What a solid, surprising little gem of a drama, you guys.
There are so few kdramas that attempt the science fiction genre, that off the top of my head, I can only think of one other drama – 2010’s Joseon X-Files (also known as Secret Investigation Record) – as a show somewhat in the same category.
That in itself makes Circle a bit of a special snowflake, in my books. In addition, whether or not you’re into science fiction (I’m not super into it myself), Circle manages to be consistently interesting, compelling, & mysterious; sometimes rather exciting, and almost always emotionally engaging.
When I started this one, I wasn’t all that sure I would like this odd science fiction duck of a drama, to be honest, but now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I can sincerely say that I’m glad I made time for this one.
Usually, I expect to understand what’s going on in a show relatively early into my watch. That’s.. just not the case, with this show. With this show, even at the episode 8 mark – out of a total of 12 episodes – I found myself still not fully understanding what was going on.
Not only that, by this time, I’d kind of given up on knowing and understanding what was what, and was content to simply let Show take me along for the ride.
I personally found that to be a good decision, because Show does prove that it has a story to tell and that it knows where it wants to go.
There are some things that don’t add up (I’ll talk more about those later), but overall, Show does a solid job of tying everything together, in spite of its ambitious set-up.
The other thing to know about this show, is that it’s not just a sci-fi mystery story; it also has strong melodramatic leanings.
Put together, it all makes for a ride that’s both kind of wild [SPOILER] what with the whole alien thing, the lost twin thing, combined with the dramatic music swirling around from time to time, to the mysterious Chairman who doesn’t speak and who communicates via twitches of his leather-gloved hand, and who might well be the lost twin himself [END SPOILER] and also, emotionally satisfying.
STUFF I LIKED
Show keeps you on your toes
Immediately, this show definitely feels different from your usual kdrama.
There are a total of 3 timelines in this story, and Show presents all 3 each episode, consistently opening the episode with a snippet from 2007, then spending its first half in 2017, before switching over in its second half to 2037.
Show takes its sci-fi premise, mixes in a dystopian Korea in 2037, throws in murder mysteries that may or may not be alien-related, ties it all together with missing family members, and then metes out information nuggets of each arc, episode by episode.
There’s a whole lotta drama potential, and there’s also a whole lotta potential for jigsaw-puzzle type storytelling, which Show capitalizes on. Show gets intense pretty fast, and keeps things mysterious, confusing and compelling all the way through.
As Show dished out its various pieces of the puzzle, I became curioser and curioser with each reveal, and I also got more and more puzzled, at what it all meant. It just made my head spin – in a good way.
Altogether, Show serves up episodes that are bizarre and freaky, but also, intriguing and compelling, and I consistently felt like Show was keeping me on the edge of my seat, while balancing me on the tips of my toes, with my brain hanging in the balance, trying to make sense of it all.
Show is thought-provoking
One of my favorite things about this show, is that on top of telling its rollercoaster of a story, it manages to be thought-provoking at the same time.
The central idea that Show plays with all series long, is the idea of memories, and what it means. Here’s a look at the various angles that Show explores the theme of memories.
E3. The big question of how ethical it is to remove someone’s memories. Does that make them different people?
E7. The question of what is right, and what is better? Both Joon Hyuk (Kim Kang Woo) and Ho Soo (Lee Ki Kwang) grapple with that, and end up fully exploring the other side, before reaching a conclusion.
Ho Soo had started out defending Human B and the right to have his memories wiped, but the more he explores his memories and the context around those memories, the more he’s convinced that it’s not right to allow people to erase their memories.
Joon Hyuk, on the other hand, has always believed that our memories make up who we are, and has been fighting to stop Human B.
But, when he’s faced with the possibility that Woo Jin (Yeo Jin Goo) might have created Human B on his account, because he’d seen how free Joon Hyuk was, without his memories, he really stops to consider whether he should just live as Joon Hyuk and stop pursuing his memories and his brother.
E7. The idea that memories equal responsibility and justice. That is very wise.
E10. The idea that our memories make us who we are, is brought up again and again. Beom Gyun (Ahn Woo Yeon) is a different person without his memories, and so is Byul (Gong Seung Yeon).
E11. The idea of memories making us who we are. The debate over whether the clone is Woo Jin: if the clone has Woo Jin’s memories and remembers and recognizes people, does that make him Woo Jin?
Yeo Jin Goo as Woo Jin
Our entire cast delivers a solid performance, but for me, Yeo Jin Goo’s character Woo Jin ends up being the heart of this story, and by Show’s end, Woo Jin was the character for whom my heart felt the most.
