of where the audience is and where the art has progressed, and if you don’t move with the times, you start feeling dated or trite. Which is what I think IRIS’s issue is. It isn’t necessarily a rip-off of any one work, but it recalls a lot of other works without refreshing the genre. Being familiar isn’t so bad, but being derivative is. The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven, for example, were both remakes of classic heist films, so you can say that the concept was not new at all — but the treatment of the remakes was modern and fresh. I don’t think IRIS has quite managed that. (Yet? I’ve told myself to try till Episode 4 before making a decision, since that seems to be the big deciding moment for a lot of others.)

  21. 21 hjkomo

    I’m with you, JB. IRIS had the potential to be so much more, yet it falls back on re-hashing American spy/action thrillers. After a thoroughly enjoyable start, Episode 2 turned out entirely predictable…and if you keep watching, it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre (yes, even the ending of Ep.4 was predictable).

    As for ditching its kdrama-ness…don’t worry, the kdrama love-angle melodrama is ever-present (and from the previews at the end of Ep.4, it looks like it’ll be kicking into full gear soon).

    I even tried to get the husband to watch (his favorite genre), but even he wasn’t interested.

    Me: Spys, guns, action!
    Him: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
    Me: Check it out, Hungary!
    Him: Whoop-di-doo.
    Me: This is exactly the stuff you like.
    Him: Nah, it’s pretty boring.

    Oh, well…I’m still enjoying it enough to keep watching, but it won’t be going on my top drama list any time soon, if ever.

    @ mie
    Absolutely! Kim Seung Woo is oozing charisma.
    Let’s hope Kim So Yeon can bring some of the same.

  22. 22 pn

    Does anybody else think that Sa-woo resembles Super Junior’s HanKyung?

    • 22.1 CrazyUnnie

      OMG! YES!
      lol. I guess I’m not the only one that thinks that. He’s like the older, healthier version of HanKyung 🙂

  23. 23 djes

    while I’m eager to see You’re Beautiful right after it aired, I surprisingly can wait to watch IRIS.. I’m saying this is a surprise since action genre is more my cup of tea.

    I’ve seen Ep 1&2, I liked it so far, more because, well, it is slick. And great casts ( with real level of acting ) help a lot.

    I also hope you’ll continue recap IRIS – to hear ( read ) your thoughts is always interesting..:D

  24. 24 arivle

    JB great recaps as always…..but I have to agree w/u 100% IRIS feels like if ur watching a America show like 24, CSI, or the BOURNE movies……I try to watch it but it felt boring at some parts that i had to forward some scenes,,,I was like I have seen this before….so much hype for this…….the romance feels force to me….they could have kept the tension between the leads…..a little bit more longer….I mean this is a 20 episode drama……

    I’m watching YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL and i find that drama more fresh than IRIS…..I’m addicted to YAB so I’m sticking with YAB 100% it just great to have a drama that brings you to laughter and your inner teen…….

    I’m not saying Iris is bad, I mean the production is excellent and I love this kind of spy, thriller shows, but IRIS just doesn’t bring anything new!!!!

  25. 25 tinyviolin

    I kinda missed all the hype surrounding IRIS’s premiere–or rather, I didn’t really care, because the hype was hard to ignore. I’m used to watching and enjoying dramas after the hype has all evaporated and everyone else has moved on, lol. So I wasn’t jacked up about IRIS before episode 1.

    It does feel Western. It is ripping off of Alias and 24 (down to the computer geek characters and the shaky “handheld” camera). It isn’t adding much after the ripoff, to make it a unique standout from the crowd of spy thrillers.

    But, I still enjoy it. I don’t really know if Iris can hold my attention the whole way, but I’m enjoying it, ESPECIALLY after Episode 4. The acting is good. I really, really like LBH’s character~the mix of badass competence and sensitive guy awareness is Oh. So. Hot. He does that well. Rawr.

