ATHENA: Episode 1
The elusive recapper is me. Might’ve been obvious to some, but let’s just say I couldn’t pass up the chance to end the year with the IRIS spin-off. 😛 It’s exactly how I started my last December. 😀
SONG OF THE DAY
ATHENA OST – Park Hyo Shin – “I Love You” [download]
It’s nighttime at the Blue House, and our President Jo Myung Ho (Lee Jung Gil reprising his role) gets that oh-so-important-call in the middle of the night. He heads on over to his office to deal with the arising emergency, where Advisor Hong and Secretary Jung (Myung Ji Yun and Jung Han Yong) inform President Jo of the situation.
Three weeks ago, Hong Seung Ryong (also a nuclear weapons scientist) had died en route to South Korea. This leads to a particular flashback to episode 3 of IRIS, when T.O.P.’s Vic killed Hong after Hyun Joon (Lee Byung Hun) had handed him over to other agents. This also tells us about where we are in this particular world time-wise. President Jo worries about whether there is a leak. (As IRIS progressed, it was revealed that the leak was Advisor Hong, among others.)
Now, Dr. Kim Myung Guk, a nuclear physicist from North Korea, wants to defect. He was researching a new type of nuclear power, one that would not produce radioactive substances and would be a safer kind of nuclear energy, when he realized that North Korea had plans to develop it into weapons. He was originally going to attend a nuclear energy conference in Tottori, Japan, and then meet the South Korean agents that would extricate him. However when Russia found out, they kidnapped him. It’s a race against time to get him, since China, Japan, France, and the US all want Kim and his research for themselves too.
To head the mission, they get Kwon Yong Gwan (Yoo Dong Geun), a black ops agent who would never betray his country or his team. He meets the President and is made aware of the situation. He orders his right hand man (whom some may recognize as Cha Ye Ryun’s ex-husband in Dr. Champ) to call in his team – the Black 7 – from around the world: Greece, Russia, Spain, Hawaii, and within Seoul.
The agent in Hawaii, unbeknownst to him, gets trailed by Yoon Hye In (Su Ae). He gets into an elevator, and just as it is about to close, Hye In’s hand blocks the doors. He’s going to the 7th floor, she’s going to the 3rd. When it reaches her floor, she gets out and bends over. She’s also wearing a very short coverall dress, mind you… The man grins and reaches to close the door, but Hye In releases a small metal ball and throws it into the elevator at the last second.
It explodes within, and Hye In walks off. However, the doors rattle open – the agent managed to reopen the door, and he’s vomiting white goo. He stumbles out of the elevator and with a running leap, Hye In slams her knee into his chest, pins him against the wall, presses the elevator button, and with a swift jab up his nose knocks him back unconscious into the elevator.
Chu Sang Hoon (a mixed martial arts fighter playing himself) is a producer by day, black ops agent by night. He gets a notification – similar to that of his fellow agents – and makes his way out of the performance hall. As he descends the escalator, who but Son Hyuk (Cha Seung Won) ascends the escalator, reading the file on Chu Sang Hoon on his phone. He sees Chu, and back down the escalator he goes!
He meets Chu in the bathroom; Son Hyuk washes his hand, adjusts his jacket, and pulls out a pen. He aims for Chu’s neck, but Chu blocks it effectively and the poisonous dart hits the wall. Son Hyuk drops the pen, but also knocks Chu’s gun out of his hands. Weaponless, the two face off.
They kick each other, breaking mirrors, smashing heads of statues, and knocking each other into sinks and toilets. They grab each others’ jackets and worm their way out of them, tossing them aside. Interestingly, Son Hyuk (whom we should assume is the antagonist of the series) wears a white shirt under a black jacket, and Chu (who is working for the good guys) wears a black shirt under a white jacket. When both take off their jacket, it looks like the audience’s loyalty should lie with the white-clothed person…which is Son Hyuk.
When beaten to a pulp (equally) the two of them realize they are just inches away from their respective weapons. The epic question arises: which will win? The Pen? or The Gun? Grab. Aim. Fire. The bullet hits the wall, and Son Hyuk’s dart hits Chu in the neck.
Oddly though, after Son Hyuk leaves the agent for dead, Chu’s fingers twitch.
