This is the first time I watched a drama while it was airing and managed to finish it around the same time as everyone else. I knew as soon as I finished it I needed to write a review of it because there are so many things about it I want to talk about in-depth. This review is quite spoiler-heavy since I wanted to talk about some of the awesome twists. The last paragraph is spoiler-free if you want to see my final opinion. So, if you are considering watching the show, do it, then read this review. It's well worth it! So, without any further ado, here's my review of Circle.
The first thing I want to address is the plot. I haven't seen anything as tightly written as this show is since 38 Task Force, and I thought that was the best drama writing I'd ever see. The writers managed to do something great: they wrote two connected stories that played out simultaneously, and they did it well. Any plot holes were small and didn't impact my overall opinion of the show. Having two (sometimes three) timelines running all at the same time allows for a lot of viewer participation. Watching this show is a bit like reading a Nancy Drew book: you're given the chance to figure things out before the main characters do. There are a ton of red herrings to throw you off, which causes you to become invested to the point that the twists leave you as surprised as the characters. I think it was really well done. It's speedy like a roller coaster, and just as exhilarating. Sadly, its pace was actually a problem for some viewers. It moves at breakneck speed, and if you don't speak a lot of Korean, you can't look away from the subtitles for even a second without missing something.
Also, the writers respected the intelligence of the viewers. The most obvious answer was almost never right, and they left it up to us to figure things out as we went. Characters don't blatantly ignore obvious answers, either. Sometimes they latch onto them and pursue them, and other times they shoot them down because it seems too easy. The characters are just as smart as we are, and they behave like normal people, trying different plans and ruling out answers that don't seem like they'll work. The brainstorming session in the church in the last episode really shows this, where their banter allows them to come up with a solid, logical plan to take down Human B. Most of all, this show constantly drops hints to help the viewers get a handle on what's going on.
There are three instances where the writers drop particularly good hints. The first appears in episode 7 when the twins are in two different places playing with telegraphs, which tells us that they know Morse code. Then, in episode 12, when the team doesn't want Park to be able to figure out their plan by watching Woo Jin's memories, Woo Jin uses Morse code to communicate with Joon Hyuk (you can see Woo Jin knocking on the pew in the screenshot above). This would seem really stupid and random if we hadn't already been told that the twins knew Morse code. Another hint is in episode 9 when Park talks with a woman about how he hopes human cloning will become legal, which lets us know that human cloning is possible in 2037. This allows for Woo Jin's cloning in episode 11 to seem a little more plausible (at least, for the show's universe, anyway). These hints stuck out to me when I first saw them because they seemed random, but when they became important later, my mind was blown. Finally, the bread. I actually didn't notice this one until I sat down to write this review! In episode 3, Joon Hyuk is making bread. We know from scenes in the present that Bum Gyoon briefly had a job at a bakery. This is actually a hint that Joon Hyuk is Bum Gyoon, not Woo Jin, which isn't revealed until episode 4. There were other well-placed hints, too, but these were the ones that really stuck out to me.
I also want to talk about how well the writers knew their characters. A lot of times, K-Drama characters will “break character”. Just like an actor can't do things that their character wouldn't normally do, a character shouldn't suddenly start doing things they wouldn't normally do. This is especially exemplified in Ho Soo. A lot of writers would've opted to give him a sudden boost of confidence once his memories started to come back so that he could join the main team. Thankfully, the writers knew better. They allowed him to grow over time, instead of suddenly changing because of something traumatic. When his memories started to come back, he was scared. He even joined the enemy for a while, turning to Human B for help. He's a very emotional, sheltered, naïve person, and it takes him many episodes to grow more confident, and even then he's still distinctly Ho Soo. The writers took their time and let him grow at a reasonable pace, and based his reactions to things off of his personality.
Next, let's talk about the acting. This cast was fantastic. It was hands down one of the best casts I've ever seen, maybe even the best. Everyone hit every mark. Yeo Jin Goo is skilled beyond his years. I can't believe he's only 19 and managed to pull off such a big role. Ahn Woo Yeon put Bum Gyun's obsessiveness at the forefront, and it really made for an emotional performance. Bum Gyoon's connection with his brother was realistic and well done. The brothers had so much chemistry. As for Lee Ki Kwang, I severely underestimated him. I expected him to be terrible, but most of the time, he was on par with the other leads. He was a bit stiff and over-articulate sometimes, but I think it suited the character. I think he did especially well in the scenes where his memories started to come back, and at the end of episode 3, where Joon Hyuk and Ho Soo have their argument after Ho Soo turns off the power. He's talented. I was surprised. Gong Seung Yeon managed to juggle three personas brilliantly. I am almost never impressed by female actresses in KDramas, but she managed to get my attention. She's very versatile and was a great choice to cast. I loved her, and I'm excited to see her in Are You Human Too?.
