Iris (아이리스) is a South Korean Spy Drama, notable for being the highest-budget South Korean TV production to date when it made its debut on October 14, 2009 and has ratings American producers would kill for since it was a success in both South Korea and Japan when it was broadcasted on KBS2 and TBS with a Japanese dub.
The plot revolves around two friends from the 707th Special Mission Battalion recruited into a secret South Korean black ops agency known as the National Security Service. Of the pair, recruit Hyun-jun Kim begins to uncover evidence that his Mysterious Past may not be so irrelevant to his joining of the secret organization after all. As the two friends find their loyalties tested and forge new, unlikely alliances, the journey takes them from their home country to Hungary, Japan, and China where they find themselves at the center of an international conspiracy when Hyun-jun finds out that an international terrorist group named IRIS has some big plans of their own regarding the planned unification of the North and South.
As Hyun-jun tries to stop the conspiracy, he finds out that some of his allies may not be his allies at all and some of his enemies may not be his real enemies.
A Spin-Off, Athena: Goddess of War, is already in South Korean TV via SBS. A Sequel Series, Iris 2 has already aired in South Korea. A movie version of Iris was released in 2010. When the movie was marked and distributed, the movie was called Iris: The Last.
Iris was shown in the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival, the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore so far. A TV special was aired as well, showing off some of the locations used in filming the TV series and interviews with the main cast. Unlike their peers doing the Athena series, this was not done due to some of the actor's availability.
The series won numerous awards, including the 2009 KBS Drama Awards, the 46th PaekSang Arts Awards and the 2010 International Drama Festival. Byung-Hun himself won an award from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism for the show's promotion of Akita as it took place in the Iris series. Byung-Hun also appeared in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival to promote the show during a break. The main cast had also attended training sessions in preparation for the show's combat scenes in handling weapons and unarmed combat as well.
The Iris original soundtrack was released as a 16-track album on November 13, 2009, with music composed by Yi Dong-jun and Choe Seong-gwon. The soundtrack contained a number of the vocal themes used in the series, including those by Baek Ji-young, Shin Seung-hun, and Big Bang.
The show is currently available overseas (TV show and movie compilation) with either Amazon/Netflix or through limited distribution in Asia, the Americas and PAL territories.
Note: To avoid confusion, names are in western (given name first) order.
This show provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Seon-Hwa Kim of the Korean People's Army. Specifically the Guard Division from her stint in bodyguarding political leaders. Choi Seung-hee as well.
- All According to Plan: Hyun-Jun from the day he was on the run after agreeing to help the North Korean commandos attack NSS HQ. That way, he was eventually able to apprehend Baek San with help from Seung-Hee.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: NSS' covert base being attacked by North Korean commandos in Seoul.
- Arc Words: For the first half of the series, "Iris" itself.
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese dub uses "Tell Me Goodbye" by Big Bang as its theme song.
- Anti-Hero: Hyun-Jun after being on the run.
- Bash Brothers: Hyun-Jun and Sa-Woo.
- Bilingual Dialogue: Korean and Japanese. Some Korean and English with Korean and Hungarian for Kim Seung-Woo.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Averted. Once the North Koreans stop trusting Hyun Jun, they exclude him from the planning process.
- Bottomless Magazines: Not seen a lot.
- Cat Fight: Seon-Hwa and Seung-Hee in Episode 7, except it was a legit fight and not played for fanservice.
- Clark Kenting: Seung-Hee prior to Hyun-Jun and Sa-Woo's recruitment.
- Cloak & Dagger: This is a Spy Drama based on counterintelligence agencies between two countries.
- Cold Sniper: Hyun-Jun during his NSS stint. Vick as part of IRIS.
- Conspicuously Public Assassination: In the first episode, no less.
- Coup de Grâce: NSS guards being executed after NSS HQ was raided.
- Cruel Twist Ending: Because Lee Byung-Hun wouldn't be returning for the sequel, the writers decided to Drop a Bridge on Hyun-Jun, within the last five minutes of the series, no less.
- Cultured Warrior: Hyun-Jun after being ordered to study in university from his assignment at the 707th Special Mission Battalion.
- Cyanide Pill: Featured in an early episode. It's actually a fake pill, which allows the suicidee to make an escape in the ambulance.
- Defeat Means Friendship: For the North and South Korean agents.
- Diabolus ex Machina: After everything is over and he's left the NSS, Hyun-Jun gets shot to death in his car on his way to propose to his girlfriend by an unknown assailant whose identity is never revealed within the show. This happens within the final five minutes of the twenty-episode drama, and the last scene is of Seung-Hee coming up to his car, unaware of what she is about to find inside. This is likely because Hyun-Jun's actor would not be returning for the sequel.
- "Die Hard" on an X: Episode ten for Seung-hee.
- Dirty Communists: With the attempted Seoul bombing by North Korean commandos. Mostly averted as the North Koreans are portrayed sympathetically as the victims of a vague international conspiracy dominated by Americans.
- Double Agent: Some here. A majority of them belonged to IRIS.
- Downer Ending: At the end, both Hyun-Jun and Seung-Hee retire from NSS. However, Hyun-Jun is assassinated in his car and dies as he lays his head on the steering wheel. The culprit is not identified but if you watch the movie version, you'll see that Seon-Hwa was the assassin responsible for killing Hyun-Jun. Averted in Iris 2, which is canon, since the assassin is a hitman from Iris.