To my eyes, Woo Jin became the heart and soul of this story, despite never wanting anything to do with this alien business to begin with.
Of course, Yeo Jin Goo’s consistently excellent delivery just made Woo Jin pop for me all the more, as a character.
Show packs an emotional punch
Even though, as I mentioned earlier, I often didn’t quite understand what was going on in our story, the emotions of our key characters helped to keep me grounded and invested.
The lingering sense of depth of meaning, thanks to Show’s relentless exploration of its main theme of memories, also deepened my emotional response to this show.
It’s true that Show saves its biggest emotional punches for its last stretch, but boy, were those worth waiting for. The following scene legit brought tears to my eyes, it was just so powerful.
In episode 11, the last scene of Joon Hyuk throwing away his earlier pronouncement that the clone isn’t Woo Jin, and addressing him as Woo Jin, and embracing him, while the clone shares, with deep emotion, what Woo Jin had last said to his brother, is such an emotionally powerful one. I teared up at this.
Joon Hyuk’s defenses come down when he sees that the clone is scared too, just like his brother was.
And it’s viscerally moving to me, that the clone acts exactly like Woo Jin would; he’s prepared to give himself up for the safety and well-being of others.
That’s exactly what Woo Jin did in 2017, and that’s what the clone made in his image is choosing to do now. Augh. Chills.
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Some of the Intended Funny doesn’t work for me
Show isn’t designed to be a funny show by any means, but we do get served some comedic beats for a bit of levity. I’m sorry to say that most of these didn’t work for me.
E2. As much as I hate to admit it, I do think Kim Kang Woo isn’t very funny. Those beats where Joon Hyuk tries to be funny and comical with Ho Soo are really not amusing to me.
E2. Or maybe it’s Show that I don’t find funny, coz the scenes of the detectives coercing Dong Soo (Oh Ui Shik) into helping them is played for laughs, but I didn’t find it funny either.
Logic stretches and plot holes
After 12 years of drama-watching, I’ve come to the conclusion that even the most tightly-written drama tends to possess weaknesses in the form of logic stretches and plot holes.
I don’t hold these against Show much, since it managed to be intense, rollercoastery and emotionally engaging in spite of its shortcomings, but I thought I’d just share them for the record.
E2. Unless the alien has mind control powers, I cannot believe that a family that had met a potential alien would take her home and feed and clothe her and celebrate birthdays with her, instead of calling the authorities.
E5. The mounting horror as Woo Jin follows the trail of blood, indicating that his hyung was likely the person whose blood they were seeing, and then losing his hyung right before his eyes, is awful and hard to watch.
Although, that was a lot of blood for one person to lose, which makes it curious that Beom Gyun was still conscious and able to look out the ambulance window at Woo Jin.
E8. Professor Han (Song Young Kyu) suddenly feeling bad about killing people, and going a bit crazy in 2017 feels sudden and kind of out of character.
E11. The cross USB contained no useful information at all, and therefore there was no reason for Dad (Kim Joong Ki) to ask Gran to guard it closely and not give it to anyone except himself.
That was just a red herring that writer-nim threw in there to make us believe that it was an important clue. With 20/20 hindsight, that feels a bit like a cheap trick, to be honest.
E11. If Woo Jin’s clone is always built with his memories, and is linked to the supercomputer while in a coma, only to remember that he’d just been in an accident upon waking, then why would there have been a photo of a clone smiling in front of the Chairman’s painting while wearing a suit? That doesn’t add up.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I’d heard that Circle’s ending leaves things open, so I’d braced myself for a multitude of unanswered questions, as I approached the end of this finale. Perhaps because of this, I find myself solidly satisfied and happy with where Show leaves us.
I found the stage-by-stage reveal of the Big Plan of our Ragtag Six clever and nicely surprising, but it was the emotional beats this hour that really hit me in the heart.
The flashback to 2017 Woo Jin breaks my heart, because he’s so very sacrificial and caring.
He never wanted a part of this alien/memory business, but when push comes to shove, he chooses to put his very life on the line, to protect the ones that he loves, which ultimately leads to his death. Augh. Sob.
At the same time, there’s the heartbreak of the brother for whom Woo Jin made that sacrifice. Joon Hyuk/Beom Gyun must be so stricken to realize that his dear twin had basically sacrificed himself in order to ensure that he would be able to have surgery.
How does one bear the weight of that knowledge, really?
My favorite moment this entire episode – possibly this entire show? – is when Joon Hyuk sits down and talks with Woo Jin’s clone outside the church, and basically acknowledges and embraces him as Woo Jin.