The villains were good, too. I didn't care for Han Sang Jin in Hyde, Jekyll, Me, but I liked him here. He makes a decent villain. I wish that he had been a bit more threatening, though. I think I would have seen that more from Song Young Kyu, who played Professor Han. I wonder what would have happened if they'd been cast in opposite roles. Still, Han Sang Jin did a good job. I have to say that Park Dong Geon being the chairman was surprising, but was a little too hard to telegraph. It wasn't a terrible twist, but it felt unfounded. It bordered on random. Since everything else has some previously dropped hints you can draw from, I felt that this twist was jarring, but not in a good way.
I intentionally left Kim Kang Woo out because I wanted to dedicate a whole paragraph to him. He had a difficult task: he had to play someone else's character. The first time we see Bum Gyun depicted as an adult, he's played by Ahn Woo Yeon. Seeing him played by Ahn sets the precedent for what the character is like. What Kim Kang Woo did was incorporate some of Ahn Woo Yeon's interpretation of Bum Gyun into his own performance. This allowed the present and the future to seem more connected. It makes sense that Joon Hyuk is Bum Gyun, since we see little bits of present-day Bum Gyun in Joon Hyuk. Kim even managed to pull off the relationship between Woo Jin and Bum Gyun in the last few episodes. It seemed real, and the brothers were just as close in 2037 as 2017, despite one of the actors being different (see: the heart-shattering hug at the end of episode 11). This was really well done. In fact, all the instances of multiple people playing the same character were solid.
I like this show's music. It's not used often, so a lot of the show is quiet, but when the music does kick in, it's appropriate. I especially like Uji's song, "Alive". I appreciate the lack of music, though. Often times, K-Dramas have lots of songs that come in at the absolute worst time, but this show's music suited its tone very well and never started playing at silly times.
There's one thing I had in my notes from the very beginning: the length of the show. The very first page of my notes mentions the episode count. Even then, before I'd seen anything more than the first episode, I had the feeling that the show would benefit from its length, and it did. Any longer, and it would have dragged. Any shorter, and there wouldn't have been enough room for all the stuff. It was the perfect length for the amount of story the writers had to tell. I was enjoying it so much as it aired, I was afraid it would get extended. As much as I wanted more story, I knew that extending it even by one or two episodes would seriously mess up the pacing. Thankfully, it maintained its twelve episodes. Extending good shows is really the worst thing you can do, and I'm glad they didn't mess it up. The best way to expand on a show is to film a second season, which I don't think will happen, but there were some obvious set ups for more story at the very end of the show (like the alien landing). I really want a second season with the same cast, but even I know that's a little too much to ask. Still, a girl can dream.
Finally, I want to talk about the humour in this show. Detective Hong was not well done in the beginning. The writers tried to use him as comic relief, but the jokes they made with him weren't funny and stuck out among the seriousness. Later, he develops into a father-figure for the twins, which I think should have been his role from the beginning. I like him better in the last half of the show than the first, for sure. The jokes that did land were the ones between Ho Soo and Joon Hyuk. The first time I actually laughed was when Joon Hyuk made bread in his room and almost missed the bowl when he threw the dough down. I snorted out loud, and that bit wasn't even funny on purpose. It was a happy accident. Other Joon Hyuk and Ho Soo bits were intentionally funny though, and their bromance really lightened the mood (like the doughnut scene near the end or the bikini part at the beginning). I loved their chemistry.
This show isn't perfect. There were some really weird leaps of logic early in the series, and the first two episodes were duds. There's some really silly stuff, too, like how the difference between modern South Korea and future South Korea is that it's just... dustier. Like, I get that Korea deals with yellow dust storms, but come on. Episode 8 was sort of unimpressive compared to the rest of the series (despite some of the crazy twists it introduces), and I know a lot of people had a hard time keeping up with the show's fast pace. At the end of the day, though, I adore shows that let me participate in the puzzle-solving, and this show did just that. It has an excellent, talented cast, great writing, and was a ton of fun to watch. I absolutely adore it, and I hope that those of you who might have dropped it or never picked it up in the first place will give this show a chance. It's a definite 10/10 from me.
(Side note: I really hope that the future's "Brave New World" was named after the book of the same name by Aldous Huxley. It would make sense since the book takes place in the future, and people have had a lot of their autonomy and individuality taken from them, just like in this show.)
Thanks for reading! Hopefully, you enjoyed it! Let me know what you thought of Circle, or whether or not you plan to watch it. See you soon!