Hey all, I’m finally back with a *Korean* drama review. I know it’s been a long ass while, and I apologize for that. As a Yeo Jin Goo fan, Circle: Two Worlds Connected was on my radar from the moment he was cast. I also enjoy the sci-fi and thriller genres very much, so it was already looking like a match made in heaven. I began watching this drama as it aired, and stopped after four episodes due to personal life getting in the way. I decided to put it on hold until I could devote the proper time to it. Seeing as I’ve been in one of my worst drama slumps ever, I figured the time was right, and I’m sure glad I took advantage of it.
[Be Forewarned: Spoilers Below]
Stellar Cast/Characters: The cast and characters in this show were truly magnificent. I can’t get to everyone, but I’ll try and praise as many stand out characters as I can. First of all, Yeo Jin Goo‘s authentic and powerful performance as Kim Woo Jin was a pleasure to watch on screen. Woo Jin was definitely the main star of the show for me. Out of the two brothers, I was much more invested in his story. Woo Jin was such an honest and upright character, whose determination to find his brother was communicated well to viewers through Yeo Jin Goo’s emotional and captivating portrayal.
Byul/Han Jung Yeon/Bluebird was such a unique character in that she embodied three different identities. She maintained a strong presence in both timeframes of the story and served as a bridge between many of the other characters. Her first identity was Byul, an alien who ends up on earth and introduces to Gyu Chul (through a gift to Woo Jin) a foreign technology which drives the narrative. But we as viewers mostly know her as Han Jung Yeon. We never come to understand her extraterrestrial background, and since she is living as Han Jung Yeon without Byul’s memories, she never comes to understand that background either. Finally, she appears using the alias Bluebird in 2037, still Han Jung Yeon, but now older, wiser, and an incredibly dangerous threat to Human B. Bluebird was definitely my favorite facet of her character. I absolutely loved that she was a kickass hacking genius who becomes crucial to Joon Hyuk/Bum Gyun’s search for the truth, and his brother. If anything, she was the most important member of the Woo Jin search team. I always relish in an intelligent, female character done right. I thought Gong Seung Yeon held her own in this role. She wasn’t what I’d deem amazing, but she was definitely effective in the role and I appreciated her thoughtful performance.
I must admit it took me a little while to warm up to Kim Kang Woo‘s portrayal of Kim Joon Hyuk/Bum Gyun. I thought Ahn Woo Yeon was a great compliment to Yeo Jin Goo as the younger version of Bum Gyun. He really made me care about Bum Gyun as a person and nailed the eccentricity that marked his character. However, Kim Kang Woo had me annoyed in the first few episodes with his brashness and barking. I just felt like it was a 180 degree turn away from what Bum Gyun’s personality was supposed to be. I guess since Joon Hyuk was going off of Woo Jin’s memories, and not his own, it could possibly alter his personality, but overall I initially wasn’t too fond of the changes that resulted from Kim Kang Woo’s taking over the character. However, I began to appreciate Kim Kang Woo’s performance toward the middle and end of the drama where he was able to really dig deep and showcase the emotional turmoil and impact all these chaotic events had on his character. One of my favorite scenes was when he finally acknowledged Circulate 3 as his brother, pulling him into a warm and desperate embrace, after hearing from the clone how scared Woo Jin had been all those years ago to hand over the research in exchange for his brother’s surgery. In that moment, he decides memories do mold a person’s identity, and decides to accept the clone as his deceased brother. This was probably one of the most poignant moments in the drama for me.
Lee Hyun Seok didn’t stand out to me too much in the 2017 time frame. He seemed like the typical snarky bully and it didn’t surprise me that he was caught up in becoming Park Dong Geun’s lackey. The choice to cast Min Sung Wook as his 2037 counterpart was sheer genius. I couldn’t think of a more perfect casting choice. Min Sung Wook took this character to new heights with his subtle but impactful facial expressions. I sincerely enjoyed his performance as the outwardly sinister but inwardly conflicted student turned subordinate.
