K-Drama Review: ‘Circle’ Will Blow Your Mind with Unpredictable Plots

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The Sci-fi Thriller Drama Circle

The science fiction drama Circle, was such a huge hit back in 2017, with its star-studded cast and out of the box plot. There have been science fiction and thriller dramas before, all mostly produced by tvN, but this particular one is very interesting as it involves a younger cast with a more technological approach to the plot. Not only that, the sub-plots that involve brotherhood and romantic relationships draw in not only sci-fi fans but the general public as well.

With the cast including Yeo Jin-goo, Kim Kang-woo, Gong Seung-yeon, and Lee Gi-kwang, it is only fair that we do a deeper dive into the drama, its twists and turns, along with how the response has been with both fans and the public. The title of the drama itself alludes to some of the plot points presented in the storyline. Warning for spoilers ahead, as we take a deeper look at the drama Circle.

Circle: Synopsis

The story revolves around the two brothers Kim Woo-jin and Kim Bum-gyun. The two are the sons of a professor/scientist, who out of the blue encounter an unknown alien species while they were out on the road at night. Their family makes a decision to take on this alien, who is seen in the form of a girl (played by Gong Seung-yeon). The arrival of the alien brings about several discoveries, that both help advance the research of Woo-jin and Bum-gyun’s father, but also mess with their daily lives.

In the year 2017, Kim Woo-jin (played by Yeo Jin-goo) decides to investigate the apparent suicide cases that have been appearing all around the campus, that seemed to lead to his older brother Kim Bum-gyun (played by An Woo-yeon). As his investigation to prove his older brother innocent develops, he meets with Han Jung-yeon (played by Gong Seung-yeon), a fellow university student who is devastated by the apparent suicide of her close friend. The mystery that surrounds these characters starts to unravel, both in 2017 and in 2037.

Simultaneously, in 2037 South Korea has now been divided into 2 different sections, General Earth, a heavily polluted place where crimes are rampant, and Smart Earth, a clean and peaceful city free from crimes. Kim Joon-hyuk (Kim Kang-woo) is a crime detective who tries to get into Smart Earth to investigate a case of two brothers who went missing in 2017. The intermingling of the storylines isn’t very clear at the start, but as the story develops, viewers will start to see the forming of the whole plot.

Circle: Characters

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As can be seen from the synopsis, the drama Circle involves a relatively large cast that appears regularly on screen, whether it be on the 2017 timeline or the 2037 timeline. This extensive and meticulous casting is needed in order to sell the storyline involving brothers and clones, so let’s take a look at the actors and the characters they portray!

Main Cast

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Yeo Jin-goo as Kim Woo-jin (Beta Project)

Yeo Jin-goo plays the main protagonist of the show, Kim Woo-jin, who we mostly see in the 2017 timeline. He is a university student who tries to uncover the mysteries of the deaths involving his older brother. His relationship with his brother can also be seen in flashbacks to 2007 and anecdotes that other characters seem to tell him. His role in the story is shrouded with red herrings and misunderstood clues, viewers will not expect who he turns out to be in the 2037 timeline.

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Kim Kang-woo as Kim Joon-hyuk (Brave New World)

Kim Kang-woo plays the violent crimes detective, Kim Joon-hyuk, who tries to uncover the mystery of the missing brothers from 2017, in 2037. This seemingly detached character from the future timeline might not bring in the spice and excitement in the first few episodes, but wait until his true identity is revealed in the mid-season episodes. His cold and seemingly uncaring demeanor might clue viewers in as to who he might be in the 2017 timeline.

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Gong Seung-yeon as Han Jung-yeon (Beta Project/Brave New World)

Gong Seung-yeon’s character, Han Jung-yeon, has a very imminent presence in the series, as she appears in both the 2007, 2017, and 2037 timeline. Her character also has not aged a single bit throughout the series, bringing into question who exactly is her character when looking at the bigger picture. Her character serves as the key to unlocking the mysteries surrounding the missing brothers and the research that the professor has been working on.

