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In commemoration of 2020 as a year of significant science-fiction themed productions, I dust the cobwebs off an old gem from the recess of my memories. Circle, which aired in 2017 is a timely reminder that despite the inevitable misses in this genre, the South Korean entertainment industry does come up with the goods from time to time. Besides being a well-crafted sci-fi drama, it is also an emotionally satisfying journey about lifelong family bonds that transcend time and the best laid plans of men. I would say without any reservation that this drama and Life on Mars are in all likelihood my favourites within the genre produced in South Korea. They are, in my opinion, the best exemplars of the genre in terms of execution. First and foremost, Circle is an exercise in masterful storytelling which is also compelling viewing as a crime thriller. 


To a seasoned sci-fi watcher, the drama might seem derivative on first glance, seemingly having plundered the warehouse of sci-fi tropes bar time travel. Echoes of Equilibrium, Johnny Mnemonic, Gattaca, Serenity, Brave New World find their way to this seemingly modest production that flip flops between two key years: 2017 and 2037. The upside of using familiar tropes (and there’s nothing new under the sun) makes the drama immediately accessible to a larger audience. To its credit, the drama still manages to craft something uniquely Korean from well-used tropes.


The story begins with a shared past. A pair of fraternal twin boys and their neuroscientist father have a close encounter with what can only be concluded to be a visitor from the stars. That one event becomes the catalyst to a series of highly dubious scientific endeavours that involve human subjects. Their visitor from outer space named Byul (star) becomes an important fixture in their household in those early years and holds scientific knowledge light years ahead of what earth has to offer.


The show fast forwards to 2017. In 2017 the focus is on one of the brothers, Woo Jin (Yeo Jin-goo) who is a top university science major struggling to make ends meet. The abrupt departure of his father and Byul 10 years earlier, left the boys in the care of their grandmother who in 2017 is living in an aged care facility with dementia. His older brother Bum Gyeon recently institutionalised for mental health issues, is obsessed with a series of suicides at Woo Jin’s university which he attributes to a student Han Jung-yeon who is a dead ringer for their childhood alien. At first Woo Jin is frustrated with Bum Gyeon’s paranoia but as he probes further and follows his brother’s trail to keep the latter out of trouble, he gradually concludes that his crazy brother might not be as crazy as he once thought. An enormous burden is placed on the 21-year-old Woo Jin to uncover the layers behind his brother’s other-worldly obsessions.


As the storytelling progresses 2017 sets the stage for what comes later. It provides the backstory to what becomes known as Smart City and the motivations behind what eventuates in 2037.


In the 2037 timeline, the planet has become a highly polluted, run-down morass of environmental decay. Kim Joon-hyuk (Kim Kang-woo), a detective in Normal Earth has been desperately trying to get into Smart City, a seeming oasis in a dystopian future. It’s a sterile, crime-free environment where its inhabitants are installed with a chip that effectively calibrates their emotions ensuring that human impulses are carefully monitored so that potential crimes are kept at bay. Those who choose to live in Smart City must all agree to having the calming chip installed. This entire infrastructure is monitored by Human B, a powerful corporation spearheaded by a mysterious Chairman. What the residents of Smart City aren’t aware of is that their memories are also blocked. Much of the show delves into the negative and positive ramifications of that. 


It isn’t clear at first who Kim Joon-hyuk is at first. He seems to be inordinately interested in the case of the missing twin brothers. There’s some indication that he might be one of the twins. He gets his break when an impossible murder takes place in Smart City which sees him embroiled with a hacker known as Bluebird. 


Circle poses some age-old ontological questions about what it means to be human and raises pertinent ethical questions about the corporatization of science. Science no matter how good the intentions is done by ambitious, flawed human beings who often don’t know when to stop. Or even comprehend fully the ramifications of what it is they are doing. The best part of this philosophical inquiry is that it is done in a suspenseful, entertaining way with an ensemble of experienced and competent cast. Circle differs from most SK science fiction in that it doesn’t leave things entirely to fate or unknown supernatural forces. 


It is important too to make mention of the production values. Differentiation between the two timelines and elements of the dystopian future is done not just through time stamps but changes in colour palates and technological upgrades such as electronic devices, computers, monitors, weaponry in the 2037. The choice made in the means of long distance communication is also fascinating. 


The younger members of the cast deserve special mention because they shoulder much of the storytelling rigours. It isn’t just the popular Yeo Jin-goo but An Woo-yeong who plays brother Bum Gyeon.  Gong Seung-yeon as Han Jung-yeon is another. Then there’s also the officer from city hall in 2037, Ho Soo, Lee Gi-gwang who turns in a decent performance there.


It's hard to believe that this drama went under radar during its initial airing because 3 years on, it is still one of the best most consistently executed K dramas I have seen. If you're in the mood for a excellent crime show, I commend this one to you without any hesitation for your viewing pleasure.


Plot: 9

Acting: 10

Storytelling: 10

Production Values: 8

Rewatch Value: 8



Found a trailer for Episode 1 



Edited by 40somethingahjumma
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Currently Watching: Queen of Tears, In Blossom


"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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31 minutes ago, SnowBlob said:

Did Kim Kang Woo have a lot of screen time or prominent role in this drama? Or do we get to see mainly the younger actors in 2017 timeline? I like KKW :wow:


His arc dominates the 2037 timeline. 

Half an episode revolves around 2017 and the other half around 2037. So each episode consists of both timelines. 

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Currently Watching: Queen of Tears, In Blossom


"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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15 minutes ago, abs-oluteM said:

It was good @SnowBlob . Maybe I’m bias but I like the 2037 scenes. Haha cause I love KKW too 


Yeah, me too. 

In fact I like Part B a tad more not just because of KKW but because of how well its executed despite all the challenges of having a futuristic take on thtings.

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Currently Watching: Queen of Tears, In Blossom


"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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