I have to give a round to Park Dong Geun for being probably one of the most diabolical villains I’ve had the pleasure of viewing on screen. This success was all thanks to Han Sang Jin who (excuse my language) made that role his bitch. He really put on a bone chilling performance as the power hungry, greed-driven scientist who stops short of nothing to get what he wants. Park Dong Geun was a great example of the scariest kind of villain: an everyday person who, once presented with tempting opportunity, morphs into a ruthless, inhumane, oppressor. The way this man’s morals were so quickly and easily cast aside once he was aware of the technology’s potential is downright frightening. The deeds he was willing to perform in attempt to get his hands on it became grislier with each passing second. There are no words to describe the volatile monster he became. Han Sang Jin really brought this hellish brute to life. He truly personified the role—with every sneer, every intonation, every moment—it was a phenomenal sight to see.
I have to cram in a few words for Song Young Kyu who played the seemingly menacing, but well-intentioned, Professor Han. First of all, a quick plug for this actor, who I think is incredibly underrated and always a treat to watch on screen, even in the most minimal of roles. He not only has a charismatic presence, but also one of the most unique and appealing voices out there (imo). Professor Han was a mysterious character. At first, it seemed like he was the professor we needed to fear, until we later found out the truth about Park Dong Geun. I think it’s important to distinguish that Professor Han was not in pursuit of this technology out of a craving for dominance, control, or money. Professor Han may have been whacky, and he may have gone about it the wrong way, but it was clear to me, that he was merely a passionate scientist who saw the potential to use this technology for the greater good—that is, to heal people of mental illness, trauma, and even create a crime free society. Professor Han was convinced that missing this opportunity would be a devastating waste of its abilities and therefore felt it was his duty to make it his life’s work. Now, he allowed students to be sacrificed in the process, which is definitely not heroic. I am certainly not condoning those actions. However, I don’t ever think he was out to purposefully hurt anyone in the way that Park Dong Geun was willing to ruthlessly butcher anyone who got in his way in order to use the technology for his own selfish and corrupt ambitions. All of this would explain why Jung Yeon never let go of her feelings for her father figure, and even continued to call him “Dad,” and make visits to him after the whole nightmare was over. Song Young Kyu was compelling and convincing in this role. I bought into his desperation, especially in the moments where he explains to Woo Jin and later Park Dong Geun, the vast potential and importance of the foreign technology.
I kind of forgot Gi Kwang acted so I was startled to see him in this drama as Lee Ho Soo. Despite any doubts I may have had, I think he approached the role with just the right attitude. Somehow, he made Ho Soo such a calming persona, which makes sense since he was indeed the peacekeeper of smart earth. I didn’t feel like Gi Kwang overacted nor forced his presence to be known. Lee Ho Soo wasn’t what I’d call a major character, but he was an important one nonetheless; one with extraordinary development and likability. I think Gi Kwang’s gentle, mild, manner served his character really well. I’ll talk more about Ho Soo a little later.
Original Storyline: I’ll start by saying I loved the innovative dual formatting of this show. Not only did it allow for an elaborate storyline and rich character development, but also enabled amazing plot twists with double the cliffhangers. It was like getting two sophisticated stories in one, and that is no easy feat. These days, some, if not most, kdrama writers can’t even keep one story straight let alone interesting. Circle managed to create two different plot lines that were each compelling in their own right, and then converge them for what I’d deem one of the most clever and well executed climaxes in k-drama history. The sci-fi genre is not often covered in k-drama and if it is, it’s not usually done very well in my humble opinion. This drama not only revived the genre, but tackled it in such a revolutionary way. So much can be unpacked from this show. It wasn’t just visually pleasing or fun to watch, it was contemplative and filled with profound commentary on relevant, controversial topics.
Magnificent Pacing: Due to the nature of the two-fold narrative, this drama remained thrilling and suspenseful from beginning to end. The pacing was perfect. Maybe too speedy for some, but it was just right for me. From the very first episode, we hit the ground running. There are major happenings, discoveries, and questions that develop in each half of each episode. Finding a dull moment, or just a moment to relax would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It works because of the genre. A thriller should be thrilling, and this is thrill done right. The amount of plot twists they were able to conjure up and insert into each episode floored me. I found myself dreading the point where they might run out of tricks or the time where this streak of great writing and progression would hit a speed bump—but much to my relief, neither ever came. One of my favorite plot twists came toward the end where Bum Gyun and Circulate 3 were able to use their childhood memories of communicating through morse code to their advantage, as a way to outsmart Park Dong Geun, who they knew would play back Circulate 3’s memories; an absolutely electrifying moment.
