Are You Human? (너도 인간이니) is a South Korean science-fiction thriller series that released in 2018, from June to August. It stars Seo Kang Joon, Gong Seung Yeon, Lee Joon Hyuk, Yu Oh Seong, and Kim Sung Ryung. It has a total of 18 episodes that run about an hour long (or 36 half-an-hour episodes) and is also known as Are You Human Too? It was written by Jo Jung Joo, directed by Cha Young Hoon, and produced by KBS Media.
The story follows a brilliant bioengineer, Laura Oh, who loses her husband to suicide. In the aftermath, his grieving family steals away her only son from her as he is the heir to their super successful engineering company. Utterly distraught from grief and anguish, she builds an artificially intelligent android of her son, Nam Shin, to cope with her loss. She builds them in stages until its final variation called Nam Shin III. About ten years later, the human Nam Shin survives an assassination attempt made on him overseas, only to fall into a coma. Through certain circumstances, Laura happened to witness the incident and sends the robot, Nam Shin III, to replace her son’s position in order to protect him while he recovers. As Nam Shin III takes his place with Laura’s late husband’s family, an elaborate scheme of duplicity is put into motion, thus plunging both Nam Shins and the world as they know it into chaos.
After watching the first two episodes of Are You Human?, all I can say is wow. When I originally read the premise for the series, I laughed a little bit because for some odd reason it sounded preposterous. Most android-related serials or films that I have seen lately have had terrible special effects or computer graphics integration (ironically), and badly written storylines. But the quality of these two episodes completely blew me away. I was an idiot to be so judgmental so hastily. I admit it.
The first ten to fifteen minutes unfolds super-fast as we are introduced to Laura Oh, her young son, and then the sudden suicide of her husband. Her world is turned upside down and before she has a chance to fully understand and process what has happened, her son is ripped away from her. These things happened with such perfect fluidity that I found myself entirely captivated. The emotionally evocative events really draw you into the narrative almost immediately, building a bond between you and this mother who begins to realise that she must forsake everything she loves in order to protect those very things. When she began to build the first variation of her son, I was intrigued and empathetic. I started to contemplate what I would do if I were in her position, reeling from such a profound loss, and that empathy grew into a deep understanding of her plight.
The emotions are quite ripe in Are You Human?. The intensity flourishes from unfathomable heartache to rage to sorrow. In the second episode, things do look up a bit and we are introduced to feelings of laughter, curiosity, and amusement with the arrival of new characters and the thickening of plot elements. I believe that the emotional bits are going to be the show’s strongest trait, as well as a potential shortcoming. The key to ensuring that it is the former and not the latter would have to be in how everything ends up balancing out in relation to narrative process and character development. So far, I feel rather optimistic about it.
Another couple of strong characteristics of the series are the special effects and the science-fiction. The CGI was exceptional and it did a fantastic job of blending in with the practical effects. There were quite a few times when I could barely differentiate between the two, which made me feel very happy as a science-fiction and cinema nerd. I love it when creators put in the extra effort to smooth out minor details as it offers up a much more engaging experience to the watcher. Because the effects were so great, it helped sell the technology and futuristic aspects of the engineering and science utilised, specifically in relation to advancements in robotics and the future of building a city run entirely on artificial intelligence. All of these things just heightened my interest and desire to keep watching all the more.
Other traits that pleasantly surprised me were the suspense and mystery aspects. When the assassination attempt is made, everything quickens, kind of like your pulse when you feel anxious or nervous. I could tell that things were about to get quite hectic and I was so excited to see where it would all lead and how things would play out. More than that, I was caught at the edge of my pillow (watched it in bed), fingers clutching tightly to match the natural intensity of the tension stemming from the clandestine clusterfuck that had sprouted. The suspense is written marvellously and I feel like it will highly compliment a potentially convoluted plot to help cushion some of the possible flaws.
Speaking of flaws, I do feel like the overall story may be a tad bit over-ambitious. This is a vibe that I received after watching the first two episodes and noticing titbits of implied information, for example a medical condition that Nam Shin’s grandfather has, or the treacherous aspirations of a slimy employee. I suspect (but I hope I end up being wrong) that these unnecessarily added complexities could drown out the over-arching themes of family and betrayal that have been established or push them so beyond genuine and realistic that it could cause the quality to plummet. Regardless, as I already stated, I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic that these things do not happen.
Another concern that I have is the interaction between Seo Kang Joon and Gong Seung Yeon. I don’t feel much natural chemistry between them on-screen, and I am concerned that if they are romantic interests, this could cause a big crack between everything that is working splendidly and the romance. Love seems to be a big thing in South Korean dramas (which I don’t mind because they tend to the focus in South Asian serials and films as well) and to see a show with such strong potential fall short due to a shitty pairing will make me feel so unbelievably sad.
All in all, I highly recommend Are You Human? based off of my first impressions of the first two episodes. I know that I am addicted to it already and I cannot wait to see how this clusterfuck will unfold and where all of the pieces will inevitably end up falling. It has been a long time since I have seen a good science-fiction series and I am so ready for it!