Wednesday, March 20, 2013

'IRIS 2' - Midpoint Review

IRIS2 Logo

If you had an at least semi-functional childhood, you'll have experienced twirling around yourself a few times. It's a special feeling. The world is spinning around you, you're thrilled, dizzy and then you fall on your ass. It hurts and you feel like you're gonna puke. You're thinking "Oh God, I'm dying... This can't be healthy and I'm never doing it again". You get up, shake it off... and do it again.

This is kind of how I'm experiencing 'IRIS 2' so far. I like watching it. I do. Despite many problems and plot points that make you want to rip your hair out in anger, I keep watching. After the disappointment I call 'IRIS', maybe my expectations were so low that I'm just enjoying this due to desensitization. Also, I have fun by simply not taking it too seriously. It spins me around, makes me sick, but keeps me excited. I know it's bad for me and generally bad and yet there I am, twirling again. Why? Because I am creating my own fun.

And this is the problem with 'IRIS 2'. It's not trying to be good. It's not good. Any fun I am having is because of the characters and cast members I like and choose to focus on and the way I watch the series. With friends, commenting on Twitter and Soompi. Here I am, putting in effort to watch it and it is not even trying.

This may or may not become the final review, but let's look at how I feel so far.

Obviously, here be SPOILERS!

Story and Characters:

A miss Ginny Wiehardt wrote in

"The protagonist is the main character in a story, novel, drama, or other literary work, the character that the reader or audience empathizes with."

My main problem with 'IRIS 2' so far is that I cannot empathize with the leads. At all. Jang Hyuk's character, Yoo Gun (I call him Yoo Gone) is mostly a zombie, before he got amnesia and got brainwashed by IRIS and even more so after. We know nothing about him. Why he does his job, what kind of a man he is in his values and ideals, what he feels or thinks. Absolutely nothing. He is like a silent protagonist in an FPS game, only those often work because of the interactivity. I can't put myself in Yoo Gun's shoes. This is a series, not a game and I'm not a Korean man (with nice abs).

Lee Da Hae's character, Soo Yeon (I call her Soo Yawn) is another Seung Hee (from the first series). She is there only to cry and cry and cry some more, be thoughtless and unprofessional and an emotional mess whose entire existence is governed by her vagina, automatically making her live and breathe and ignore anything and everything for the sake of her man. Because women are only as important as the guy they can't live or even function without.

Soo Yeon
Soo Yeon's main role in 'IRIS 2'. Crying and being pathetic over oppa.

Then we have some really interesting people who, due to the sheer number of characters in this drama, are getting less time to be developed than they really need. I am convinced someone else wrote the North Korean characters in all IRIS series, because there is no way the same person who can write a living, breathing human being makes their leads such empty shells of people.

I like most of the North characters and I'm really liking Choi Min. She is honestly the only NSS/South person who matters, at this point. She is smart, uses her brain and always keeps her duty in mind, without letting her emotions and chromosomes get the best of her, like most other women in this. Oh Yeon Soo is doing great and I expect to see more focus on her. I can hope.

Choi Min
And her office is one of the few spaces in this drama that have colors.

Of course, Joong Won (Lee Beom Soo) is the most interesting character here. Why? He has feelings, principles, goals and is not purely innocent or purely evil. He has the complexity and display of emotion a lead should have and I also get the feeling Lee Beom Soo has been given much more freedom with Joong Won than Jang Hyuk with Yoo Gun. Which, again, is never a good idea. The lead needs to be that.

Joong Won
He's cool, he's smart, he's pissed and he has missiles.

The story is interesting, there are many many many characters and issues to explore and I am really worried that the obviously incapable writer will not be able to tie it all together and explore the interesting issues and people. Still, I can hope. As they say, hope dies last just before the characters in these series.

Yes, we have 2 resurrections so far. David McInnis' character died in 'IRIS' (yes, we do remember him and changing his hair and going "He's another guy" is a pathetic move) and Yoo Gun survived a bullet to the brain. We have 1 pending resurrection from within this series and 2 possible ones from 'IRIS' as well. Normally, seeing a work bring so many people back to life as nonchalantly as a market cashier passing groceries over the barcode scanner would surprise me. However, this is a series where we have birth secrets, amnesia and love triangles. No, I am not surprised.

The Undead
IRIS 2: The Highlander Generation™

Visuals, Action and Sound:

Things are already much better here. While the editing has had its issues and still does, directing is mostly doing fine and the action scenes are creative, interesting and fun to watch. The overall visual tone of the series is dark and cold, with even the wardrobe being mostly black and white. This does get annoying pretty fast, as it's unrealistic, but it serves its purpose in characterization. Yes, there is more of it done by the wardrobe department than the writer.

Pink Hoodie
The very rare occasion when you see a color besides black and white. And grey.

I do have a small beef with the make-up artists turning all the women's lips orange, putting eyeliner on David McInnis and Jang Hyuk (Korea, not every man needs the idol treatment) and making Lee Beom Soo's face the color of mustard, but there are such bigger things wrong with this drama that complaining about these seems funny.