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An Woo-yeon as Kim Bum-gyun (Beta Project)

Kim Woo-jin’s older brother, Kim Bum-gyun, is portrayed by actor An Woo-yeon in the 2017 timeline, confusing some fans as to who he might appear as in the 2037 timeline. His storyline is very captivating and becomes the baseline throughout the series as his complicated emotions and timid nature make it hard to truly decipher what he wants and what he says to Kim Woo-jin.

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Jung In-sun as Park Min-young (Beta Project)

Park Min-young is another character that shows up in both timelines, and in the 2017 timeline, she is portrayed by Jung In-sun. She is a medical student who lives in the year 2017, Bum-gyun’s lover. She helped Woo-jin and Jung-yeon to figure out the mysterious event along with Jin-hong.

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Lee Gi-kwang as Lee Ho-soo (Brave New World)

Lee Gi-kwang plays the character, Lee Ho-soo, an intelligent government employee who works in the Smart Earth of 2037. At first, he appears as someone who sides with the antagonist and seems to make it hard for Kim Joon-hyuk, but as the mystery unravels, you see his involvement is not just surface level.

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Kim Min-kyung as adult Park Min-young/Doctor Park (Brave New World)

As mentioned before, the character Park Min-young is one of the few that is confirmed to have appeared in both timelines from the start. In 2037 timeline, she is portrayed by actress Kim Min-kyung and is a skillful doctor as well as Joon-hyuk’s lover.

Circle: Review and Rating

The response for the drama has been nothing but thunderous, with fans anticipating each coming episode with theories of their own. The plot twists that occur almost every episode, with red herring villains and unreliable narrator, make it so much more fun for both fans and viewers to enjoy the drama. These seemingly supportive viewers can be seen through the ratings and viewership of the drama that averaged around 2.2%, an astounding feat for a drama airing in a private broadcasting network. The drama was also broadcasted in two international networks, that is 8TV in Malaysia and Sony One in Indonesia.

Despite its successes, the drama also received criticism for its overly winding plot and slow development over the 12 episodes that it aired. The criticism is definitely valid as the plot seemed to drag on without cluing in the viewers as to the connections between the characters until midway through the season. Furthermore, the rush at the latter half of the series, despite the thrills and anticipation it brought, could be seen as careless. Nonetheless, the series still garnered the following and anticipation for breaking the norms of a typical sci-fi drama.

The drama is one that still tops the writer’s list of one of the best Korean dramas despite all the shortcomings. The twist that reveals Joon-hyuk as Woo-jin’s true brother all along is just something that should not be missed. Not only that, the advanced technological aspect made by the scientist father, such as the system that could erase one’s identity and suppress negative emotions is a plot point straight from an alternative reality. The twist it takes to reveal Woo-jin’s true location and role in the end, with red herring including one where Woo-jin is the boss of Smart Earth is not only unexpected but also leaves viewers on the edge of their seats as it serves as a cliffhanger ending towards the latter half of the season.

All in all, the series is a solid 9 out of 10. One point is deducted due to the meandering and extensive development at the beginning of the season. Yes, a sci-fi drama definitely needs a lot of exposition for it to make sense to the standard TV viewer, but it could have built up the exposition in more creative and exponential ways.

A Possibility of Season 2?

The ending of the drama raised questions among fans regarding the possibility of a second season. This is due to the fact that the end served as a way to neatly tie a bow between the characters’ interpersonal relationships and conflicts yet left the bigger picture open to interpretation. For one, the ending served as a good way to move into possibly a spinoff set in 2037, post-reformation. The reform that was brought on by the detective and Woo-jin at the end makes for a good platform for a series that possibly follows a different set of characters.

Not only that, the staff and production crew have also hinted at the possibility of a second season, after seeing all the hype and attention it garnered in the short span of 12 episodes. So what do you think of Circle? Are the twists and turns and open ending worth a second season? Comment your thoughts in the section below!