Tottori, Japan – Kwon enters a private room in a restaurant with his team, minus two agents. They have no time to mourn however, and must get to work on planning how to get Kim Myung Guk. They’re not the only ones though, as Son Hyuk’s team – with Hye In behind him – are also preparing for their own ambush. Both teams plot out the logistics, figuring out the best way to get to Kim Myung Guk.
I will now start nicknaming Kwon’s team – Techie goes down to a basement and fiddles with the wiring; Decoy dresses as a water cooler guy and enters through the front door; Lady gets on a rooftop across from the building with her sniper rifle, Kwon’s Right Hand Man enters dressed as someone from the firefighting department checking on security, Watcher is at the getaway car, and Kwon sits outside in his own car, waiting. Decoy goes up to each floor, replacing all the water bottles with a security guard escort; after he refills the bottles, a small pill is released into the cooler.
The escort prevents Decoy from going up to the tenth floor, which is restricted. Decoy hands a form to the guard escort to sign, but the pen he gives him activates the little blue pill; the bottles shatter, providing enough distraction for the security guards to be incapacitated. It also alerts the Russians keeping guard of Kim. Techie unlocks the doors so that Right Hand Man can get access to the tenth floor. Right Hand Man takes down the Russian guards and leads Kim Myung Guk out. Once Lady sees Kim Myung Guk with her team, she heads out; however, there’s a tiny red laser pointing at her torso. Hye In shoots her dead from another rooftop with her own rifle.
Watcher realizes the situation has turned for the worse and gets ready to move out, but a bomb placed underneath his car activates and blows him up. Decoy tries to make a run for it but is chased by security guards. He sets a timed detonator on the wall, attaches a harness on a doorknob, and leaps out of the window. The floor blows up above him, and Decoy releases the string to let himself down. But as he faces downward, Son Hyuk greets him from below. He aims his gun up and shoots Decoy dead. Techie tries to get in contact but Hye In fires a bullet right through his head.
Only Right Hand Man is left with Kim, and they escape to the underground garage, hiding behind a car. Son Hyuk’s team riddle the car with bullets, and Right Hand Man is barely keeping his defense. Son Hyuk tauntingly tells Dr. Kim to come out, but suddenly Kwon’s car swerves right in. He starts shooting, and Kim Myung Guk is hustled into the backseat. Right Hand Man starts shooting back at Son Hyuk’s men, and they put up a fierce fight, but Son Hyuk fires a bullet straight through the agent’s head.
With no more agents and no more backup, Kwon drives off and Son Hyuk makes chase. Outside the building, Hye In sees Kwon’s car speeding away; sliding the sniper rifle along the balcony railing, she shoots after the car – but to no avail. Son Hyuk’s team is ready for every scenario, as there are a couple of cars and agents waiting to block Kwon’s path. But Kwon swerves, and he takes another roundabout through a truck parking lot. When he emerges onto the main road, he finds himself being chased by none other than Son Hyuk himself.
Son Hyuk speeds ahead and then turns around, facing directly at Kwon. Time to play chicken.
Knowing there’s no way out of this, Kwon accelerates. Son Hyuk accelerates. They’re about to collide when Hye In appears out of nowhere in her car. She fires a bullet at one of Kwon’s tires, causing him to flip as Son Hyuk blazes right past him. Cheater. Son Hyuk and Hye In approach the car, where Kwon is a bloody mess, trapped underneath. A look at the backseat – and it’s empty. Where the hell is Kim Myung Guk!?
Well then, time for a torture session. They need Kim before he leaves Japan. A doctor gives Kwon a lot of serum that makes him convulse in pain, but he still refuses to divulge the whereabouts of Kim Myung Guk. Son Hyuk: “Fine. We have plenty of medicine. Let’s keep going.” Kwon: “OK – but can you inject on the other arm? My right arm can’t feel pain anymore…”
Son Hyuk receives further instructions from his American boss: if Kwon doesn’t talk, kill him. Son Hyuk orders Hye In and the others to prepare retreat, and he’ll deal with Kwon alone. He says farewell, that they will once again meet in the future.
Hye In hears two gunshots echo in the tunnel. She pauses, looking back, but her face betrays no emotion.