Significant Themes: Another reason I found this show so appealing was because of its choice to delve deep into the ethics of science and raise important questions. Some of these questions included: How far is too far, even if the purpose is to benefit humanity? What makes us human? Are our memories synonymous with our identities? These were some heavy hitting subjects.
I think the drama ultimately aims to deliver the message that our memories are a crucial part of what makes us human, but also a foundation for our identities. This is the message Woo Jin gives to the troubled Byul, who wants to live a human life as Han Jung Yeon. It is this statement that allows her to live at peace with herself and later the statement which brings Bum Gyun to embrace Circulate 3 as Woo Jin. Even though he is a clone, he lives with all of Woo Jin’s memories. Jung Yeon reasons that if those memories aren’t what define his identity, then Woo Jin’s past words, along with her whole life, will have been a fruitless lie. At first Bum Gyun rejects these ideas, but after hearing Circulate 3’s accounts of Woo Jin’s memories, he comes to change his mind, and believe in the idea that memories are essential to one’s identity. While this is still a controversial idea when referring to clones, I was relieved that he embraced Circulate 3 as his brother. While I too was sad that we couldn’t have the real Woo Jin, it would have been unrealistic to expect him to survive. I think it was a clever way to keep the essence of Woo Jin alive, without actually having him truly there. Of course, this fuels a whole other discussion on the ethics of cloning, and whether they should be accepted/treated as human beings, but the drama only scraped at the surface of this topic, which was probably for the best. It would have been too hard to try and get deep into it with only twelve episodes, especially considering everything else that was being covered.
Apart from being central to human identity, the drama touches on another important role that memories play. That is—they force us to take accountability for our actions, both good and bad, which is why the concept of a crime free community was simply a myth; an illusion. It wasn’t that the community was crime free, it was that by erasing memory— past criminal acts, consequences, and accountability were all extinguished along with those memories. People who had hurt others were able to walk around without taking any responsibility for their past crimes, adding to the trauma of their victims. Even though his mission to create a better world was with honest and good intentions, Professor Han took things to far by allowing children to be sacrificed for the “greater good.” He was not able recognize the line that Professor Gyu Chul and Woo Jin were able to draw. Though Woo Jin could ultimately understand and empathize with what Professor Han was trying to do, he knew in his heart of hearts that there were boundaries of science that shouldn’t be crossed, especially if they violated human rights. And Professor Han wasn’t even the villain. Professor Han made a huge mistake in underestimating the potential selfishness of others around him. It was his carelessness that led a diabolical figure like Park Dong Geun, to get his hands on the technology for evil purposes. With foul and greed-filled intentions, Park Dong Geun used the technology to control the lives of an entire populous.
Thoughtful Character Development: Most of the characters, if not all, were developed extremely well. There was significant character growth for many, but one of my favorites in particular was Lee Ho Soo. It was gratifying to witness his transition from one end of the spectrum to the other. It took a significant amount of time for Ho Soo to come to terms with what was going on, but ultimately, after realizing the importance of memory—especially when it came to accountability and identity—he decided to take Bum Gyun’s side. Ho Soo ended up becoming a key part of the team that took down Human B, and it was heartwarming to watch his connection and relationship with Bum Gyun grow stronger over time. By the end, you could tell the pair really cared for and appreciated each other, despite their bumpy beginnings and all the chaos that happened in between.
Another character, who had a redemption arc that stopped just short of what I had hoped, was Lee Hyun Seok. There came a point where even Hyun Seok, who was basically second in command to Park Dong Geun, looked at his superior with an expression riddled with shock and disgust. While Hyun Seok had indeed been strung along in the mess, and become an accomplice to many awful deeds as a result—even for him, there was a limit to what should and shouldn’t be done. As the story progressed and geared toward its climax, Hyun Seok’s internal conflict began to make itself known. His inner turmoil reached its pinnacle in the final scene before Park Dong Geun’s death, where he is asked to shoot Circulate 3. Still haunted by having mistakenly run over Woo Jin with his vehicle as a student, Hyun Seok blamed himself for Woo Jin’s death. Though it was Park Dong Geun who ultimately pulled the plug on Woo Jin’s life, the professor had no issue pinning the blame on his student, and using it against him as a way to bait him into doing his bidding. Hyun Seok couldn’t bring himself to shoot Circulate 3, and expressed regret in getting caught up in the whole mess. He reasoned that he felt he was already in too deep, and that it was too late to escape or turn back, which is why he ended up in such a grim position. He then turned the gun on himself, but was stopped by Secretary Shin from shooting himself.
