Friday, February 28, 2020

“IRIS” synopsis by episode (Eps. 1-20, no spoilers)

(Note: Click the picture above to view or download a much bigger copy.)

Jump to synopsis of Episode 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20 (Finale); How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers; Historical backgrounders and other information; Lessons in photography from “IRIS”

From Wikipedia: “IRIS” is a 2009 South Korean espionage television drama series, starring Lee Byung-hun, Kim Tae-hee, Jung Joon-ho, Kim Seung-woo, Kim So-yeon and T.O.P (Choi Seung-hyun) of Big Bang. The plot revolves around two best friends from the 707th Special Mission Battalion recruited into a secret South Korean black ops agency known as the National Security Service.

The series was a critical and commercial success, with an average viewership of over 30% in addition to ranking as the top program consistently every week after its debut. The series also took home many of the highest honors at the 2009 KBS Drama Awards, including the Daesang Award for Lee Byung-hun.

The success of the series has led to a feature film, a 2010 spin-off, and a sequel series in 2013.

How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers


1. I assumed that you will be reading these summaries and watching the videos chronologically.

2. I narrated the main actions in each episode without revealing the plot’s twists and turns. I followed this structure all throughout, except for Ep. 20 (Finale) where I included some spoilers in the form of pictures and a link to articles about “IRIS, The Movie” that explain this drama’s ending.

I used this same structure in my synopses of “Gokusen” (2002, Japanese classroom drama-comedy), “Queen In-Hyun's Man” (2012, hit Korean rom-com, action drama), and “Descendants of the Sun.”


Episode 1


Hungary, present day ...

Baek San, director of South Korea’s NSS (National Security Service), orders agent Kim Hyun-joon to assassinate a high-ranking North Korean official.

Kim Hyun-joon is shot and pursued by the North Korean security team led by Chul-young and his lone female agent Sun-hwa. He reaches his apartment and calls Baek San for an NSS team to quickly extract him.

Flashback ...

Besides being enrolled in college, Hyun-joon goes through a Special Forces training course with his best friend Jin Sa-woo. One night, Hyun-joo is roused from sleep by several men and forcibly taken to an unknown location. Dragged through the hall, he hears Sa-woo scream as he’s being tortured.



Episode 2


(Note: Eps. 2-3 and part of Ep. 4 are flashbacks.)

Hyun-joon and Sa-woo are both accepted as NSS agents. In the NSS headquarters, they’re both shocked to find out that Seung-hee, the woman they fell in love with, is the NSS profiler. They also meet Park Sang-hyun (head of the counterterrorism unit), the eccentric Oh Hyun-kyu (forensics expert), Jung In (computer systems administrator), and Yang Mi-jung (the computer expert).

As Hyun-joon and Sa-woo both try to win her heart, Seung-hee reminds them that she is their superior in the NSS.

Hyun-joon and Sa-woo’s first mission with the counterterrorism unit is to tail a Japanese-Syrian terrorist and to find out what his plans are. But as they carry out their mission, Seung-hee is captured by the terrorist.

Episode 3


As Hyun-joon stares at the painting in the President’s office, he has flashbacks of himself and his parents visiting the then-President of Korea. He remembers that his parents were murdered and that he grew up in an orphanage.

The President finds out that NSS is a top-secret organization tasked with protecting South Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Later, he calls Baek San and asks him about the nuclear weapons program and if NSS should be disbanded.

Vic, the assassin, targets the head nuclear researcher from North Korea who wants to defect to South Korea and is currently in Hungary.

With Hyun-joon and Seung-hee still vacationing in Japan, Sa-woo goes alone to Hungary to extract the nuclear scientist.

Episode 4


Hungary, present day ...

After receiving his orders from Baek San, Hyun-joon begins scouting the locations from which he can shoot the North Korean official. Meanwhile, Seung-hee and Sa-woo become perplexed over Hyun-joon’s secret mission.

Hyun-joon completes his mission, but Baek San refuses to send in more agents to extract him. Later, Seung-hee confronts Baek San on why Hyun-joon and Sa-woo are both missing.

In South Korea, the President orders an immediate investigation into the assassination of the North Korean official.

A Hungarian SWAT team has located Hyun-joon’s apartment and prepares to assault it. But Sa-woo reaches the apartment first.

Episode 5


Hyun-joon is shocked that Sa-woo wants to kill him; but, as they confront each other, the Hungarian SWAT team assaults the apartment.

