Trust revolutionary Korean cable station tvN, that brought us masterpieces such as Goblin and Because This Is My First Life, to introduce K-drama fans to a compelling science fiction story in a BIG way, but to limit it to only twelve episodes -- that felt like fifty by the time the series concluded!!!
Circle: Two Worlds Connected (2017) is a dystopian world type of story which gives us access to two parallel worlds, which seemingly have little to do with one another in the beginning (one plagued by sin, the other apparently perfect), but which by the end makes us realize that they were completely interconnected all along, and by haunting past events of human suffering linked to perverted scientific experiments, events which are seamlessly and brilliantly interspersed into the drama via classic storytelling arcs. Throw in the existence of a beautiful female alien from another planet and you've got a nail-biting suspense yarn to compete with the best science fiction films ever made.
After watching young actor Yeo Jin Goo (I Miss You, The Moon Embracing The Sun, Sad Movie) in 2018-19's The Crowned Clown I went searching for other earlier K-dramas he had done that I had missed along the way, and stumbled on 2017's Circle. It's not easily available anymore, I had to go the bootleg route, but it was well worth it in the end.
Although I didn't think that I would be attracted to a sci-fi story like this one, I was willing to take the risk just because Yeo Jin Goo was in it. I became fully engrossed in this story immediately, and right after I had watched and enjoyed the sci-fi fantasy story The Item as well (both of which featured the same great actor Kim Kang Woo), and I came to the surprising self-discovery that I must actually LIKE science fiction after all. (Although perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised, since I absolutely adored 2013-14's My Love From Another Star). To be sure, from now on I will be on the lookout for other dramas similar to these supernatural ones.
The settings in the story are Korea from 2007 to 2017, and then up to and including Korea in 2037, a future Korea which includes two vastly different worlds: Smart Earth and General Earth. Smart Earth is a utopian world, actually a city, where nobody falls ill and dies, and where there is no pollution and no crime, and General Earth, which more closely resembles the fallen earth of our own time, where sin seems to take precedence over goodness.
We begin in 2007 where two young fraternal twin boy children named Kim Woo Jin (Jung Ji Hoon) and Kim Bum Yeon (Kim Ye Jun) are walking together by the side of the road at night, heading home, and suddenly experience a paranormal event in which a mute female alien (Kong Seung Yeon, excellent performance) arrives and confronts them, ultimately protecting one of the boys from harm.
Byul (Star) Arrives On Earth
Their father, a scientist named Kim Kyu Cheol (Kim Joong Ki), drives up in his car looking for his sons, jumps out of the vehicle and shields his boys as they all survey the resulting scene in wonder. The family brings the strange female alien home, they give her the name Han Jung Yeon, and try to teach her things about earth and humans, even computer tech, a skill which she seems to excel at naturally. She ends up being a sort of babysitter - housekeeper to the boys as they grow up. Woo Jin creates a toy in the shape of a star and gives it to her, and her nickname from then on becomes Byul (Star).
Funny thing though, as the boys age, she stays the same, like a female Dorian Gray. There will be flashbacks frequently to this time in the twins' early upbringing, which will provide clues about future dramatic events in their lives and the life of their father, the scientist whose government work on trauma and memory is top secret. Not even his sons know exactly what their Dad really does for a living.
We then move into the future of 2017 and a college campus setting, where now young adult Kim Woo Jin (Yeo Jin Goo) is anxiously awaiting the return of his twin brother Kim Bum Yeon (Ahn Woo Yeon) out of reform school (he had gotten in trouble with the law for a reason revealed later). After his release, the brothers greet each other warmly, but Woo Jin is immediately concerned that Bum Yeon is hiding things from him. He had earned a bakery certificate while in reform school and is hired as a baker, but he seems to disappear frequently, almost like he's living a double life. During this time there had been a rash of college student suicides on campus, young girls jumping to their deaths from school building rooftops. Both twins become very concerned about these tragedies and wonder if they are connected in some way.
