Athena: Goddess of War (Hangul: 아테나: 전쟁의 여신) is a South Korean espionage television drama series broadcast by SBS in 2010 and a spin-off of 2009’s Iris. After having been budgeted at 20 billion won ($17 million USD) like its predecessor, the two series have become the most expensive Korean dramas ever produced.Starring Jung Woo-sung, Cha Seung-won, Soo Ae, and Lee Ji-ah, the series premiered in December 2010 after filming in a number of overseas locations, including Italy, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States. The series is set in the same universe as its predecessor, allowing for select characters from Iris to reprise their roles throughout the story.
Developing on events set in motion in Iris, the story follows the fate of South Korea’s ambitious nuclear energy program meant to unify the Korean Peninsula and position the country as the leader in the global energy race. As a result, a new counter-terrorism agency known as the National Anti-Terror Service is instituted and tasked with protecting the nuclear energy technology from potential threats at all costs. Among its ranks is seasoned agent Lee Jung-woo, a skilled operative that has grown tired of his job’s uneventful day to day affairs. He soon finds the answer to his dull existence when fate introduces him to an efficacious villain by the name of Son Hyeok and the shadowy organization behind him known only as Athena.
The story begins around the same time as Iris, when Kim Hyun-jun is being hunted down by North Korean agents and branded a traitor while in Budapest. South Korean President Cho Myung-ho (Lee Jung-gil) expressed interest in advancing nuclear technology to lead the world with the most advanced and cost effective energy source of the century. To do this, he enlisted Dr. Kwon (a black-ops agent) to help retrieve a defecting North Korean scientist, Dr. Kim Myeong-guk.
Dr. Kwon accepted the mission, but it was nearly ruined by an Athena team, led by Son Hyeok (Cha Seung-won). Ultimately, Dr. Kwon managed to secured Dr. Kim’s retrieval, but he was caught himself by Son Hyeok and tortured for information. Son Hyeok was supposed to kill Dr. Kwon, but he let him live out of momentary mercy. Three years after those events, President Cho re-enlisted Dr. Kwon to serve as the director of the new counter-terrorism task force, NTS (National Anti-Terror Service), to protect South Korea’s future from aggressive foreign enemies trying to steal Dr. Kim’s nuclear technology.
After Dr. Kwon arrived to be part of NTS, his old rival, Son Hyeok, had returned to South Korea as the new director of DIS (an American intelligence agency). At the same time, SK NIS (National Intelligence Service) agent Lee Jung-woo (Jung Woo-Sung) recently transferred to NTS to become their top agent. Unknown to everyone, Son Hyeok is a double-agent between DIS and Athena, an organization of influential people that controls the world’s resources for their fortunes. With the help of another Athena double-agent, Yoon Hye-in (Soo Ae), she infiltrated NTS and supplied Son-Hyeok with inside information about their activities. In a major grab for Dr. Kim’s technology, both NTS and Athena had thwarted and countered each other in a high-stakes game of controlling the next great power resource.
Willing to do anything to gain the upper-hand for Athena, Son Hyeok had President Cho’s daughter, Soo-young (Lee Bo-young), kidnapped in Italy and used her as ransom to gain Dr. Kim. However, Jung-woo rescued Soo-young. To throw off Athena, Jung-woo helped fake Dr. Kim’s death to prevent them from trying any further, but that deception was exposed. Athena recovered Dr. Kim and forced him to complete his project for Athena instead.
NTS later found out Dr. Kim was kept in a secret facility in Japan. To avoid making their intel known, Jung-woo was dispatched under false pretenses as a body guard for pop star, BoA, to make it seem their cover wasn’t exposed. In NTS’s quest to find Dr. Kim, they failed to rescue him, but NTS managed to recover a crucial component to Dr. Kim’s technology and Athena wants it back. Using Jung-woo’s feelings for Hye-In against him, Athena faked a hostage situation that blackmailed Jung-woo to return the component for Hye-in. However, that was thwarted as well, but at the price of Dr. Kim’s life.
Fortunately, Dr. Kim managed to complete enough of his work that other scientists could complete it without him. Before he died though, he also secretly left a code that revealed North Korea’s full nuclear capabilities; it prompted President Cho to speed-up peace negotiations between North Korea, but it was a rough process as North Korea found out they harbored Dr. Kim and they intervened against both sides. During this time, all the things Hye-In had done for Athena created a crisis of loyalty and ethics for Hye-in. She is loyal to Son Hyeok, but also developed feelings for Jung-woo. With Athena’s new goal of destroying the nuclear project before completion, Hye-in struggles to balance between orders from Athena and keeping Jung-woo alive.
After Son Hyeok’s Athena affiliations was exposed, he was arrested by NTS for questioning. However, Athena agents recovered him and he’s now planning to kill President Cho. During this time, Jung-woo figured out Hye-in is an agent for Athena, but due to his love for her, he allowed her to escape NTS. However, because of her activities related to Son Hyeok, she was implicated along with his actions. Because Athena questions Hye-in’s loyalties, she was confined, but she managed to inform Jung-woo of President Cho’s impending danger. Later Hye-in gets arrested is and held inside NTS. She eventually chose to defect from Athena and aided NTS to stop Son Hyeok.
