The painfully small selection of science fiction works in Korean drama and the often unsuccessful and dull efforts of the industry when tackling new things made the anticipation for "Circle" quite nerve-wracking. While "Joseon X-Files - Secret Book" is a bit of a cult classic among fans, it left a lot to be desired. "Circle" chooses a different approach and it surprises in the most pleasant, satisfying of ways.
The series can be best characterized as a science fiction mystery and while many a work fails to combine different genres, this one does so beautifully. While there are limitations to how much it can do as a sci-fi work, "Circle" nonetheless does its best and it ultimately delivers a good mystery through that as well. The drama's double timeline element works surprisingly well and the focus on its strong leads' personal story supports it.
The aforementioned personal story is without a doubt the drama's strong suit. Choosing to focus on the personal over the collective keeps the story well within the comfort zone of Korean dramas, allowing it to do what they do best when well-written. Its brother leading duo are traumatized and they are handling unfair burdens placed on them, making them very easy to feel attached to. The personal focus and masterful world building make for a meatier story than simply lulling audiences through special effects.
The series does offer enough exploration of its themes for the duration and medium, but this is still a twelve-episode Korean drama and it is therefore more plot based than a contemplative piece. Fans of the meatier side of science fiction, or rather the more classic side of science fiction may not gain anything new from this, although its effort will likely be appreciated by those who have hopes and expectations for the genre in Korea.
Perhaps the only detrimental element to the quality of "Circle" is its villains. Their thoughts and goals are interesting and they would have played nicely into the overarching themes of posthumanism, but the industry's tendency to go for evil caricatures wins over that potential. These underdeveloped, narratively flat villains inevitably affect the most interesting concepts of the series. Rather than elevating them as good antagonists, they simply leave them poorer for it.
Missed opportunities and industry/duration limitations aside, "Circle" is perhaps the most solid science-fiction work I have seen from Korean entertainment. That may not be the highest of praises, considering the industry has little to show for in this genre, but the drama is not only worthy as a science fiction work. It is a quality production with strong leads and an engaging story well worth one's time.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
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Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Circle""
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