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? I recently finished watching it and I must say that it was pretty damn great! Pretty much everything that I gushed over in my First Impressions of the series, holds true with most of the short-comings get ironed out.
This was a series that I originally picked up due to one actor and one actor only: Seo Kang Joon. I loved him in the series, Cunning Single Lady¸ and when I felt a small hangover from being done with his character there, I went in search for more of his works. It was super exciting for me to see him in a main leading role, but what really blew my mind with Are You Human is the highlight of his acting capabilities, as well just how fantastic the series turned out being in its entirety.
The series is about a brilliant bioengineer named Laura Oh, who through greedy and selfish in-laws, loses her only son in the wake of her husband’s demise. In an effort to quell the overwhelming grief and anguish she feels, she creates an artificially intelligent android of her son, whom she names Nam Shin I, II, III (there are three variations). We fast-forward ten years into the future and witness the human Nam Shin survive an assassination attempt made on him in the Czech Republic, however he ends up falling into a coma. Thanks to some circumstances, Laura watched what happened to her son. To protect the human Nam Shin from further assassination attempts and to discover the mastermind behind these attempts, she sends the robot, Nam Shin III, to replace him in his grandfather’s (her father-in-law’s) household. An elaborate scheme of duplicity unravels, which plunges both Nam Shins into a world of chaos and greed.
The acting really helps sell everything, particularly where Seo Kang Joon’s acting is concerned. Playing a double-role is never an easy task because you have to separate the two distinct personalities of each role to keep them from blending into one another. During all 18-episodes of Are You Human?, I honestly felt as if these roles were portrayed by two completely different individuals rather than one man. The micro-responses in expression and attitude utilised to set them apart was brilliantly executed. The stiffness and curious nature of Nam Shin III versus the privileged and self-entitled arrogance of the human Nam Shin never mutated into one entity outside of what the plot required. Since the series is, at its core, about robot versus human behaviours, the acting for this role is critical. It was marvellous, drawing me further into the intrigue and forcing me to empathise with one or the other—even both at certain times—and eventually root for one of them to be the ultimate hero.
Another person who’s acting is worthy of mentioning—everyone’s acting was really quite excellent, to be honest—is Yu Oh Seong (he plays Seo Jong Gil). The dude is an incredible asshole and villain that you honestly cannot help but loathe with a fiery passion. When a character can elicit such a profound reaction from me, I know that they are doing their job swellingly; a true testament to his skills.
The second element that makes Are You Human? so amazing is the suspense. It swallowed me in a veil of complex intrigue, skulduggery, and tightly wound anticipation, to the point where I was constantly questioning everyone’s loyalties and motives, forming a satisfying foundation that is reminiscent to a whodunnit. The shifty alliances helped me connect to many of the characters in various ways, most of which are emotionally evocative. For example, when Laura has to watch her son fight for his life in a comatose state, it evokes feelings of sadness and hope simultaneously. Another example is seeing Nam Shin III question his individuality and his place in Laura’s life as her son while she fusses over her human Nam Shin. Then we have those who are so unfathomably self-absorbed, that I couldn’t help but wish for them to die in the most fabulous of ways. I have no shame admitting this; it’s how invested I became. The essence of all of the dysfunctionality that these people share are both pensive and sensationally melodramatic. The cliff-hangers that result from the plot twists and melodrama are rather well-balanced for the most part and works to develop the plot at a very satisfying pace all the way to its finale.
Yet, even with all of the technical mumbo jumbo—acting, storytelling, etc.—what is the main draw for Are You Human? What sets it apart from other serials? There really is only one quality: the evolution of artificial intelligence.
I am obsessed with narratives—literature, film, television—that focus on artificial intelligence and how they evolve to surpass humans. One of the biggest arguments made about AI technology is that computers cannot progress to the point of feeling basic human emotions, or they cannot develop independently enough to behave as humans do. An example would be them being able to lie. Lying for humans is as easy as boiling water. Most everyone can do it, and those who can’t learn how to. Are You Human? takes this very important argument that has been going on since the dawn of the notion of sentient AI technology and uses it as a base foundation for the story. Everything else that comes afterward—the family bullshit, the exploration of what is means to be a mother, falling in love, trust and loyalty—all of it is rooted in the simple concept of robots who reach the next stage of the technological evolutionary process: to feel rather than mimic feelings, and it makes the series bloody brilliant and deliciously addicting, to say the least.
Even with everything to love, the show isn’t without some minor flaws. The largest one is how melodramatic it is. It is turned up a notch or two higher than it probably needs to be. A few times after surpassing the midway, I found myself shaking my head or face-palming at a few of the twists and turns and thinking loudly, “Really, guys? Is this really necessary?” Due to the excess of those turns, and also the development leading up to them, it also makes a chunk of it predictable in a boring and clichéd manner. For example: rich kids having tantrums because they don’t get their way, or because they feel neglected. Overrated, no matter what language the show/film is in. So, my original prediction of the series being overambitious with specific themes getting drowned out in lieu of complexity ended up being true.
Also, the mild frustration from these intricacies are amplified by the flashback-narrative style. It is an aspect I became tired of around the third time that is occurred. Oft times it happens between major story events, usually smooshed between episodes and dropped as cliff-hangers, creating a jarring shift in the scene and suspense. It also came off being way too convenient for the majority of the times that it happened.
Another mild shortcoming is the chemistry between Seo Kang Joon and Gong Seung Yeon. I mentioned in the First Impressions that the natural chemistry between them felt lacklustre and I was worried if it would make the romance flat and uninteresting. My final answer is yes and no. Yes because this continues for the first half of the series with an achingly slow-build of sparks. No because when those sparks finally do light up, the interactions are meatier and filled with layers of cute emotion. They still don’t have a passionate vibe between them. But given the state of the romance in the series, it ended up being a decent fit; not perfect, but not 100% boring and uninteresting either
Overall, Are You Human? is a gripping and introspective science-fiction story about broken families, unconventional romances, the nature versus nurture examination of motherhood, and what it means to be human. I highly recommend this to people who enjoy all of these facets, plus a cute and fluffy romance. I do not recommend this to people who dislike convoluted storylines and clichés.