Although this isn’t actually Woo Jin, this clone – this person – is Woo Jin’s legacy. He’s all that’s left of Woo Jin; a priceless, precious way through whom Joo Hyuk can keep his memories of his brother alive.
Better yet, he can keep on interacting with his brother, almost as if Woo Jin had never left, because this Woo Jin acts and thinks and speaks just like the original, and with all of the original’s memories intact too.
What deep comfort, for the gaping wound that Joo Hyuk’s been living with for the last 20 years. In protecting Woo Jin’s clone, Joo Hyuk is protecting what’s left of Woo Jin, just like Woo Jin had chosen to protect Beom Gyun all those years ago. What a sweetly poignant full circle.
I found the rooftop face-off with Minister Park (Han Sang Jin) suitably tense and nerve-wracking, and most of all, I found it endlessly fitting, that ultimately, Minister Park met his end by the greed of his own hand.
Finally, as we see our other characters go back to their rightful places – Chief Hong (Seo Hyun Chul) back to drawing comics, Joon Hyuk/Beom Gyun back to baking and teasing Min Young (Jung In Sun), and Mayor Yoon (Nam Myung Ryul) back to being Mayor – Ho Soo fronts a press conference to announce the end of Human B and the care chip system.
“Please accept the memories that come to you. If you have forgotten something you ought not have forgotten, remember it. And if you have forgotten a wrong you committed, take responsibility for it.
And if you have forgotten sadness… if you have forgotten sadness…. I wish for you to feel sadness. Because that is what it means to be human. Finally, no matter what, please remember what happened to us in the year 2037.”
And so, Show ends its story with the same questions that it’s been prompting us to ask, all series long: Would life really be better without our memories? Aren’t memories the very things that make us what we are? What are we, really, without our memories?
As these questions hang in the air, we see that there’s another alien visitation in our drama world, and as Byul’s eyes and face suddenly flash their alien form, Show’s credits start to roll.
We aren’t told what happens next; it’s possible that Byul then returns to her motherland; it’s also possible that this simply marks the arrival of a fellow alien. So many narrative possibilities! It’s no wonder this show’s fans are hopeful for a second season.
Whatever the case, I’d like to believe that Byul eventually gets her memories restored, because if Show’s conclusion is that our memories make us who we are, then I’d really like Byul to have the chance to have back the memories that help to make her who she is, too.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Daringly different; manages to be emotionally engaging & thought-provoking, despite some plot holes and logic stretches. A solid watch.
FINAL GRADE: B++
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this show on YouTube here. Just select your VPN location as Turkey, to access it.
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Kfangurl, I truly love ya but your reviews are so good that they make me want to go rewatch dramas that I do not have time to give to rewatching. Just as you were content with the gaps in this show (I was too) but I’ve learned to be content with my now super spotty memory; that is, until I read your reviews that make me want to watch again! There’s a compliment in there somewhere 😉
Lol! Thank you for the compliment, Beez! 😉 I’m glad you still enjoy the reviews – even if they tempt you to rewatch shows you don’t have time for! 😆 Love ya. 😘
Circle was such a unique and special drama 🙂 I already like sci-fi, so I was thrilled to finally have a kdrama go full on with the genre by throwing in practically every sci-fi theme they could and still making it work.
Then the script was amazing and intricate, the cast phenomenal (yet another fantastic performance by Yeo Jin Goo), and the production was great. It was thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through. Plus, it had some truly amazing twists. It was just a wonderful drama all around. Glad you enjoyed this one too 🙂
Ah, glad you enjoyed this one too, Kay! 😀 Especially since you’re already a sci-fi fan. I can see why this one would appeal to you, serving up both sci-fi and kdrama, all in one. 😉 Yes, this one managed some excellent twists, and I thoroughly felt like I was on the edge of my seat, all the way through. Not a lot of shows achieve that, and this one did. Quite a special snowflake indeed. 🙂
It is one of my favorite shows, and I am not much of a sci-fi fan either. However, I do enjoy thought-provoking dustopias, and this show fit the bill. I wish Byeol’s origin and purpose were explained, but I can deal with some minor plot issues. I liked the dual story line, and how the writer tied the two storylines together. Yeo Jin Goo was excellent as ever.
Another very good show that dealt with bioethical issues was Duel. Yang Se Jong fans, you should see this!
I second the recommendation for Duel! It’s another unique, suspenseful, and very thought provoking series. It was my first time seeing Yang Se Jong, and it made me an immediate fan because of his amazing performance 🙂
Thanks for seconding Duel – it really wasn’t on my radar until you ladies mentioned it. Guess my monster watch list will just have to make room for one more! 😉
Jung Jae Young is very good in Duel too! He is also the main actor in Castaway on the Moon, my favorite Korean movie.
