A little over two weeks remain until audiences get to decide for themselves if they think “ATHENA” will be as groundbreaking and enthralling as its hit predecessor.
As with any second act, there is always the pressure of comparison, and the cast has endured its fair share of it.
After all, forming an all-star round-up to top the chemistry sparked by “G.I. Joe” star Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-hee from “Love Story in Harvard,” not to mention the suave-and-cold charm of Big Bang hottie T.O.P. as assassin Vic, is a tall order.
“The Good, the Bad, the Weird” star Jung Woo-sung broke his 15-year small screen hiatus to team up with actress Su Ae, “71: Into The Fire” actor Cha Seung-won and Super Junior member Choi Si-won to tackle the gargantuan project, and Jung, at least, seems to be tired of the pressure.
“‘IRIS’ is over now,” the 37-year-old veteran said at the “ATHENA” press conference Tuesday. “You really can’t compare any drama, especially not ‘ATHENA’ to ‘IRIS.’”
“Of course, I think ‘ATHENA’ will get compared to IRIS,” he admitted. “But I would like people to try to evaluate ‘ATHENA’ based on its own merits. We didn’t try to upstage ‘IRIS.’ We just focused on ‘ATHENA.’”
Then again, it was “IRIS” that got Jung to break his film spree and return to television.
|The cast of “ATHENA: Goddess of War” (from left ) Yoo Dong-geun, Su Ae, Jung Woo-sung, Cha Seung-won, Lee Ji-ah, Kim Min-jong and Choi Si-won pose for photographs at the drama’s press conference on Tuesday at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)|
At the press conference he revealed that while he was filming in China, he got the offer to jump on board “ATHENA” and, because he liked the way that “IRIS” had been planned and executed, he agreed.
When Jung returned to Korea, he watched “IRIS” on DVD only to end up feeling overwhelmed by the stellar performance by the series’ star Lee Byung-hun.
Despite that, Jung seems confident about his new drama, especially when it comes to the action scenes.
“The action is much stronger than what I have done before,” said Jung, who has racked up plenty of wire-stunt, kick ass experience in blockbuster flicks such as “The Good, the Bad, the Weird.” “It has more speed. In fact it is so good I think it is kind of a waste to watch it on the small screen.”
Indeed, the behind-the-scenes clips and highlight reel that ran at the press conference Tuesday showcased a heavy display of hand-to-hand-combat, explosion and wire scenes, and when famed mixed martial arts champion Choo Sung-hoon (who is appearing in the series) dukes it out with Cha Seung-won, the power, the speed and the viciousness of their fighting is out of this world.
Cha admitted that filming with Choo was “really hard” and that he got “hurt a lot” and barely managed to make it through the last two to three hours.
“We filmed for 26 hours,” he said.
Of Choo, Cha said he wasn’t intimidated by the star fighter, quipping, “After all, he wasn’t going to kill me or anything. In fact, my character ends up killing him, because I have to keep appearing in the series.”
While fight scenes like the one between Cha and Choo abound throughout the series, blockbuster action is just the tip of the production iceberg.
“ATHENA” star Yoo Dong-geun pointed out that the primary difference between this series and “IRIS” is the sheer amount of money that has been poured into the project.
“ATHENA,” which has been filmed in six overseas locations for six months, has racked up approximately 20 billion won ($17.3 million) in production costs thus far.
However, as evidenced by the abysmal ratings brought in by KBS’ Rain-fronted “Fugitive Plan B,” big bucks, exotic locations and top stars don’t guarantee success.
A strong story chock full of compelling plot twists that audiences can buy into is crucial to bringing in high viewer numbers.
ATHENA seems to have all of that in spades.
Based on the premise that Korea has managed to develop a next-generation energy source dubbed TWR, a sub-organization of the National anti-Terror Service ― the Korean equivalent of the CIA or FBI ― is tasked with protecting the valuable asset.
A secret organization called ATHENA, however, seems determined to interfere with these plans.
NTS agent Jung-woo (Jung Woo-sung) finds himself at the center of ATHENA’s massive scheme, a scheme being played out by Son Hyeok (Cha Seung-won) and double agent Hye-in (Su Ae).
In predictable fashion, love becomes an obstacle for Hye-in, who finds herself wavering as she falls for Jung-woo.
To illustrate the degree of passion sparked by the two leads, a sneak preview of a steamy bed scene heated up the screen during the highlight reel.
“I was really nervous when we filmed that scene,” said Su Ae.
Co-star Jung elaborated: “You know how, sometimes, things aren’t scripted in a detailed manner and you kind of have to wing it? Well, that bed scene was kind of like that. So there I was thinking, ‘Um, how should I go about undressing her? Should I put my hand on her shoulder?’”
Based on the fiery results of the scene, audiences will be wondering if they can expect the kind of chemistry fostered by Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-hee in the now-famous “candy kiss scene.”
So, will Jung and Su Ae be creating some of that sexy magic in “ATHENA”?
“I think we need to really think about it after this press conference,” answered Jung. “I guess we need to film something shocking.”
“ATHENA” airs Monday and Tuesday nights on SBS at 9:55 starting Dec. 13.
By Jean Oh (email@example.com)