We soon learn that the female alien had disappeared from the boys' life at some point, along with their biological father, but Bum Yeon is convinced she is still close by them, under a new identity. Woo Jin scoffs at this idea and tells him bluntly he doesn't think aliens really exist. Then one day during his college class a new female student walks in, and introduces herself with the name Han Jung Yeon! And she looks exactly like the alien they had met on the dark road at night when they were children. However, she seems quite human this time, speaks well, is smart, congenial, and seems to have a human father too, a neuroscientist named Han Yong Woo (Song Young Gyu) who works as the Dean at the college. He had actually covertly worked with the boys' father in the past, the disappeared, assumed dead Kim Kyu Cheol, and on that secret memory research project.
Slowly this new version of Han Jung Yeon and Woo Jin become friends. They try to solve the mystery behind the school student suicides. However, between the turmoil on the college campus surrounding the suicides, the upsetting frequent disappearances of his secretive twin brother, and his ambition to succeed at a new clerk job at the campus despite rivals being jealous of his talents, Woo Bin eventually becomes an anxious basket case of a young man. He yells at his brother that if he doesn't calm down and live a normal life from now on he will never speak to him again. Then Woo Jin lives to regret those words. His brother seems to disappear. For good. Now both his father is gone and his twin brother is gone. Will Woo Jin do something desperate to find them?
We then skip to 2037 and meet a 41 year old violent crimes detective named Kim Joon Hyuk (Kim Kang Woo, Story Of A Man, The Item) working in General Earth, and his fellow older police detective friend Detective Hong (Seo Hyun Chul). Working on a murder case, they both seek to enter Smart Earth for research purposes, but it's not an easy process to be admitted to a city where there is supposedly no crime, certainly not murder, no illness, and folks seem to achieve immortality once they live there.
The people in charge of Smart Earth, including a young whippersnapper government worker named Lee Ho Soo (Lee Gi Kwang, below), don't want to admit that any murder could possibly have taken place in their perfect world. The two detectives from General Earth manage to sneak in to Smart Earth, however, and Ho Soo is put in charge of tracking their movements. Although there is a lot of tension in these scenes there is also humor too, since detective Joon Hyuk likes to confuse and make fun of the overly serious young Ho Soo.
Through very many inexplicable plot twists and turns we eventually start to see the light at the end of the tunnel in this story. For instance, detective Joon Hyuk begins to doubt his own identify, and comes to realize he may actually have a family connection to the Kim twin boys' lives and secrets. His new (old) friend, who looks just like Han Jung Yeon, is a big help to him, just like she had tried to be to the young Woo Jin. The revelations keep coming thick and fast, of all the characters' inner secrets, even the minor characters, some of which shake them all to their very cores as human beings. I found it all completely fascinating. The four writers of this drama must have had a blast writing this fantasy time-lapse story.
Other characters to watch are 1) Min Young (Kim Min Kyung / Jung In Sun), a love interest for twin Bum Yeon, who almost, but not quite, became my favorite character because she acted so cute without meaning to!
Plus, 2) an off the wall researcher named Park Dong Gun (Hang Sang Jin), who creates a blue "bug" which can record human beings' memories once inserted into their brains, and another oddball, 3) a funny police officer named Lee Dong Soo (Oh Eui Sik), who always managed to bring in some comic relief when it was much needed during such an intense, melodramatic sci-fi story.
While Kim family revelations did make sense in the context of the story, there was always doubt in my mind about the background of the character Han Jung Yeon. In her later guises she seemed completely human, but then what could account for the very beginning of the drama, when the person who looked like her seemed to arrive as an alien? Did her scientist father lie to her about her origins, knowing what she was from the beginning, thinking she could perhaps help him in his research work? Or was she really his biological child after all, and "Byul" never was an alien at all? In the very last five seconds of the drama we are given a not so oblique hint as to the truth of the matter. :)