I was in two minds about watching this one and decided to give it a shot because Kim Min-jung and Choi Si-won were so adorable on Running Man’s Christmas special. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m extremely impressionable.
First things first. I didn’t watch IRIS so I know nothing about that show. I am also not familiar with the cast in this one, except for Lee Jia (though this doesn’t win the show any brownie points because I wasn’t crazy about her performance in Beethoven’s Virus). So to get straight to the point, I am coming into this with zero expectations. I’m not expecting an Oscar-worthy performance from anyone or a story from Martin Scorcese. All I want is to be entertained.
Does Athena succeed?
I think you might be more inclined to think so if you haven’t watched IRIS. I’m just saying this because not having seen its predecessor means you won’t be making comparisons between the two or entertaining any (undue) expectations.
Anyway, I’ve watched only the first two episodes but I like what I see so far. Athena has a polished, cinematic feel that’s slick but not overly stylized. The cheese has been kept to a minimum (for example, no one loses their shirt as an excuse to show off actor X’s six packs) and I don’t know about you but I like the James Bond-esque gadgets that the agents are using. They give the show an element of fun.
Episodes One and Two have all been about laying out the foundations and introducing the major players. Story wise, it’s your typical action story setup: North Korean scientist Dr Kim Myung-guk has developed a new and safer way of harnessing nuclear energy. Needless to say, he attracts a lot of attention, not just from his own countrymen, but also from countries such as China, Japan, the US and France because of his invention’s potential to change the face of nuclear warfare. Long story short, Dr Kim decides to defect to South Korea rather than let his countrymen get their grubby hands on his prized project. Unfortunately, he is kidnapped by Russian secret agents while attending a seminar in Japan.
This sparks off an emergency rescue mission by an elite team of secret agents led by the mysterious Professor Kwon (Yoo Dong-geun). What they don’t count on, however, is someone messing with their plans and body count. That someone is terrorist badass Son Hyuk (Cha Seung-won), who is aided by his right-hand woman Yoon Hye-in (Su Ae).
One intense bathroom fight scene, several explosions and many dead bodies later, it is revealed that Dr Kim has mysteriously disappeared…
Turns out all this happened three years ago. Fast forward to the present day and we find out that the president has set up the National Anti-Terrorist Service (NTS) to safeguard the country’s interests. Dr Kim is apparently still alive and kicking, and his work on his nuclear project is almost done, which means that the bad guys will be trying to get their hands on him again.
The president wants Professor Kwon to head the NTS but the latter declines until he realizes that this will be the perfect opportunity for him to get even with Son Hyuk, who is now masquerading as the head of the Asian bureau for the US Department of Homeland Security.
His colleague Hye-in is also pulling double shifts as an ATHENA agent and a low-level employee at the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Her role in the public information team sees her taking care of school children and it is on one of their outings that she meets the other key player of the show—Lee Jung-woo (Jung Woo-sung), an NTS special agent who is instantly smitten with her.
Jung-woo is a bit of a maverick (yes, he’s the kind of employee who frequently gives his bosses high blood pressure because of his allergy to procedures) and he dreams of becoming South Korea’s James Bond. He attracts the attention of Professor Kwon because it turns out that he’s the son of an agent who was killed in a bombing in 1983.
So you’ve got a North Korean scientist on the run and you need to keep up to speed with what your neighbours up north are up to. Who do you turn to for Grade AAA top-secret dirt? In Athena, that go-to person is Kim Gi-soo (Kim Min-jong), the son of a prominent North Korean official who decamped to the South years ago because let’s face it, life is better and more fun there.
He’s not much of a fighter but he’s got mad language skills and is better connected than Seoul’s transportation system so this makes him a valuable ally to have around.
Choi Si-won’s Kim Jun-ho hasn’t had much screen time yet but he’s essentially your newbie recruit—eager, wet behind the ears and a bit of a smart-alec.
Rounding up the gang is Han Jae-hui (Lee Ji-ah), an NTS agent who used to be romantically involved with Jung-woo. Not much is known about her character at this point except that a) she used to be attached to the NTS’s European bureau, b) she’s still hurting from their breakup and c) she can kick your ass from here to Sunday.
She’s the girl-next-door to Hye-in’s cool, detached rogue agent and I hope there’s a scene that pits these two against each other because it’s going to be potentially awesome watching them square off.
I think the first two episodes have done a pretty good job immersing the viewer into the world of the story. They’ve moved along briskly enough and one of the things I thought the show did rather well was the way it introduced the characters and the potential points of conflict. Already we know that Son Hyuk is at the top of Professor Kwon’s shit list and it’s only a matter of time before he’s on Jung-woo’s as well (and vice versa).
And while Prof Kwon may be one of the “good” guys, you just know that his methods are going to rub the establishment the wrong way. As it is, the only reason why he’s taken up the role is to get even with Son Hyuk and the fact that he’s been given the autonomy to do whatever he wants and that the President is the only person he is accountable to points to much hand wringing to come.
Character-wise, I am all Team ATHENA right now, partly because the other characters haven’t really had a chance to make an impact on screen and mostly because Son Hyuk and Hye-in are rocking the badass metre right off the scale.
OMG, Cha Seung-won. How is it that I’ve never seen you in anything before this? Wikipedia says that he made his name in comedies but let me tell you that he is doing just fine as a villain. (Jeon Tae-su, please watch Athena and take notes. Notice that the man has not glared at anyone at all.) Every time he appears, he commands your attention. My God, if the world’s terrorists were as charismatic as this guy, we would all be in serious trouble. As it is, if he smoulders any further, my computer is going to catch fire.
As for Hye-in, I like what Su Ae is doing with her character. Before I continue, I have to say that I’m very tired of all the aggressive, over-sexualised Angelina Joliesque action heroines out there. Yes, I know you look great in latex and that you can kick ass better than the average guy but I really don’t need my heroines to make a song and dance about it all the time.
Hye-in is, thankfully, not like that at all. She’s all about being low-key and subtle, and blending into the background, which makes sense if you’re trying not to attract attention to yourself.
And what’s also interesting about this character is how she’s walled up her emotions. Somehow, I don’t think she’s doing it just for the sake of her job and the birthday presents she’s received from Son Hyuk over the years make you wonder exactly what kind of a relationship they have, and what she feels for him. Also, I’m curious to see whether any revelations are on the cards for these two because as much as I like them right now, it’s making me a little uneasy to fan girl over two terrorists.
If I have a gripe, it’s that the story can lose you with all its chase scenes and secondary characters. Case in point: I zoned out when they were chasing Viktor Sevchenko in episode two and had to read the recaps to find out why they were after him. Also, exactly how many NTS departments do you have to feature in this show anyway?
It’s still early days for Athena so it’s difficult to tell how the story is going to develop. I think a lot of it depends on the pacing of this show; I’m really hoping that Athena starts to pick up speed soon because this show definitely has potential (not to mention a potentially explosive love rectangle in the making.) Hopefully I’ll still be thinking this another two episodes down the road.