    Maybe I enjoy it, too, because it *is* more of a Western drama than Kdrama; it feels familiar. (The scenes in Hungary had me sighing sadly, so it’s likely!!) Bad thing or not, I like the familiar, snuggy blanket feel sometimes. However, it can’t last too long or I’ll get groggy and re-watch Story of a Man.

    I think I know where this whole shebang is heading (‘coz I’m smart) but I’m willing to find out if I’m right. And I’d be thrilled if I were wrong.

    @24 ~I think the romance between the leads is the best thing about this drama so far. They have great chemistry. Ok, she’s a bit of a princess snit, but still! I doubt their happy ending has already arrived. LBH carries the romance, anyway. (Those arms, MMM. :D) I’ll follow him wherever.

  26. 26 pabo ceo reom

    I agree with your sentiment on the over-familiarity of episode 2….I actually think I wasn’t fully aware of it until reading your recap.

    I do think that episodes 3 and 4 were better so I’ve decided to continue watching. Not sure if they’ll do it for you but it’s worth a shot. Plus, Lee Byung-hun is just so good at what he does (not like I needed to tell you that though). 🙂

  27. 27 Aries

    I don’t need a drama to be realistic, but I do need it to speak to me. I don’t really mind that IRIS feels Western, but I do feel a little disappointed that it seems to have (voluntarily) ditched all semblance of a kdrama. I don’t mean I want melodramas and makjang plots (secret babies, adultery plots, switched-at-birth shenanigans), but I wish it didn’t feel like it was trying to be an American show. It wears the trappings well, to be sure, but I’m sorta sad that it’s not more… I dunno, taking ownership of itself?

    That’s a perfect summary of my feelings about IRIS after 4 episodes. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting so far has been pretty good (KTH – nothing to shout about but tolerable. The North Koreans rock!), but it is a little too slick and too cliche. I just felt like I was watching an hour-long western movie during each episode. I’m hoping for the action to pick up from ep 5 onwards when more of the spy plot comes into play.

    I’ve given IRIS a chance by catching it ‘live’ every ep so far as well as You’re Beautiful, but YB has won the competition for my first viewing. I’ll continue to watch IRIS, but only after I watch YB, and perhaps with less urgency.

  28. 28 Muffin

    I like TOP. That’s all I can say about the show. Everything else is kinda meh because I’m not into spy stuff.

  29. 29 tamu

    i like Ally Walker as profiler ..compared kth with ally walker…well..sorry…i think i’m asking too much…

  30. 30 Fiey

    Thanks javabeans for this recap!

    i do agree with you about IRIS felt familiar and westernized.
    it would be better if it can stand out among all the spy thrillers that have been produced so far like how korean horror stand out in its genre. but thats not an easy thing to do to compare with horror where every country has its own different kind of ghost (no?). but yeah i understand what you mean. the plot is promising, yet the story telling is kinda predictable since it reminds us of previous spy stuff thats why it dissapoints us more. but as westernized as IRIS goes, it still feels korean to me. the romance. the acting. Ep4 nearly gets me into tears. LBH is absolutely an amazing actor.

    and also, i think IRIS still worth all the hype it gets.
    it might not stand out among all the spy movies, but (for me)it surely stand out among all korean dramas. i dont wanna list everything, but the moment i see the opening, i already went ‘wow…’. yes, i’ve seen more awesome opening than that, but the fact that i’m watching a DRAMA right now, thats awesome. the high budget definitely shows. and yes, i hope the story telling can be more unique after this. but so far, i’m enjoying IRIS (a lot actually). the plot unfold nicely. and i’m excited guessing about the vice-director, the cross necklace, HJ being a monster, (SPOILER ALERT) HJ going into NK, KSH falling for HJ, who kills HJ’s parents, who’s Vic’s big boss etc etc.

    about the quick romance thing, the plot calls for it since these two will seperate thinking that each other die bla bla.. so many things will happen after this.

    btw, i think some people were being a lil hard on IRIS since it goes against everyone’s favourite YAB. i’m wondering if IRIS airs at different time, will people feel better towards IRIS? hmm maybe not. well not that i mind anyway.

    hope you’re going to continue recapping this JB. i love reading your insights.