Three years later – and the National Anti-Terror Service (NTS) is a compound of three metal, round buildings in the middle of a lake. Beats a basement. We are introduced to agent Lee Jung Woo (Jung Woo Sung), who is interviewing a criminal (Park Chul Min) that has no idea what the hell NTS is. The criminal doesn’t want to talk, but he also doesn’t want to get beaten up. Jung Woo acquiesces; he will wear the handcuffs, and if the criminal can hit him in five minutes, he can walk out free. The criminal’s liking this plan, and he confidently says he’ll hit in in 3 minutes. But he’s all talk – as he tries to land a punch, Jung Woo blocks him. He kicks Jung Woo’s shins, but Jung Woo kicks him first. Handcuffed, he beats the criminal to a nice bloody mess.
Park Sung Chul (Lee Han Wie) works with Jung Woo as his team leader, and he squeezes out the statement from the bloodied criminal…’cept that guy doesn’t know much himself. He’s just in the middle man, and is supposed to meet his contact in front of the clock tower at Lotte World and get a cellphone.
Along with Sung Chul and two other backup agents, Jung Woo is set up as a decoy to meet said contact at around 2pm. Jung Woo isn’t entirely trusting the man’s statement, but they wait anyways. Someone does turn up in the garage, and it looks like it’s the contact. However, when he goes up the staircase, he is attacked from behind and knocked unconscious, his assailant grabbing his phone.
Of course, no one shows up, making Jung Woo believe that the criminal lied. He spies a group of kids playing with their balloons, and one of the boys’ balloons fly into a tree. The boy tries to climb up the bench to get it, but he falls…and Jung Woo comes in to catch him in time. Jung Woo bears the brunt of the fall, but when his eyes refocus, he sees Hye In worriedly leaning over him. Poor boy is now lovestruck.
With no one showing up, Sung Chul finally suggests that they head out. Jung Woo is all for it – except that means he’s going to go back and look for Hye In and her group of students. They’re gathered in front of a shooting game, where if they successfully hit the targets they can win huge teddy bears. Hye In pays for the game, and a little girl shoots; of course she misses. Jung Woo steps in – he expertly takes aim and shoots down every single one of the little figures. The guys running the game aren’t too happy, because that means he wins their toys. Jung Woo continues to play until every child has a toy, and every last big teddy bear is gone.
Of course this move wasn’t just to impress Hye In. Pshh… He asks if she’s a teacher, to which a student replies in the affirmative and that they’re from Jeollanam-do. Jung Woo awkwardly hands over the last doll he won; he’s too manly to be carrying a doll like this. But Sung Chul interrupts at that moment through his earpiece. Jung Woo steps away for a moment – what the hell does he want? Sung Chul is stuck in the bathroom – with no toilet paper.
In those precious few seconds Jung Woo turned away, the class and Hye In are gone. He’s afraid he’ll never see her again, since she works so far away.
The next day, Jung Woo and Sung Chul have to face the music – their operation was basically a failure, and their boss ain’t too happy about that. On top of that, the criminal has threatened to sue them for physically maiming him during interrogation. They get disciplined by their boss and report to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) building. Jung Woo lets Sung Chul go in by himself, making up the excuse that he wants to talk to someone else. But as he waits outside, he spots Hye In entering the building with another coworker. He thought she was from Jeollanam-do, but she tells him that she was giving the students a tour on behalf of the NIS Public Information Center.
Jung Woo shyly notes that it must be fate to be seeing her here, and he tries to ask her out. But Hye In politely declines, saying that if both are agents within NIS, dating would be forbidden. Oooh, burn…
Out on a coastal town, a little girl approaches a rusty boat after school and asks if they can eat – she’s talking to none other than Kwon Yong Gwan. They go home, but parked outside is Secretary Choi Jin Hee (Kim Young Ae), an acquaintance from the past and Secretary Jung’s replacement. She bears a message from President Jo: he needs Kwon right now.
At NTS, Jung Woo is idling by, playing games on his computer, and Sung Chul reprimands him on his shoddy report of the last assignment. He hands off another report to another agent, telling her to go to NIS with it. Jung Woo immediately leaps for it – he’ll go instead. He searches for Hye In and tries again to ask her out for a cup of tea. She coldly rejects him again. Oh Jung Woo, you’re adorkably love sick…
Kwon Yong Gwan meets President Jo with Secretary Choi. With the advancement of nuclear technology and the desire to protect the technology from other countries, President Jo had formed NTS – and he wants Kwon to be at the head of it. Kwon respectfully declines, citing his lack of qualifications. As he walks out with Secretary Choi, she hands him a file to look at – it’s a profile of Son Hyuk. Son Hyuk has become the head of the Asian bureau for US’ Department of Homeland Security, and is also at the forefront in the development of nuclear reactors for the States. He’s a potential enemy – and Kwon has another shot at taking this guy down. Yep – he’s taking the job.