In South Korea, NSS agents confiscate all of Hyun-joon’s belongings in the headquarters and charge him for espionage.

Seung-hee refuses to believe that Hyun-joon is a double agent. Later, as she reunites with Hyun-joon, they plan to escape by train. At the train station, however, the North Korean agents led by Chul-young and Sun-hwa catch up with Hyun-joon.

When the Hungarian police arrive, Hyun-joon escapes from the station and runs to the parking lot where Seung-hee is waiting in a car. But as he runs towards the car, it explodes.

Episode 6


Hyun-joon tries to escape through a small plane, but Sa Woo shoots the plane down.

Six months later ...

During a meeting of the counterterrorism unit, Mi-jung (the computer expert) frets that if Hyun-joon was alive, he would have easily found out where the weapons exchange would take place. Later, at a night club, she meets Vic, the assassin.

Seung-hee refuses to believe that Hyun-joon is dead, and, despite Sa-woo’s appeals, she refuses to go back to NSS.

In North Korea, Sun-hwa has been blamed for the assassination in Hungary and has been locked up. But she’s offered a chance to redeem herself by killing Hyun-joon, who has been spotted in Japan.

Sun-hwa, however, fails in her mission to kill Hyun-joon; later on, she’s captured in South Korea by NSS agents. Finding out about it, Seung-hee becomes intrigued and gets permission from Baek San to interrogate Sun-hwa.



Episode 7


Hyun Joon is captured by Japan’s National Intelligence Office and tortured at the Akita Classified Prison; later, an intelligence officer tells him that he will be freed if he does a job for them.

Sa-woo realizes that Seung-hee helped Sun-hwa to escape from South Korea. In Japan, Sun-hwa begins looking for Hyun-joon, but Seung-hee is secretly following her.

Through an emissary, the South Korean President plans a summit with the North Korean leader for the reunification of the two countries. But Director Yeon of North Korea’s intelligence services orders Chul-young to stop the summit at all costs.

Through the gun dealer, Hyun-joon plans to enter South Korea through a fishing boat. But before he can leave, he gets a call from Yuki, the girl from the hot springs village; she has been captured by Vic, the assassin, who demands that Hyun-joon give up the USB that the nuclear scientist gave to him in Hungary.



Episode 8


When Baek San orders him to get Seung-hee back into NSS, Sa-woo secretly plants a file in the NSS computer systems. Later, Jung In finds the file and brings a printout to Seung-hee.

In Japan, Hyun-joon reveals to Sun-hwa everything about his NSS missions, but Sun-hwa has questions herself on who killed the nuclear scientist in Hungary. Together, they try to decode the USB that was hidden in the rosary, but Vic (the assassin) and the Japanese intelligence agents are on their trail.

Through Mr. X, the mysterious man who saved him in Hungary, Hyun-joon finds out that IRIS is a secret international organization that uses assassinations and terrorism to profit from weapons sales during wars and conflicts.

Sun-hwa meets Chul-young in Shanghai, China; meanwhile, Sa-woo finds out that Hyun-joon is still alive.

Episode 9


Hyun-joon asks Chul-young for help in his plans for revenge against Baek San and the South Korean government. But Chul-young tells him that he must prove himself by disposing of a North Korean defector.

North Korean terrorists under Chul-young take over the fishing boat that will bring Hyun-joon back to South Korea. Later on, at an abandoned warehouse, they assemble all their weapons and equipment, but Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa get into a fight with some of the terrorists.

To decode a file in the USB, Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa break into Sa-woo’s house, and, using Sa-woo’s computer, they access the NSS computer systems. But at the NSS headquarters, Mi-jung gets an alert about the access; together with an NSS security team, Seung-hee rushes to Sa-woo’s house.

The North Korean terrorists finalize their plans for disrupting the summit, but as they pack up their weapons and equipment, Sa-woo and the NSS tactical team arrive.

Episode 10


Sa-woo and the NSS tactical team find the warehouse empty. Sa-woo concludes that the terrorist are planning to attack the conference where the US Secretary of State will be attending. But the terrorists’ real target is the NSS headquarters.

Along with Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa, the terrorists shoot their way into the NSS control room and take all the staff as hostages. Meanwhile, Baek San and a South Korean presidential adviser meet with the North Korean advance party led by Chul-young, who secretly carries uranium in his briefcase.

