KBS’ Iris in 2009 was a television blockbuster in both ratings and scope. The ₩20 billion series was critically acclaimed and commercially successful enough to spawn a (not as successful) spin-off in Athena: Goddess of War and now the sequel Iris II.
Hoping to continue the big budget espionage excitement, Iris II stars Jang Hyuk as National Security Service (NSS) agent Jung Yoo Gun as he leads his team in the continuing fight against IRIS, an organization looking to profit from the continued division of the Korean peninsula and the position of the two Koreas on the world’s political stage.
The first episodes follow the NSS team as they accompany a political envoy to Hungary where the North and South are to unofficially discuss steps necessary to reunification. But IRIS has other plans, in addition to wanting to kill former NSS director and IRIS leader Baek San, now in NSS custody.
These scenarios helped produce what have been thrilling and exciting scenes of guns, car chases, explosions, and good ol’ knockdown, drag out fights
The only problem is, when we’re not in the middle of these action sequences, the series jolts itself into a lull. Whether it’s focusing on the romance between Jung Yoo Gun and Ji Soo Yun (Lee Da Hae) or the politics of the conspiracy, Iris II screeches to a halt.
For all the excitement, there is a lack of cohesiveness to the proceedings that gives Iris II a set of tonal and pacing problems.
There’s no doubt that a lot of money and effort have been put into the action sequences, which have really been done very well. But because of such emphasis, the non-action film parts of the episodes feel abrupt and out of place instead of having more natural and seamless transitions.
Indeed, instead of having those scenes where we learn more about Yoo Gun and Soo Yun’s romantic relationship or how their teammate Seo Hyun Woo (Yoon Doo Joon) is in love with her or scenes of sketchy people being sketchy be the bridge the between the bigger, louder scenes, they come off as boring, uninteresting buzzkills.
Those scenes are still important and should help give depth on a show where the biggest draw is certainly the action sequences. But as an overall viewing experience, the highs and lows are so different in tone that it affects the pacing of events where one moment you’re on the edge of your seat and the next you’re checking Facebook on your cell phone.
But that’s not to take away from the great production value. Again, Iris II definitely continues the feature film-quality visual style of the original.
And the cast is solid that you can sort of give the lack of cohesion a pass. Jang Hyuk has already proven how he can be a leading man and action hero with series like Chuno, a drama where he also proved to have great chemistry with leading lady Lee Da Hae who gets to show off a different side of herself.
Lee Bum Soo brings both his comedic timing and kickassery as North Korean defector Yoo Joong Won. Oh Yun Soo gives an air of mystery as new NSS chief Choi Min. Im Soo Hyang started out as just a bad ass assassin, Kim Yun Hwa, but it was nice to see her getting more to work with with a peek into an emotional backstory. And Yoon Doo Joon joins the growing list of promising idols-turned-actors as third wheel Seo Hyun Woo.
But despite the cast and the great production value, Iris II is held back by its overemphasis on the high adrenaline with little effort into making the non-action sequences just as interesting and engaging.
And that’s a big letdown.