But Kwon also has several stipulations – no interference from outsiders on the management of NTS, and that he will only communicate to the President, no one else.
Son Hyuk flies over to Seoul, and first order of business is to meet Hye In at a wine bar. They’re friendly, and Son Hyuk notes that they will be able to see each other more often now that he’s located in Seoul. Hye In’s smile looks a tad fake.
Hye In hands him a cell phone – it’s the one she stole from the contact that Jung Woo was supposed to meet at Lotte World. The contact was getting information about Kim Myung Guk and was going to hand it over to North Korea – perhaps using the criminal as the intermediary – but she had intercepted it. She asks what she should do now, so Son Hyuk says he’ll discuss it with their heads. But until then – he hands her a velvet jewelry box. “Happy birthday,” he says.
It’s a necklace with a snowflake pendant. She opens up her safe at home, and puts the necklace in – without taking it out of its box – along with all the other jewelry boxes, presumably gifts from Son Hyuk for previous birthdays. Girl keeps her emotions locked up.
Kang Chul Hwan (Jung Ho Bin) greets the new NTS director and they get to work, investigating the different agents at NTS. Kwon specifically recalls Lee Jung Woo, and it turns out Jung Woo is the son of an agent who was killed in a bombing in 1983. Hmmm….
Jung Woo is informed that he will receive an overseas assignment. His boss has reservations about sending Jung Woo, but since it’s an order from the top, he’s got no choice but to obey. Jung Woo’s going to Italy, and he will meet his partner there.
Wooh! Jung Woo can barely contain his glee as he flies off to Italy. He heads to the meeting place – a restaurant, and meets his partner. It’s Hye In. Carrying a briefcase that details their mission. She’s all businesslike, but Jung Woo can’t believe it. Is she really his partner?!
Well, if anything, they’re finally having a “date” at a restaurant.
I am so loving this mindless action, badass cool drama – that’s what I need to end my year right. I have to say I wasn’t too keen on an IRIS spin-off/sequel/anything, so it took a lot of marketing and the right cast to get me really psyched for this. And psyched I am!
I don’t think this drama was aiming for the Hollywood-blockbuster styled drama that IRIS was, but it certainly is slick, well edited, and nicely shot. (Best scene to watch? Cha Seung Won’s fight scene with Chu Sang Hoon in the bathroom.) It’s hard to judge ATHENA right now without drawing comparisons to IRIS, especially in the beginning when IRIS characters showed up. However, I think the characters are all better drawn here, and I think it has to do with the actors’ portrayals. For example, Jung Woo Sung’s character is just as love sick as Lee Byung Hun’s character was, except he’s a little more earnest in an innocent way; Lee Byung Hun was cocky, which puts him immediately into that cliched male alpha lead category. Jung is just so adorkable. I especially loved it when he was playing video games in the office, and he was gritting his teeth and jerking his head around as though he were moving with his avatar – ’cause I do that too. Jung Woo also has the “parent’s death” issue that might come up later as a plot point, much like how Hyun Joon’s parents’ death linked him to IRIS the organization. I hope it doesn’t become too pathetic of a plot point.
Plot wise, I’m looking forward to some twists and turns, and the missions themselves. Son Hyuk and Hye In appear to be the enemy, but on the same side of NTS. Their descriptions say that they’re part of a black ops department that’s even deeper underground than Kwon and his team, and so they work for South Korea; however, they also have ties to ATHENA, which I assume is not on the side of NTS. I’m amazed that in one episode, we meet so many characters and hit several plot points. It is as if the episode was insanely long, but it went by very quickly. I hope it keeps up a brisk pace, and doesn’t dwell too much on flashbacks and romantic storylines that I think were the downfall of IRIS.
I can’t wait for episode 2! And that’s because for sure as hell I am not going to be writing that one. 😉