Seung-hee manages to contact Sa-woo and tells him that the NSS headquarters is under siege. Sa-woo and the tactical teams rush back to their headquarters.

While the terrorists try to get into the vault of the R&D room, Hyun-joon gets Baek San’s files from the classified-infornation storage facility. But as he transfers the files into a USB, he hears a voice behind him, ordering him to freeze. It’s Seung-hee.



Episode 11


Seung-hee shoots down Hyun-joon, but as she’s about to unmask Hyun-joon, Sun-hwa knocks her out. Meanwhile, Sa-woo and the tactical teams blast their way into the headquarters.

After leaving a bomb that will bring down the NSS headquarters, the terrorists escape.

Baek San confesses to the President that the terrorists stole a detonation device that could be turned into a nuclear bomb if combined with uranium.

After Sun-hwa decodes the files that Hyun-joon took from the storage facility, Hyun-joon learns about Baek San’s involvement with his parents’ death.

Chul-young sneaks out of the hotel where the North Korean advance party is billeted; he meets the terrorists in their hideout and gives them the uranium.

Episode 12


Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa escape from Baek San’s gunmen.

Seung-hee insists to Baek San and Sa-woo that Hyun-joon is alive; later, she goes to the confidential storage facility and tries to find out who planted the fake file on Hyun-joon’s death in Hungary.

The President insists to Baek San that the summit between South and North Korea must proceed on schedule. Meanwhile, Director Yeon of the North Korean intelligence services is surprised to hear from Chul-young the name “Baek San.” Later on, the South Korean officials arrive in Pyongyang, and they thresh out with their North Korean counterparts the details on the summit’s venue and security plans.

Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa visit the priest’s grave, but Seung-hee and Sa-woo are also on the way there.

Hyun-joon finally meets the mysterious Mr. X (real name Yoo Jeong Hun), who reveals to him that IRIS assassinated all the South Korean officials involved with the nuclear weapons program.

Seung-hee goes through the list of the terrorists’ possible hideouts; after locating the most-probable hideout through the satellite images, she goes there alone.



Episode 13


The terrorists want to kill Seung-hee immediately, but their computer expert stops them, saying that they need to get her NSS password first.

Sa-woo and the NSS tactical team raid the warehouse, but the terrorists are no longer there.

Despite the threat of a nuclear bomb being set off, the President insists to his cabinet members and advisers that the summit must proceed. He gives NSS the full authority to deal with the threat.

Hyun-joon begins beating up Seung-hee to make her give up her NSS password; when Seung-hee remains tough, the terrorists inject her with truth serum.

Despite Chul-young’s objection, Director Yeon orders the terrorists to detonate the nuclear bomb. Meanwhile, Baek San orders Sa-woo to find and kill Yoo Jeong Hun (Mr. X).

Episode 14


Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa reach Yoo Jeong Hun’s house, but it’s too late; upon remembering the verse that Yoo Jeong Hun quoted to him, Hyun-joon looks for a Bible in the room. In the Bible, he finds an ID card decorated with a medieval coat of arms.

Mi-jung spends the night together with Vic; later, despite Mi-jung’s plea that he leave Seoul, Vic says that he won’t leave her.

Based on the forensics report, the head of the counterterrorism unit becomes suspicious of Sa-woo; after talking with the head of NSS internal affairs, he visits Seung-hee in her house. But outside the house, Baek San’s men are closely watching everything.

Using the ID card, Hyun-joon is led to a heliport; after he’s searched by security agents, he’s flown to a mysterious location where he meets Mr. Jung, the President’s secretary.

With the help of the head of the counterterrorism unit and Mi-jung, Seung-hee and Jung In try to locate the terrorists’ hideout. Meanwhile, Sun-hwa gets a call from Chul-young, asking for a face-to-face meeting.

Episode 15


With Secretary Jung and Sun-hwa watching from another room, Hyun-joon interrogates Chul-young about where the nuclear bomb will be detonated. Chul-young decides to spill everything about Director Yeon and his group’s plan to detonate the bomb and to launch a coup d’etat in North Korea.

At the NSS, Baek San’s man arrests the head of the counterterrorism unit. Mi-jung hides and continues to feed information to Seung-hee.

Seung-hee finds the building where the terrorists are hiding, but Sa-woo stops her and orders her brought under guard to another place. As Sa-woo searches the building, he comes face-to-face with Hyun-joon. When some of the terrorists come upon them, they begin shooting the terrorists and each other.

Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa finally locate the hideout, but when they reach it, they find it empty.





Episode 16


Hyun-joon and Seung-hee’s reunion are cut short when Sa-woo and his men arrive.

Acting on Secretary Jung’s request, Chul-young and his assistant arrest Director Yeon, who taunts them, saying that the nuclear bomb will detonate at dawn. As they’re escorting him towards a car, Vic suddenly appears and shoots down Director Yeon.

Despite Director Yeon’s death, the terrorists proceed with their plan of detonating the nuclear bomb at 5 PM in Kwang Hwa Mun Plaza, near the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace.

The President sends Chul-young back to North Korea to try and stop the coup d’etat; later, he sends his security team to arrest Baek San and Sa-woo.

Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa arrive in Kwang Hwa Mun Plaza, looking for the nuclear bomb. Meanwhile, after giving instructions to Mi-jung, Seung-hee leaves the NSS headquarters and proceeds to Kwang Hwa Mun Plaza.

At exactly 5 PM and from a safe distance, the terrorists send by cellphone the signal that will detonate the nuclear bomb.

Episode 17


As people scamper away, Hyun-joon, Sun-hwa, and Seung-hee engage the terrorists in a bloody shootout on the streets near Kwang Hwa Mun Plaza.

Days later, the President tells his cabinet the summit meeting must proceed. At the NSS, a presidential adviser takes over its leadership, vowing to overhaul everything.

In North Korea, Chul-young continues to investigate who among the officials are members of IRIS.

After being interrogated, Hyun-joon is brought by Secretary Jung to see the President. Later on, he says goodbye to Sun-hwa who wants to go back to North Korea.

Vic convinces Mi-jung to get the codes that will allow him to access the NSS computer systems.



Episode 18


Hyun-joon decides against becoming part of NSS again. He and Seung-hee go on a vacation to Jeju Island, but one morning, after receiving a phone call, Seung-hee disappears.

While being transported by a SWAT team, Baek San and Sa-woo are rescued by IRIS mercenaries.

Chul-young finds out that IRIS is planning another terror attack to disrupt the summit; later, when she gets the file on all possible IRIS agents, Sun-hwa decides to go back to South Korea.

Chul-young meets with Secretary Hong and a presidential adviser. After the meeting and, as Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa walk across the plaza to meet Secretary Hong, Vic appears and attacks Secretary Hong.

Episode 19


Hyun-joon and Sun-hwa catch up with Vic in his apartment.

While following up a lead, Hyun-joon stumbles upon the IRIS headquarters where Baek San, Sa-woo, and the mercenaries are plotting their terror attack. After calling for back-up, he sneaks into the building.

Through the presidential adviser, Sa-woo meets Mr. Black, an IRIS member who outranks Baek San.

Hyun-joon meets Seung-hee and, over dinner, confronts her about the video that shows her and Baek San together. Meanwhile, Sun-hwa finds out that the IRIS mercenaries are planning to use a toxic nerve gas in their planned attack.

Sa-woo and the IRIS mercenaries attack a shopping mall and hold more than a hundred hostages.



Episode 20 (Finale)


The IRIS mercenaries demand that the President cancel the scheduled summit by 7 PM the next day and that all unification talks must end. To reinforce their point, the mercenaries executes a hostage.

Hyun-joon goes inside the mall to negotiate for the hostages’ release, but despite his appeal to their former friendship, Sa-woo remains unmoved and further demands that all IRIS agents held in North Korea must be released.

As the SWAT teams begin to infiltrate the mall, a shootout occurs, with Hyun-joon and Sa-woo caught in the middle of it all.

The IRIS mercenaries escape from the mall, and the next day, with the help of the rogue presidential adviser, they attack the President and the North Korean leader during the press conference.







Note / spoiler alert: “IRIS the movie reveals shooter and fate of Hyun Jun”; “The identity of Hyun Joon’s assassin revealed in the movie version of IRIS”

Lessons in photography from “IRIS”


Linear perspective, natural frames, foreground blur
Symmetry and balance, reflection
High angle shot
Dutch angle or Dutch tilt
Linear perspective, foreground blur
Converging lines
High angle shot, reflection
Out of focus foreground element as partial frame
Low angle shot, natural frames
Conveying depth through overlapping forms, foreground and background blur
Compressed perspective
Low angle shot