...when the screen takes over...

Circle: Two Connected Worlds, Episode 1

Three timelines, two brothers, an alien, and ‘code zero’. Well. I’m in.

Twin brothers Kim Woo-Jin and Kim Beom-Gyoon had a weird encounter with an alien in 2007 that changed their lives. In 2017, Woo-Jin must cope with life as a student with little money and Beom-Gyoon’s obsession with alien and UFO. But another encounter awaits that would once more change the course of their lives. Twenty years later, in 2037, the world is a different place.


“How did you find me?”
“Didn’t I tell you? Wherever you are, I can find you…”
“Is it twin telepathy?”
“That’s absurd!”

The Twins in the Forest

It’s her!

The first episode opens in Beta Project’s 2007, with Kim Woo-Jin (Jung Ji Hoon) trying to convince his sceptic older-by-a-minute twin brother Kim Beom-Gyoon (Kim Ye Joon! It’s lovely to see you again!) that there really is alien in the forest: (1). there is unusual fog— it’s normal!; (2). this pinecone got burnt when the alien ship landed— someone might have used it to light a fire. They are caught in a blinding light. The light follows as they try to escape on a bicycle. The boys narrowly avoid collision with a truck, which seems to have been broken down and goes off the road.

Another blinding light is coming from the opposite direction. Beom-Gyoon pedals with all his might but loses control over his bike. They fall in the middle of the road. Thankfully, the light in front of them is coming from Dad’s car. Dad (Kim Joong-Ki) has come for them.

The light behind them also catches up after whatever it comes from hits the ground with an impact that renders the whole city dark. From that light, a shape appears. As it comes near them, who are bracing themselves for this weird encounter, it takes the form of a woman. The three of them are shocked and amazed.

“The Evidence Three”

“Evidence three,” Woo-Jin points at the woman, “is the alien.”

The woman faints.

***

 

It’s Beta Project’s 2017.

Woo-Jin (Yeo Jin-Goo) is now a ‘breadwinning’ top student at Handam University. He is more concerned about his grades to secure his education scholarship so he chooses doing the exams than joining his schoolmates in boycott and protest about the hefty tuition fees. He also needs to pay bills on grandma’s old people’s care facility. He works as a female ghost at a fun house and unwittingly scares a boy. The day the news of a tragic death, believed to be a suicide, of a schoolmate reaches him, he applies for the position made vacant by the dead friend in a research group, to the dismay of his seniors and professor, although one professor seems to take interest in his offer.

your friendly neighbourhood ghost, at your service!

A senior calls him out on his unrespectful ways and pins Ji-Hyuk’s death on him. “Because of people like you, this rotten system, which has cost Ji-Hyuk’s life, doesn’t change!” Woo-Jin retaliates by calling him out on the senior’s unsavoury ways. “You dumped all the work on Ji-Hyuk and took all the credits. Don’t act all righteous now.”

Insisting on getting a rise out of Woo-Jin, the senior asks whether Beom-Gyoon (Ahn Woo Yeon) has been released from jail. He purposefully brings up Beom-Gyoon being put in a psychiatric institution before serving time in jail. Woo-Jin simply warns him not to pick a fight should they end up working together. “I am smart and mean,” Woo-Jin says.

In the wake of Ji-Hyuk’s death, the students put up a wall of condolences and tributes. Nearby, a couple of cop detectives talk to a student, who mentions that he saw Ji-Hyuk with a suspicious person last night and the person held some kind of gun. Woo-Jin takes interest and listens in the conversation. Detective Hong Jin-Hong (Seo Hyun-Chul) draws a stun gun, the student confirms it, and Woo-Jin gets anxious. In the past Beom-Gyoon had been adamant about arming oneself with a stun gun and his offence involved attacking a girl with a stun gun, accusing her of being the alien. Woo-Jin takes a closer look at the site of Ji-Hyuk’s suicide at a rooftop. Looking down, he spots a suspicious figure, whose face is obscured by a mask and a hat. Woo-Jin goes for him but he has gone. Is that man who he thinks he is?

Woo-Jin goes home and finds that indeed Beom-Gyoon has been released. Worried and anxious about his brother being the man he saw at school, Woo-Jin asks whether Beom-Gyoon has been to his school or known anyone there. Beom-Gyoon is baffled as he has just been released today and gone straight home. “You are the only Handam student I know,” he says. Woo-Jin suppresses his suspicions and they celebrate Beom-Gyoon’s release with fried chickens and colas.

the twin brothers, and a chicken tigh…

Unable to shake off his suspicion, Woo-Jin goes through his brother’s backpack. Beom-Gyoon assures him that he is okay so Woo-Jin shouldn’t worry anymore. Beom-Gyoon even has got a job at a bakery near his school. Beom-Gyoon tells Woo-Jin to just focus on studying and let Beom-Gyoon earn the money. They will live in better condition. But, when Woo-Jin notices numbers written on a memo pinned on Ji-Hyuk’s computer monitor while waiting to see Professor Park Dong-Geon (Han Sang-Jin) for an interview for the research assistant position, his suspicion returns in full force. They match Beom-Gyoon’s phone number.

