About thirty minutes into ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR, I did the unthinkable as a critic: I paused the DVD, and I went online to investigate what I was watching.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that that’s never a good thing, but I was honestly a bit confused. Having watched thousands of films in my lifetime, I knew something was missing – was this an edited American release with extra footage available in international versions; was this a sequel to something that would better be seen first; what was the background to all of these characters who seemed to know one another but yet I was just introduced to on my TV screen – and it turned out I was right.
As best as I’ve been able to understand, ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR is a theatrical cut of an award-winning Korean TV drama. In fact, it’s very clear that ATHENA cleaned up at the 2011 SBS Drama Awards because the packaging art says so. Once I figured out that SBS Awards stood for Seoul Broadcasting System, then I put the pieces together and knew what I was watching, but, up until that time, I’ll admit to being at a loss to understand what I had viewed. At that point, I restarted the DVD from the beginning, and I better grasped some of what was going on, though not much.
In short, ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR mostly fails as a stand-alone picture. Simply put, there are too many covert government agencies, plots, and characters interacting here in the scant two hours for much of it to make perfect sense. Yes, there’s a story, but all of the elements aren’t clearly drawn from the larger work (20 hours of television). Things happen in shorthand, and there just isn’t enough meat on these bones for all of it to make logical progress for this viewer. Spy stories – in particular – can be cumbersome material; throw in an infinite number of crosses and double-crosses compounded by the fact that much of these relationships were already worked out in a previous 20 hours TV show called “Iris,” and there’s just way too much subtext going on here for the unitiated.
Still, as production quality goes, ATHENA looks impressive. Wikipedia reports that “Iris” and “Athena” were some of the most expensive Korean TV productions to date, and I’ve no doubt that viewed in their entirety they’re something to behold. This two-hour theatrical release tries hard to be something it isn’t – entirely consistent – but it hints at something special.
ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR is produced by Taewon Entertainment. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Funimation. Video and audio quality are superb.
It’s hard to RECOMMEND this heavily truncated version of ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR except to, perhaps, folks who’ve done their homework ahead of time. Going into the story and understanding that this was edited from a much larger body of work – possibly 20 episodes of a TV program – honestly helps understand why so much of the action happens with so little investment into important things like character building, acting performances, etc. As an independent feature (as I’ve rated it here), it’s more than a bit confusing; but I’d be first in line to pick up a complete series collection if one gets released in the United States because the subject and storytelling looks right up my alley.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Funimation provided me with a DVD screener of ATHENA: GODDESS OF WAR for the expressed purposes of completing this review.