With so many failures, Son Hyeok was stripped of his rank in Athena and his men replaced with a new team. Athena is aware of the problems Hye-in caused; she was also marked for death. Unwilling to allow Hye-in to die, Son Hyeok and his team killed their replacements and gone rogue. Driven by his hatred, he sees NTS (especially Jung-woo) as destroyers of his ambitions for power and taking away Hye-in; he used all his abilities to destroy them all.
In a final endgame mission, Son Hyeok and his rogue team infiltrated NTS. They disabled the facility using an EMP device and tried to kill as many NTS agents as possible. Although many NTS agents were killed, Jung-woo, Director Kwon, and Hye-in managed to defeat them. In a showdown between Son Hyeok and Jung-woo, Jung-woo was proven the better fighter, but Son Hyeok stopped him at gun point. Hye-in intervened to stop Son Hyeok, but he couldn’t stop. Therefore, Hye-in shoots Son Hyeok. Hye-in tried to kill herself to end the madness, but Son Hyeok wanted her to live. Soon, Son Hyeok died while Hye-in survives. After recovering from her injuries, Hye-in was given amnesty and she left South Korea. One year later, Jung-woo left NTS to be with Hye-in in New Zealand. He found and surprised her in Auckland, where he hopes to start a happy chapter with her. The drama ends with the main couple smiling at each other.
- Jung Woo-sung as Lee Jung-woo
- A special agent with South Korean intelligence under the NTS (National Anti-Terror Service), Lee Jung-woo was described to be as intelligent and adaptable as the protagonist of his predecessor’s series, but with the suave of James Bond. Jung-woo was once an agent with the National Intelligence Service prior to being transferred to the NTS. Jung-woo is romantically involved with Hye-in.
- Cha Seung-won as Son Hyeok
- A survivor of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Son Hyeok rescued Hye-in when they were kids and they became close as siblings. Desiring a seat of great power and influence, Son Hyeok joined Athena some years later in attempts to fulfill his ambition and share his glory with Hye-in. Son Hyeok once worked for the CIA and is now the head of the East Asian branch of the DIS—the fictional equivalent of the United States Department of Homeland Security. By utilizing his position in the intelligence community, he is able to ensure that many of Athena’s operations go unhindered as potential threats are preempted and neutralized. While often viewed as a cold-hearted and unforgiving person, he has a soft spot for Hye-in.
- Soo Ae as Yoon Hye-in
- Hye-In lost her family in the aforementioned riots in Los Angeles and was saved by Son Hyeok. They grew to love each other as siblings and she decided to join Athena for Son Hyeok. She later became a black agent and provided inside information as a NIS officer. After she was transferred to NTS, she continued to feed Son Hyeok intelligence about NTS’s activities. However, all the killings she’s done in Athena’s name had worn thin on her conscience. After falling in love with Jung-Woo and her change of loyalties, she decided to stop Son-Hyeok to end the madness.
- Lee Ji-ah as Han Jae-hui
- Han Jae-hui once worked with the European branch of the NTS as well as being involved in a relationship with Jung-woo. However, their relationship was broken after her father forced Jung-Woo to choose between his career and their relationship. After departing from service abroad, she continued working intelligence in both the NIS and NTS. She would later re-join Jung-woo together in NTS; however, she often suffers in silence as her hopes of rekindling a romantic relationship with Jung-woo is dashed with Hye-in in the way. She later died after trying to stop Son Hyeok alone.
- Kim Min-jong as Kim Gi-soo
- The son of a prominent North Korean political figure, Kim Gi-soo learned numerous languages and studied abroad for a number of years. He subsequently served under North Korea’s elite black ops agency, Section 35, but later fled his home country and into the hands of South Korean officials. He grows close with Lee Jung-woo, befriending him and becoming one of his closest allies and partners. Unknown to everyone, he was reactivated in the service of Park Cheol-young (from IRIS).
- Choi Si-won as Kim Jun-ho
- A data analyst agent working for the NTS, Kim Jun-ho looks up to Lee Jung-woo as a role model and, although he begins as a green agent who is reluctant to return to the field due to a traumatizing incident, he aspires to become an elite spy. It is implied that he has a sibling-like bond with Jae-hui, and was most affected by her death.
- Kim Seung-woo as Park Cheol-young
- Cheol-young returns as North Korea’s liaison to South Korea. He assigns Kim Gi-soo to help him confirm his suspicions that South Korean had Dr. Kim in their possession. He continues to use Gi-soo to provide inside intel of NTS activities and later warns him to flee after the higher-ups decided to eliminate all defectors.
- Kim So-yeon as Kim Seon-hwa
- Former North Korean agent and was Hyun-Jun’s second in Iris, she’s now a married woman with a daughter in New Zealand. Her previous commander, Park Cheol-young, was worried for her safety as there’s a crackdown on defected agents. Kim Gi-soo tried to warn her of the potential danger, but it was too late, her husband and daughter was killed. In her daughter’s name, she vowed vengeance against North Korea and will kill all that was responsible.