He checks on Beom-Gyoon, forgoing the job interview. He finds that his brother lied about getting off work at 8 pm as he sees Beom-Gyoon leaving the bakery at 5. He follows Beom-Gyoon to a motel and forcefully enters a room. Examining the map on a wall, full of notes, newspaper clippings, and pictures—titled ‘Handam University serial murders’, the map has lines drawn to point to a picture of alien labeled ‘culprit, Han Jeong-Yeon = alien’— Beom-Gyoon may not be okay. Apparels matching the outfit of the man he saw from the rooftop confirm his suspicion. He finds that his brother lied about being released from jail yesterday when Beom-Gyoon had been released on parole a month ago. He goes through nearby drawers and finds a stun gun. His worst fear may be true that Beom-Gyoon is still obsessing about alien and may have harmed others (or worse, killed someone) while at it.

alien hunting kit?

Beom-Gyoon shows up. Woo-Jin confronts him about his lies and asks whether he killed Jin-Hyuk, to which he denies and points to the alien. “The alien did it. I was just trying to help,” he says. He defends himself by saying that his statement is based on sound rationale and evidence. He didn’t tell Woo-Jin because he wanted to make sure first. This time, he is sure of it.

Woo-Jin loses his temper. He jumps on Beom-Gyoon’s conviction since Beom-Gyoon had never been proven right. He tells Beom-Gyoon off for living in fantasy. When Beom-Gyoon pleads for him to believe that, this time, it is real, Woo-Jin snaps. He drags Beom-Gyoon out to take his brother back to the asylum. “You are going back there. You are insane.”

Beom-Gyoon fights back. He is not insane and Woo-Jin should know it better since Woo-Jin saw the alien as well. Woo-Jin was there when the alien took away their father—a flashback shows Dad, towing a luggage, walking to the car in which the woman sat waiting while the twins and grandma were standing in silent confusion. “No,” Woo-Jin corrects him, accusing him of refusing to accept the reality.” He abandoned us!” Woo-Jin declares that aliens don’t exist.

“Yes, they do!” Beom-Gyoon snaps. He rambles on about the peculiarities surrounding Woo-Jin’s schoolmates who turned up dead suddenly, somehow. He claims that it’s all the alien’s doing, now known as a female student called Han Jeong-Yeon. “She killed every one of them.” Woo-Jin challenges Beom-Gyoon for evidence and threatens him that if he is wrong this time, he’ll be put in the asylum and won’t ever get out. “That won’t happen,” Beom-Gyoon says, confident about his findings.

Beom-Gyoon brings Woo-Jin to his workplace. He believes the second floor of the building is the alien’s hideout. But the place looks abandoned, almost empty, with remaining left-over items of furniture and office supplies. Woo-Jin demands answers, already regretting giving his brother the chance to explain himself. Beom-Gyoon looks at the place in disbelief since he saw it in different state yesterday. “Did it run away because it got discovered? Did it spy on me?” Beom-Gyoon gets agitated and looks like he might indeed lose his mind. “She was here yesterday,” he keeps saying.

Woo-Jin looks resigned and defeated. He hugs Beom-Gyoon, asking him to stop, let their father go (and let go of the obsession of alien), and just stay by his side. He has been having a hard time already. But Beom-Gyoon insists that it’s not just about their father. “If aliens don’t insist then I have indeed gone crazy,” Beom-Gyoon ponders and refuses such possibility. He is determined to prove his point. The alien is probably still around so they may still be able to catch her. Beom-Gyoon goes out running, leaving a heartbroken Woo-Jin who tries to stop him but fails.

Woo-Jin follows Beom-Gyoon outside the building and finds him standing in the rain. Beom-Gyoon then walks on, fixating on something, while Woo-Jin follows, trying to stop him. They reach an intersection’s crossing. Beom-Gyoon abruptly stops. Among the people walking towards them, a woman under red umbrella catches their attention.

“The Evidence Three”

“The Evidence Three,” Beom-Gyoon is pointing towards the woman while Woo-Jin is looking at the pointed direction, increasingly feeling uneasy, recognising the woman whom his younger self had pointed as the evidence three. “The alien.”

déjà vu?

***

It’s Brave New World’s 2037.

Seoul’s population has decreased by 50% compared to 2017, due to polution, to around five million people. Those with money chose to live in Smart district, leaving previously premium areas of Gangnam and Yeoido of General district empty. The General district must deal with increasing crime rates and illegal immigration.