I appreciated these scenes of Hyun Seok. I’m glad he turned out not to be as inherently evil as Park Dong Geun. I think he is partially right, he was definitely roped and blackmailed into a situation that seemed impossible to escape, but I do feel like he missed earlier opportunities to redeem himself (i.e. by helping out Bum Gyun’s team when he had the chance). I would have liked to see him help them out in one of the final episodes. I also would have liked for him to be the one to finish off Park Dong Geun, but I can imagine two reasons why they refrained from having him do that. The first being that it was almost as if they were trying to show that Hyun Seok was still just that vulnerable kid from years ago, a kid that may not have been so great, but certainly wasn’t capable of murdering then, and still isn’t capable of murdering now, whether it’s Circulate 3 or Park Dong Geun. The other reason is that it was more fitting for Park Dong Geun to reach his demise by holding onto the technology he ruined his life and morals over, in order to obtain. He literally killed himself in attempt to hold power that never belonged to him in the first place. He became so obsessed with this technology and domination, that he made the irrational decision to lose his life in desperation to maintain power over it. It was ironic, yet satisfying to see him die by greed. So, I am okay that Hyun Seok doesn’t take down his master, but I am also glad Hyun Seok is stopped from taking his own life. I felt that would have been a bit of a cop out and a disappointment.
Complexity: This is not a sit back, have a snack, and relax kind of drama. Blink and you’ll miss some chunk of important information. The first few episodes will leave you incredibly confused and probably frustrated. The nature of this show not only requires you to pay attention, but asks you to practice patience. If you’re not committed to investing your full undivided attention, nor willing to wait for the pieces to fall into place, I suggest you find something else to watch. The only way to properly understand and appreciate this show is by avoiding any distractions and giving it time to build. The plot also draws upon some pretty controversial themes. It’s provocative, thoughtful, and intriguing. It asks the audience to grapple with some ethically challenging questions. If you’re not interested in exploring the moral dilemmas involved with scientific advancement, this may not be for you. This isn’t a flaw for me personally, but I know some people gave up or were easily disgruntled by these aspects of the show. So if anything, this is more like a warning to anyone who intends to watch with a half-hearted attitude.
Unanswered Questions: An additional facet that perturbed some viewers was the lack of explanation regarding a few plot points—the most obvious being the ambiguity surrounding Byul/Jung Yeon’s alien background. Some people wanted this hashed out, though I think it was a smart choice to leave us in the dark considering the show’s focus was not on Byul/Jung Yeon’s alien nature itself, but instead on the technology she introduced and the moral quandary that developed as a result. Trying to cover her origins in a mere twelve episodes, when they already had enough intricacy going on, would only have opened a huge (unwanted) can of worms in my book.
Another point made by viewers was the lack of progress made by Human B in the 20 years that passed since acquiring the technology. However, I think this is the crux of Professor Gyu Chul’s concerns. This technology came from an extraterrestrial being. Humans aren’t supposed to know how to use it, and thus, it makes sense that Park Dong Geun wasn’t able to make any sort of advancement years down the road. They don’t know how to because this technology was never meant to be utilized or understood by the human race, which is also why it’s so dangerous when erroneously employed by corrupt organizations.
There was so much to unpack from this drama that I am sadly unable to get to everything I want to say. I mean…I could talk about everything, but then I’d be holding you captive here for centuries, and no one has time for that. Even though I didn’t get around to mentioning each and every character, plot twist, or theme—rest assured, it doesn’t mean that I forgot them or didn’t find them compelling. I truly loved every single aspect of this drama. I have absolutely no complaints about the time I spent watching this one, and think it was the hidden gem of 2017. I watched in hopes for a decent sci-fi thriller, and received a brilliant twelve episodes in return. Circle kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. With its never ending plot twists and masterfully executed format utilizing dual timeframes—this is a show you won’t want to miss!
Did you watch Circle: Two Worlds Connected? What did you think of the drama? If you haven’t already, you can check out the extended preview here.