- The Dragon: Sun-Hwa to Park Chul-young. Sa-Woo to Baek San.
- Elite Mooks: The North Korean commandos when they stormed NSS HQ.
- Fanservice: Byung-Hun in the first few episodes. Tae-Hee during her Japan scenes.
- Flashed-Badge Hijack: Or, at least, flashed gun...
- Friend to All Children: Hyun-Jun plays with a little girl in Hungary, and is befriended by preteen Yuki in Japan. It doesn't end particularly well for either of them.
- Good Guns, Bad Guns: Done here. But for the anti-IRIS faction, they used Western-made weapons as well. Hyun-Jun secures an AKMS while Seon-Hwa uses a Makarov in the shootout in downtown Seoul.
- Government Agency of Fiction: The National Security Service.
- Government Conspiracy: A North Korean military officer orders a commando unit to use a nuclear weapon on Seoul, being that he's with IRIS.
- Gratuitous English: Averted. Byung-Hun learned English from his time in university. Though the matter with Kim Tae-hee...
- Handguns: North Koreans naturally use Eastern-bloc pistols such as CZ-75s and Makarov pistols, and the infamous Desert Eagle is used by a few antagonists. However, by far the most common handgun is the Glock, with everyone from NSS operatives and security, to the IRIS group members and the Blue House secret service. It's almost as if Hyun-Jun carries an HK USP to avoid having a generic gun.
- Hates Everyone Equally: Hyun-Jun hates IRIS, Sa-Woo and Baek San equally.
- HeelFace Turn: Seon-Hwa after being captured by Hyun-Jun. She decides to help him stop the IRIS conspiracy.
- Hero Antagonist: Hyun-Jun (If you like) and perhaps Sa-Woo.
- Heroic Resolve: Hyun-Jun to save Seoul from a nuclear attack. So's everyone in NSS who aren't with IRIS.
- How We Got Here: Episode four explains the cliffhanger cutaway that begins episode one.
- I Did What I Had to Do: When Baek San confessed that he assassinated Hyun-Jun's parents due to Western pressure to dismantle South Korea's covert nuclear program.
- Innocent Bystander: A few are killed in the shootout between Hyun-Jun/Seon-Hwa against the commandos.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Not always.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: specifically does not work on Seung Hee.
- Love at First Sight: Seung-hee lampshades this with regards to Hyun-Jun, not that it takes her much longer.
- Market-Based Title: The IRIS movie known as "IRIS: The Last" for Japan.
- Missing Mom: Hyun-Jun's mom before he learned she was covertly assassinated.
- The Mole: IRIS agents. One of whom is the President's secretary.
- Mr. Fanservice:
- Byung-Hun himself. When he was in Japan, several Japanese actresses paid a visit to him when he was a guest in Akko ni Omakase!
- Pretty much the only reason T.O.P's character even existed in the first place was to draw in a bigger female following.
- Nebulous Evil Organization: IRIS turns out to be a vast international conspiracy that is responsible for keeping Korea divided.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Seung-hee has a surprisingly brutal fight against a North Korean commando in episode 10.
- Non-Action Guy: The personnel in the Situation Room. Even if one of them had a hidden gun, he wasn't able to use it.
- Not So Different: Hyun Jun and Sa Woo. The former admits that he would have followed the order to kill his best friend, too.
- Oh, Crap!: A North Korean commando when he saw grenades on a car seat during the shootout when one of them was shot by Hyun-Jun with one of the grenades on a car window.
- One-Man Army: Hyun-Jun. Also Sa-Woo.
- Playing Possum: During the raid on the NSS building, The Medic escapes capture by pretending to be a corpse on the operating table. If only he hadn't sneezed...
- Product Placement: At least the Hyundais/Kias used by NSS. Their logos are covered if an episode airs with their appearances.
- Quickly-Demoted Woman: Sun-Hwa. She starts out as The Dragon to Chul Young, but is soon relegated to Hyun Jun's sidekick.
- Race Against the Clock: A nuclear device in downtown Seoul has to be found and disarmed.
- Red Shirt Army: The NSS guards after the HQ building is attacked.
- Reality Ensues: People running away from the streets in the shootout.
- Shown Their Work:
- The IRIS cast knowing how to handle their weapons as they had firearms training prior to filming the series.
- Big aversion on US navy sailors wearing the ABU, which isn't correct.
- Sniper Rifle: Sun-Hwa uses a scope-mounted G3A3 during her Hungary assignment. Hyun-Jun with a PSG-1 during his time in Japan.
- Small Girl, Big Gun: Sun-Hwa's introduction, packing said sniper rifle.
- SWAT Team: The NSS Tactical Team.
- Triang Relations: Type 3, with Seung-hee Choi as the Alice, and Hyun-jun Kim and Sa-woo Jin as Bob and Charlie. Hyun-jun and Sa-woo are unaware of this.
- Two Guys and a Girl: Sa-Woo, Hyun-Jun and Seung-Hee.
- War for Fun and Profit: Iris planned several terror attacks against Seoul in the hope of starting another Korean War so that they can profit from the fighting between North and South Korea.
- Would Not Hit a Girl: Averted. Hyun-Jun and Seon-Hwa killed a female North Korean commando in the shootout.
- Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Majorly averted in the Seoul shootout.
- You Killed My Father: After Hyun-Jun finds out that Baek San did it.