Today, the General district residents are receiving warning of dangerous level of fine dust. But life in General district is as exciting as ever, at least for Lee Dong-Soo (Oh Ui-Shik), who’s hacked a drone to deliver flash disk. The memory stick contains incriminating photos of an affair that will make his client’s divorce process easier. But the police arrive and disrupt his business. They chase Lee Dong-Soo, easily cornering him to the top floor of the building. Then, a masked man enters the scene, beats the police, and saves him.

Yet it’s all a ploy, a staged rescue by the police. The man in mask is Detective Kim Joon-Hyeok (Kim Kang-Woo). Now, he wants Dong-Soo to hack into Smart district system, citing the many times he’d saved Dong-Soo from being apprehended for violating information and data protection act. Dong-Soo quipped that he had never wanted Joon-Hyeok’s help. Besides, hacking into Smart district is difficult, it’s the dream of all hackers because no one has ever managed it. The procedure is too intrusive: planting a chip inside your brain. Joon-Hyeok dismisses it as useless. “I would’ve done so myself had it been possible!”

Look! I’ve saved you eight times! Shouldn’t you repay my kindness?

Joon-Hyeok keeps pressing Dong-Soo. After flaunting Dong-Soo as genius gets him nowhere, Joon-Hyeok questions Dong-Soo’s claim as being the best in the industry. “I officially am!” Dong-Soo defends himself, which prompts Joon-Hyeok to ask for the unofficial one. Dong-Soo mentions a legendary hacker (“just like me, ” he says) called Bluebird, although some say it may have been an AI. Rumour has it that Bluebird has succeeded in hacking into Smart district system. “Then find him!” Joon-Hyeok gives Dong-Soo one week to either hack into Smart district or find Bluebird.

 

At the Gangnam police station, now chief of violent crime team 1, Hong Jin-Hong makes sure that Joon-Hyeok leaves him out of the ploy they’d staged to secure Dong-Soo’s cooperation. He is going to retire in a few months. He can’t afford to get fired now for he is too old to get a decent job. Joon-Hyeok simply scoffs at his excuses since Chief Hong already gets a side gig, and threatens to tell on him.

Junior Detective Oh (Kwon Hyuk-Soo) draws attention to a webtoon titled ‘Unsolved Crimes’ by Sherlock Hongs, which he describes as very realistic detective tales. Although he is afraid the webtoon will be discontinued since it’s not popular. Chief Hong chides Detective Oh for the remark —it’s the quality, not popularity, that matters!— and thus outs himself as the webtoon artist, to Detective Oh’s disbelief.

Sir Do-Il? and Sherlock Hongs?

“Then those three unsolved crimes were really your cases?” Detective Oh inquires later as he, Chief Hong, and Joon-Hyeok hang out after work for a drink. Joon-Hyeok commends Chief Hong for creatively turning his failures into art and stream of income from royalties. Chief Hong simply bemoans those three cases marring his otherwise glorious career. The case of serial murders in Handam University is featured in season one of ‘Unsolved Cases’. Although it had been ruled as suicide, Detective Hong’s intuition whispered otherwise. The kidnapping of Kim Min-Ji appears in season two. Chief Hong is convinced they got the right man, Gong Min-Woo. But Gong was released due to lack of evidence, which seemed to have made Chief Oh angry to this day.

“And what about for season three? The third case?” Detective Oh is intrigued.

Chief Hong is about to answer when a hologram appears on the table, advertising the virtues of Smart district. It’s an environment of which everyone dreams, free of crime and disease. Thanks to its calming care system, the district has been free of crime for 5000 days. “A safe and stable world, brought to you by Human B…” the ad concludes. Detective Oh remarks that even if it’s nice, he can’t afford to go there. Chief Hong comments further that even if one has the money, what’s the point if one loses one’s job. A crime-free city has no need for detectives. Joon-Hyeok stays silent with a subtly sneering expression.

The Missing Twins

Detective Oh repeats his question for the third case. Chief Hong takes out a folded paper from his jacket. “It’s the disappearance of the twins,” Chief Hong says. The paper is a missing person notice of the twin brothers Kim Woo-Jin and Kim Beom-Gyoon. Joon-Hyeok fills in the details that in 2017, the twin brothers went missing near Handam University, no traces found. They are still missing.

 

The next day, a distress call comes in from Smart District, which Detective Oh dismisses as a prank call. “A kidnapping in Smart district? Yeah, right?!”

But Chief Hong and Joon-Hyeok perk up. The caller identifies herself as Kim Min-Ji. She mentions that they have appeared again. She gives confusing age account as she says she is seven when the voice clearly belongs to an adult. Chief Hong orders Detective Oh to trace the call. It turns out the caller is that Kim Min-Ji, the victim in the unsolved kidnapping case. The call indeed comes from Smart district, from an address listed under Gong Min-Woo, the suspect who was arrested and released 20 years ago.

A prank call?