  31. 31 belleza

    “btw, i think some people were being a lil hard on IRIS since it goes against everyone’s favourite YAB. ”

    I personally don’t feel that way. The truth is, this has been a really great year for dramas. I’d love to talk about Queen Seon Duk or even Creating Destiny, which has a nice little story arc involving what could be a nasty custody battle or a beautifully done “noona in love” story. Not sure what. Just not possible to cover everything the same way. (The complains about KTH gets old after awhile. ESPECIALLY for a spy thriller of all things.)

    I don’t really buy into IRIS is a rehash of 24 and Alias. The Bourne movies sure . . . but then again, Doug Liman’s Bourne Identity was very, very different from Paul Greengrass’s Bourne movies. (Greengrass was the dude who made the psuedo-docudrama shaky cam idiom popular in action scenes. If you’ve seen his docudramas Bloody Sunday or United 93, nobody is better at simulating chaos.) One reason why I like IRIS is that elements of it recalls what Doug Liman was doing with Bourne Identity, which was to place the standard spy thriller in autumn/winter and make everything wet. That changes how you watch the spy thriller, because it introduces strong tones of dread, melancholy, loneliness, and so on. Iris’s Hungary scenes had a bit of that.

    If anything, Iris is more like how action movies were done before CGI. The director does a good job laying the terrain of the mission before the execution of it. Because you see LBH methodically going through the scouting, planning, as well as the weapon’s preparation, he doesn’t seem like a “superspy.” Rather, he seems like a well-trained Special Forces soldier, which is what he is. But that also makes what’s missing — his team — so conspicuous. You think to yourself “why the hell is he going out this alone?!?” And of course, it’s because he IS supposed to fail. You only get that if the director emphasizes a procedural element in the story. Moreover, when LBH’s character is escaping, there isn’t a lot of gun pyrotechnics or Chuck Norris-style fighting. He’s simply trying to run away — but he’s also in a ridiculous amount of pain and he can’t think straight. As he’s walking away, you notice he’s going pale and his decision making is slowing down. It’s all simply done, but the director does a good job establishing that LBH’s character is in big, big trouble, and the story matter of factly presents this. In that sense, this part of the story is less like a typical spy thriller and more like something that you’d see in a Western. The gunman is shot; he’s bleeding to death; he’s in a strange place.

  32. 32 memo

    nahh it doesn’t appeal to me if i ‘d like to see a spy and thriller drama i would watch the original ones for sure …
    am sticking to you’re beautiful much fun and interesting waiting for the next ep xD

  33. 33 T

    I agree with you when you say it reminds you of a Western style show. I like IRIS a lot, but more so because it reminds me of my favorite spy show La Femme Nikita than because of anything unique about the show. I think the actual spying segments of the show are rather obvious. Kim Tae Hee sitting at a casino table with the two men obviously staring at her…strange how could that be deemed “undercover”?

  34. 34 nycgrl

    I’m enjoying watching IRIS but not eagerly waiting for the next episodes and though I could watch ep. 3 & 4 I’m not jumping on it. I’m enjoying watching it primarily because its one of the very rare kdrama my husband is watching with me. He usually watches saeguks and only ones like Jumong. It has been fun drinking beers and eating dried squid together with our PJs on. He thinks it is overall better than I do. He kept commenting how far kdramas have come since Autumn tales and Stairways to heaven while I’m smiling. Haha he is still stuck on kdrama 2.0 and it already like kdrama 4.0 now.

    LBH’s acting always takes my breath away. I’ve never been into LBH as a “mine” category but like Kim Myung Min, he always manages to captivate and mesmerize me in all his movie and kdrama roles.

    The thing I don’t like, is really the story or maybe even the action sequence because its just not particularly fresh. I’m never really tense or really involved in the plot. I think I would be hanging off the chair, the beer and squid forgotten if the story or action sequence was more unexpected. This is how I felt about the first Bourne Identity movie. The fight scenes were different and the car chase scene was done so well and of course the melancholy of a man alone was done poignantly.