Ah yes, I remember you telling me that you really liked this one, Snow Flower! Yes, this one was very thought-provoking indeed, which is quite the feat, considering how much other stuff writer-nim needed to juggle (multiple timelines and character arcs, wow!). That’s true, we’re never told why Byul came to Earth to begin with. I’d just assumed that it was some kind of accident that she got left behind, but you’re right, she could’ve been sent with a purpose. That would make an interesting prequel, methinks! 😉
Thanks for the recommendation, I’ve not watched Duel. I’ll keep it in mind! 🙂
Goodness me, you finally saw this. Dame Holly (LT) and I don’t agree on much, but we agree on this. It’s awesome. As much as she and I have discussed this show, I’ve never known her theory until now! And the crazy thing is that it could still work. Buyl could be from another solar system in the future where Earth becomes uninhabitable and humans had to find another solar system to live in. This opens up a whole new plot line for a sequel as to why she came back. What’s this “New Earth” like? Is it much like the dystopian one we see here? I must admit that my imagination is no where near LT’s, especially in the sci-fi realm, so someone else would be better to write the sequel. Also, self-plug, DB had a theme of the month that talked about plot twists, and I wrote about this show. The real life plot twist was that I didn’t think they would publish it, so at the 11th hour, put it on my blog, only to have it published at the 11th1/2 hour! It was quite unexpected because LT and I and then LT, herself, had all sent submissions in on this show multiple times before and they never made it. Anyway, hope you read it! And you need to get on the Forest of Secrets bandwagon, STAT!
Heh. Yes, I am very late to this indeed! 😅 I had vague plans to check it out, but it took me quite a while to get around to it. I’m so glad to have finally seen it! You are so right, it is pretty darn awesome! I had to search a little bit, to find your Circle post on DB (so for other interested folks, it’s here!), but it was well worth the effort. 😉 Lovely read, thank you for pointing me towards it! Your observation of how the timelines collided is absolutely on-point, and I so agree, it was very well done indeed. And I also never saw the truth of the reveal, until it was revealed. 🤯 Very well-played indeed. And so mindblowing, and so heartbreaking, in the same breath, because of the implications of what had happened to the real Woo Jin. 💔
Ooh I do like how you’ve added a twist, so that Dame Holly’s theory could still work! 😀 And you say you don’t have a rich imagination! 😉 I think you two would make a great team, to write Circle’s sequel! 😀
And yes, I will bump Forest of Secrets up my list, I promise! 😁
Ally and I also wrote a piece on Circle together that we published on Ally’s blog after it was rejected by db (boo)
And I had another piece on Circle that was rejected (boo) that I published on my blog.
Thanks for sharing the links, Dame Holly! 😀 It was fun to read both of your thoughts. I especially liked reading about your idea for an epilogue – love it! So subtle, yet it would’ve turned our entire understanding of the drama world upside down and make us angst endlessly over what it all meant! 😀 Also, agree with both of you, that a second season of Circle would be desirable, but really hard to do. In this case, though, I’m actually quite happy to live with an open ending, allowing each of us to create our own sequels in our heads. I’d rather that, than be served a sequel that ended up being disappointing, honestly. 😅
There was a time when I could have done with a few clones of myself 😂 I did watch Circle at the time (last year) and I remember being excited by this because I am a great sci-fi fan. My comments at the time were:
I thought the first half was excellent: a really good sci-fi thriller portraying a dystopian future. The concept of each episode in two parts re current day and twenty years in the future is a great concept and worked well. However, I found the second half descended into the ordinary and lost its originality. Still, you need to take a look and see what you think. 7.5/10.
The concept of our memories making us who we are is an interesting one. We are nothing without them. However, memories only have meaning re who we are depending on our level of emotional connection. The dramas of late re robots, what it means to be human, clones and Alzheimer’s bear this out.
In hand with this, so many stories and shows have dealt with the concept of A Stranger in a Strange Land – reminding us of how narrow minded we can be and the importance of why our beliefs should always be challenged.
This week it was announced that two tv versions of War of the Worlds are being made in honour of the 40th anniversary Jeff Wayne’s musical creation. Finally, we might get something resembling what HG Wells originally intended. One version is present day, the other is set in Edwardian England. In his famous work, Wells postulates the question of what do we do with someone who suddenly turns up and then has a devastating impact on our lives.
My fingers are crossed for Byul’s future 🤗
Kfangurl, if you get the chance to have a look at the recent Korean Movie: Innocent Witness – please do. It’s a gem.