Chief Hong immediately goes out and Joon-Hyeok follows him. Joon-Hyeok reminds him that this may be their chance, for Chief Oh to arrest Gong Min-Woo, and for him to enter Smart district.

Bureaucracy, however, rears its ugly head. The Smart district border security stops Chief Hong and Joon-Hyeok from entering the district without warrant. Lee Ho-Soo (Lee Gi-Kwang) insists that committing a crime in Smart district is impossible as the district management employs a perfect crime-prevention mechanism. He refuses to believe otherwise. His insistence (and arrogance and air of superiority), when someone is clearly in danger, irritates Joon-Hyeok.

Lee’s stand is soon shaken when he recieves a ‘code zero’ (a warning that a citizen of Smart district died) notification, confirming that there has been a murder. In the meantime, Joon-Hyeok uses Chief Hong’s distraction to get inside Smart district no matter what although he is soon accosted by Lee Ho-Soo. Joon-Hyeok calls the district management out for hiding things and covering up just to keep the district ‘crimeless’, which Lee Ho-Soo vehemently denies. “Then what do you call this?” Joon-Hyeok shows him a video of Kim Min-Ji violently stabbing Gong Min-Woo to death, which shocks him further.

  • Code-0 alert

  • Is it a murder?

  • What a mannerless jerk!

The district authority holds an emergency meeting, trying to make sense of the murder incident. “Could there be a problem with the Human B system?” More importantly, the incident must be kept as a secret to avoid panic. The General district detectives must be kept quiet.

The Mayor Yoon Hak-Joo (Nam Myung-Ryul) calls Joon-Hyeok via a VR call. He asks Joon-Hyeok to keep the incident from the public. Joon-Hyeok rejects the request. The public should know the truth that the claim of a crimeless neighbourhood is false. Joon-Hyeok then appeals to the Mayor to be put in charge of the case. He’ll enter Smart district and do the investigation ‘quickly and quietly’ but he will not have a chip planted inside his head. Mayor Yoon objects to the idea since inserting chip is part of the protocol to enter Smart district. It’s vital to the Human B system and its crime prevention scheme. Joon-Hyeok points out that it’s been proven useless now. “Do you still believe that the Human B system is perfect?” Joon-Hyeok keeps the pressure, threatening to request an arrest warrant and thus instigate an open criminal investigation. Mayor Yoon finally relents.

 

Chief Hong wonders if he is a bad person since he is relieved that Kim Min-Ji is not the victim. “Yes, you are,” Joon-Hyeok says, “and so am I for using this case to get into Smart district.” Chief Hong hopes Joon-Hyeok will successfully solve the case since he isn’t coming along—he can’t put handcuffs on Kim Min-Ji. He also asks Joon-Hyeok to solve the third case, the disappearance of the twins.

 

Kim Joon-Hyeok arrives at Smart district, escorted by Lee Ho-Soo. As he takes in the sight of the district, at a distance, a display on a side of a building puts up a sign, citing that Smart district has been crime-free for 5001 days. As Joon-Hyeok looks at the tallest tower, Chief Hong’s words comes back to him. “The disappearance of the twins… I’m sure the answer lies in Smart district.” Joon-Hyeok takes out a polaroid photo and Chief Hongs’s words continue. “Make sure you find your brother.”

In his hand is a photo of young Woo-Jin and Beom-Gyoon with a woman sitting between them.

Wait for me. I will find you wherever you are…


Notes and First Impression

What a pleasant surprise.

I like how it lays out the information without the feeling of information overload —there is neither too much expositions nor excessive back-stories— compared to what I’d experienced with the recently ended or premiered kdramas regardless of genre. There are already a lot of mysteries and puzzles thrown at the audience in this episode, yet it manages to stay almost quietly pensive and understated in a good way. It even manages to draw chuckles in places.

‘Circle: Two Connected Worlds’ (써클 : 이어진 두 세계) has premise that may have been explored elsewhere, perhaps more eloquently. It clearly has the feel of an ‘X Files’-inspired, a ‘truth-is-out-there’ variety. A chip in one’s brain to control one’s behaviour, an isolated city which looks and sounds perfect on the outside but definitely smells fishy? I am certainly reminded of a number of video games. Not that the sci-fi bit is lacking, but, as with many good sci-fi, it’s how the sci-fi setup is used to shed light on human condition. So far (I know it’s still too early to tell), it’s the human story that stands out: the twins and their plights, (the misadventures of) Sherlock Hongs (haha!), and the questions of controlling human emotion and manipulating memory.

I like that the first week does not dwell too much and too long in showing the ‘mechanics’ of things. A 20 years gap in technology is shown in the background (borrowing the styles of ‘The Avenger’, I think), giving enough sense of novelty as well as familiarity. However, I doubt that we would still have brick-looking handphone in 20 years.

In short, I like it. A lot. So far.

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