    I’m going to keep watching IRIS but it didn’t turn out the way I thought it should but so far exceeded what I expected from it if that makes sense.

  35. 35 Anon

    I really did have high hopes for this drama, especially with LBH and the hype, but i agree 100% with javabeans, it’s seems too slick…and I’m not able to connect to any of the characters. I may end up having to just check out Top’s parts for some Big Bang eye candy. I just love me some Top.

    I guess it’s unfair to compare such diff dramas, but I wish more people would watch You’re Beautiful…it just a bummer Iris is getting such a huge pie of the ratings when You’re Beautiful is sooooo-ooo friggin FANTASTIC…not that Iris deserves less, i’m just feeling that You’re Beautiful deserves more.

  36. 36 Angela

    I agree with your assessment so far: I’m enjoying Iris, but part of me thought it would be a lot better. I’ve been watching it when I’m bored or have nothing better to do.

    Surprisingly enough, I found Episode 4 to be the weakest episode. There was too much rehashing of what we’d seen in Episode 1, and they wasted time unnecessarily when they could have been getting to the good stuff (seriously–was it *really* necessary to show him removing a bullet??). I’m interested to see what your take on those episodes will be…

  37. 37 su chooo

    that kim tae hee girl, is just plain not right for this characater of a profiler. she looks like a fish out of the water, instead. give me someone tough, sleek and strong, not feminine!!

  38. 38 loislane

    I have to disagree with the majority- I actually enjoy this drama. Maybe it’s because I started later and I heard the disappointment around me before I even started the series. Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched a “spy” TV series in a while, or maybe it’s because I don’t have any personable and good dramas I’ve watched lately. (I haven’t watched YB yet…I mean Smile, You and My Fair Lady weren’t the most congruous dramas I’ve watched). Watching this drama is a nice change from the disorganization that these dramas had in being too personable. Yes, it’s way on the opposite side of the spectrum but I feel like this is a good pacing in the world of k-dramas. It’s slick, organized, and is a thriller. If I wanted something to laugh and cry with, I’d go look for another drama. The plot could have been better, but so far, it’s not a disappointment.

    P.S. Javabeans- Have you decided if you’re going to continue recapping this series?

  39. 39 LSH

    Agree with all the comments mentioned above – I’m SORT OF enjoying the drama as I watch it, but it doesn’t give me the sense of eagerness and urgency to watch as compared to well, You’re Beautiful.

    I converted from watching live IRIS to YAB instead during IRIS ep 3, somehow it is unable to grab my attention. It’s quite strange because I usually prefer this genre to those romance comedy.

    It’s just my opinion, but maybe you all could give YAB a try too, the storyline is more refreshing there! As for IRIS, I guess I will watch it after all the hype is over and the whole series has released, but then again, I love the actions and stuff, but hope I won’t get bored watching it if it gets repetitive? |:

  40. 40 Anonymous

    You’re Beautiful is the one to watch!!!! Please give it a try you wont reqret it!! It’s not just a teen drama…the storyline is very GOOD!!!!!!!

  41. 41 임혜민


  42. 42 yeongweonhi02stary

    i grew tired of IRIS.
    i was really enthusiastic when i watched ep 1 and was screaming to my friend about how exciting it is how much it was similar to an action-packed movie.
    (while i was IRIS-ing i kept to YAB too)

    but then i watched on, and it tires me out.
    i don’t even have the motivation to watch it anymore.
    spoilers here, but i just waiting for the scene where top will kiss the female comp hacker working in NSS.

    YAB is more of the choice for me.
    for 8 weeks i waited like crazy for the drama.
    i don’t get whats the big woo-ha about IRIS.
    its just like the thunder’s super loud, but the it ends up to just a drizzle.
    perhaps i just expected too highly of this drama that it disappoints me after i watched it.

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