Given the bits and pieces that I know about your schedule, I totally believe that you could’ve used a few clones yourself, Sean! 😆 I still don’t know how you manage to do it all!
Perhaps because I’m not a sci-fi fan and therefore have been less exposed to sci-fi norms and ways of storytelling, I found this show to be fresh and innovative, and I didn’t feel the second half sag as much as you did. In fact, I was somewhat relieved to finally feel like I was gaining a measure of understanding re the big picture and what really was what.
You’re so right, the memories only have meaning depending on our level of emotional connection. It’s a fascinating thing to ponder on, and I’m really pleased that the shows coming out of Dramaland have been exploring this theme. 🙂
How interesting, that two versions of the same story are being made! That would be really interesting to check out, especially for fans of the original work. 😀 Also, thanks for the movie recommendation – I will put it on my list! 🙂
OMG HOW ARE YOU JUST WATCHING THIS NOW, THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS EVER.
Gosh I loved this show so much.
It’s Top Five for me, always and forever. Right up there with Forest of Secrets and My Ahjussi.
In fact, I’m currently in my third rewatch with a friend (who’s also loving it).
I’ll openly admit that I was wrong about everything while watching it (and still prefer my interpretation of what was happening) but, overall, from the plotting to the performances to the general refusal to bow to standard kdrama trope, this show was a A++.
Tee hee. I have SO many dramas on my backlog, Dame Holly! I, uh, also haven’t watched Forest of Secrets (gasp!). 😆 I promise to check that one out though, just maybe not right away. As for missing out on Circle, I’m just not much into sci-fi, and so this one flew under the radar for me. I might’ve also been busy with RL when the rest of the dramaverse was raving about this one. 😅 But, I’m glad I made time for this. It really is very solid! 😀 YAY that your friend is enjoying the watch!
I’m so curious, what WAS your initial interpretation of everything? 😀
It’s all cloning and time travel.
So at some point, the “real” Byul is born. She gets cloned and has the memory tech in her head. She then gets sent back in time, starting the sequence of events that result in the memory tech and the cloning tech being invented.
I even thought that was the Circle they were referring to – a paradox, a continuity circle.
To me, the show made it very clear the Byul was not an alien. She had human DNA, that makes her human by definition.
So the phenomenon seen when Byul arrived was actually due to time travel.
OMIGOSH I LOVE YOUR TAKE, DAME HOLLY!!! 😍😍😍 And, it could still be true, come to think of it, if they hadn’t had Byul draw her solar system. If they’d left it vague, a potential sequel could well have revealed exactly your theory, no? 😀 Have you ever considered writing dramas? Coz you do have some amazing ideas! 😀
The funny thing about Circle is that I was a victim of my own refusal to read up on a show before watching it. I watched Circle knowing nothing about it except that people said it was good and it had Yeo Jin Goo. I couldn’t stop watching it, in fact I watched it in one day. From about 10am to 2am with the odd break for food and… I admit… gin.
So I didn’t know anything. The alien thing made no sense to me but I could never explain Byul until they introduced cloning. So I was like, “there it is! she’s a clone, that explains everything!”
Either way, I wish they’d make a second season. Although I’d hope they took the time to make it as good as the first one.
That’s so interesting! I actually started on this not realizing that aliens was part of the picture. It’s just that the kids in the beginning were talking about aliens and arguing about whether they existed, and then Byul appeared in a ball of light, so my brain just concluded that she was supposed to be an alien. And then in another episode, when Byul drew what looked like a solar system, I just figured, oh yeah, that’s where she’s from, some other planet and some other solar system. 😄 I like how your mind works better though! I love the time travel idea, and the full circle it would create, to have Byul go back in time to bring the technology with her. Brilliant! 🤯
BTW, there is a plot hole in this and you found it – it’s the photo of him next to the picture in the Chairman’s office.
I can only assume it will be explained in the much-anticipated season 2.
YES, that photo makes no sense, at all! Why would the clone be standing there in front of the painting in the Chairman’s office, if he needed to be hooked up to the supercomputer??
It’s so unlikely that we will actually get a Season 2, but.. Vampire Prosecutor 2 happened, so maybe..? But then again, I didn’t like VP2 as much as I liked VP1, so that felt like a letdown, so.. 🤷♀
A wonderful insight Dame Holly!
As the great Harry Chapin once sang in part re his song Circle:
It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when
But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again
There’s no straight lines make up my life and all my roads have bends
There’s no clear-cut beginnings and so far no dead-ends
I found you a thousand times I guess you’ve done the same
But then we lose each other it’s just like a children’s game
But as I see you here again, a thought runs through my mind
Our love is like a circle, let’s go ’round one more time…