Still, when your actors are doing their best to make the characters feel real and you go and paste completely inappropriate and plain wrong make-up on their faces that just ruins the illusion in every frame, you have my sincerest wishes to pack your bags and get the hell out. With a budget as big as this, I'd expect and demand to have talented people in the visual department.

As I said already, the action is good, the stunts mostly successful (although they should make sure the stuntmen/women look a bit more like the actor) and there is enough variety in locations and types of fights to make for interesting and genuinely entertaining action bits. If this series just focused on that and didn't try to push us a "love story" for ratings, it could've worked out much better. If they also knew how to do PPL without simply shoving a product on screen or creating scenes just for it, it would have been lovely.

PPL now also stands for People Placement. Here's the writer's cousin, in all his randomness.

The sound department is good and there are no major screw ups that I noticed and the score is very nice. Yes, a lot of it is from 'IRIS', like many things in 'IRIS2', even ones that shouldn't be, but it works and it's well-done. The soundtrack is ok too, although there is really only one song for the action side of this drama (BEAST's 'Black Paradise', which is lovely) and a bunch of songs for the romantic melo part, which is a shame, but to be expected.

The disjoint of melodrama and action:

The biggest problem of both 'IRIS' series I have watched. Not knowing what they want to be. If you want to create a suspense action melodrama, it's possible. Very much so. Let's look at series like 'City Hunter' and 'Bridal Mask' which, despite their own little problems, did this and did it very successfully. The formula was there, it has been done and it was good and liked.

The problem with 'IRIS 2' (and 'IRIS') is that this marrying of action/spy series and melo is an absolute failure. The series is trying to be cool and collected spy action with more 'splosions and car chases than characterization and then it tries to do melodrama and shove that characterization in there, in ways and at times where it simply feels "off". It has empty, neglected leads which they are trying to make you care about by means of excessive crying, melodramatic music, slow motion and the repetitive use of the word "oppa".

Oppa Shadow
An insane man has his missiles pointed at the South, she's losing it over a shadow.

But if your characters are so generic and underdeveloped, no amount of frosting is going to make a viewer give a damn. On the other hand, if you stop relying on the surface treatment and create compelling drama and problems, you don't even need much of said frosting anymore. That, of course, means you need a talented writer and Jo Gyu Won is, unfortunately, coming across as anything but.

The really enraging thing is, though, that there are characters and moments which do get things absolutely spot on. One of my favorite scenes in this series so far was Yeon Hwa breaking down about how she escaped the North. There was no need for melodramatic theatricality in that scene. A good performance by Im Soo Hyang and Lee Beom Soo, a light piece of music on the background, it was magic. The team is clearly capable of good drama and so are the actors. So why then resort to such petty and overused melo-devices instead of going for the real deal?

North Couple

The writer does come across as an idiot, yes, but if he is capable of writing such characters and moments, I have to assume there is someone else to blame as well. Maybe his hands are tied by Taewon Entertainment and KBS. Maybe Taewon Entertainment thought they could make a movie-like series and underestimated how tricky it is to have a story that is spread out on so many episodes. Then that failed, but it was fresh and people liked it. It was called 'IRIS' and it was a new thing at the time. They mistook the buzz as an indication it was a well-done work and it really wasn't. But money talks so here we go again.

Closing Words

As I said in my 'IRIS 2 - Guns, Cars, Moobs and Stars' post, I kind of expected this to not be the latest masterpiece, but I did not expect them to copy/paste their own series ('IRIS') into it and I did not expect some of few good things this does have. So, some elements are better than I expected, some worse. I'm keeping myself entertained and I am not giving up on that topless oiled fight between the guys.

The visuals are nice, music is good, there is more emphasis now put on Lee Beom Soo's character (always a good thing), there were even a couple of twists I did not see coming and liked, the acting is fine for the most part and yes, even the idols are doing very well. They have an interesting plot to work with and despite their obvious inability to live up to their own vision, some good things do get through unscathed.

The big questions here are, would I watch this if it weren't for Lee Beom Soo and if I was not making my own fun that is unrelated to the actual effort put in by the series? If an equally awesome actor was Joong Won, I would watch this, yes. If I did not make my own fun, though? No. I would have dropped it the minute it started messing up and it would've been a shame, because there are some good things here.

'IRIS 2' does not really tickle the most useful parts of your brain and is potentially damaging to others, but it's fun enough, I'm bored enough and my brain can handle a lot. I'm also not giving up on a Lee Beom Soo work he's the most interesting element in and Choi Min is keeping my pride as a woman intact. So, more eye-sex, more Yeon Hwa x Joong Won, less going back and forth between equally boring topics and characters. Also, the topless oiled fight. I will never give up on that. NEVER!

Eye-sex. Because the main couple is too busy being awkward or apart and crying.

Image credit: KBS and Taewon Entertainment
IRIS 2: The Highlander Generation™ created by Orion :P.

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