Circle, take 2: When you wish upon a “Byul” (star)

By chingumode (an Australian kdrama friend) and Ally:

(This was co-written last summer, but since it wasn’t ever published, we thought we’d let it see the light of the internet.  It also flows well since I entreated the drama gods for a second season of Circle.)

Chingumode  I have a friend who loves the show Supernatural.  (To be honest, I think this has more to do with Jensen Ackles’ dimples and Jarad Padalecki’s shoulders than the script but I try not to judge.)  I had watched a few episodes of the show with her when it first started but was pretty unimpressed. Then in season 3 she rang me and told me I’d really like it now because it had started to be funny and meta and self-aware. So I tuned in and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Season 3 was quite good, as was season 4. The show came to the end of the writer’s original arc in Season 5 but it was still rating well and so it just kept going. The plot lines began to repeat but the writers churned out episodes like some sort of sausage factory producing cheap knockoffs of itself. I’m not sure when I finally dropped it but my friend is still watching and it’s about to start season 14.

supernatural

I could tell this story again and again about American shows and that’s before we mention shows that ended on a cliffhanger and were then cancelled. In our family, “but they cancelled Firefly” is a catch phrase we use every time a bad show gets a new season but Firefly remains in its half-season limbo. Farscape had an epic fourth season only to be summarily cancelled on a cliffhanger. Thankfully a fan campaign gave us a film to wrap up the plotlines, something they did for Firefly as well.

When you pick up a show from the US (or Canada or the UK) you never know if it’s going to be cancelled on a cliffhanger or limp on for decades going nowhere until you just don’t care anymore.

Ally How I Met Your Mother!

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And then I discovered K-dramas! 

I don’t remember the first Korean drama I watched. I’ve always watched TV and movies from all over the world. But I do remember, after watching a few from Korea, that they did something other TV shows didn’t – they never got cancelled and they always ended. Good, bad, ugly, rage-inducing or brilliant, the shows all had a complete narrative arc. 

Not that K-dramas are perfect. As I watched more and more, I found that the quality of K-drama varied just as widely as did the quality of American shows. But no matter how bad a show was, it was usually 16 episodes and it usually ended. So even the worst was better than the brilliantly-hilarious Middleman; cancelled at episode 12 in a 13 episode first season.

Of course there are Korean dramas that got second seasons – Vampire Prosecutor, Mystery Queen.  Like their American counterparts, these shows are characterized by one thing: dissatisfaction from viewers. Despite narrative threads that need teasing out in their first seasons, most Korean shows with sequels are just as likely to meander off on a road to nowhere as their English-language counterparts. 

mystery-queen-header

So even if I did have a show that I thought could use second season – the amazing Circle, as an example – I’m not sure I’d embrace the idea for fear that it would ruin what was interesting and original about the show.

Circle had several elements they could draw on for a second season: like the aliens and some elements of the timeline between the present day and the future. But would a new season do this coherently? Or would it destroy what we loved about it in the first place?

I think Ally agrees with me. Ally?

Ally Well, to a certain extent, because this article would be pretty pedestrian if I agreed totally with what you’ve said.  Let’s use Circle as the example, then.

So the question:  Would a sequel to a show that was universally loved be able to satisfy its viewers and bring something different but still be compelling to watch?

Circle is unlike any K-drama I’ve ever seen. There were definitely things about this masterpiece that could not be repeated for a second season. Would these things, because they are missing, make the entire drama fall flat?  

circle-kim-kang-woo-and-lee-ki-kwang-2

The first and foremost is the life-and-death mystery of the brothers. For most of the show, you have no idea who is who and how the main cast is all related.  By the end, all their relationships are clear, but for half the drama, the mystery keeps your brain engaged for any clues as to their identities. You’re invested because they’re invested: in finding each other, in figuring out what happened. You are clueless with them. In many dramas, the viewer knows more than the characters.  In this drama, you know less.  

Second are the timelines.  Being set in two separate, but related, periods made for an interesting and intelligent way of story-telling.  I can’t remember a show that kept me so engaged throughout because the times were so different: the present day in one and a dystopian future society in another. By the end, we are squarely set in the future, dystopian world. There is no more switching between them and so another thing that made this show stand out is not there anymore.

Third is the lack of a romantic story arc. It didn’t need one.  

Chingumode I have thoughts about this.

Ally We don’t have time or space!

Chingumode Fine. Fine.

The family angst was more than enough.  Yes, there were hints thrown in every so often, but the story was always about the sibling twins. There is some chemistry between Byul and Woo-jin and a second season would no doubt expound upon this.

Chingumode Sizzling chemistry through the whole thing IMHO. But, while I would have liked a romance plotline, I can’t help thinking the writers would end up resorting to tired  K-drama tropes that would annoy me. 

Fourth is the chemistry between the cast.  The main leads, Kim Kang-woo, Yeo Jin-goo, and Gong Seung-yeon, complimented each other well, and the supporting cast was excellent.  Even Lee Gi-kwang, from the boy-group Highlight and new to the acting scene, was convincing in his role of an uptight, by-the-book government official who goes rogue—he even had me in tears by the end. With actors doing multiple projects on different schedules, would we be able to catch all of them (like lightning, or in this case, “byul,” in a bottle) again for a sequel? 

circle-lee-ki-kwang-8

(Hmmm,  it sounds like I agree with you so far, doesn’t it?  But wait…)

For this sequel to work, it would have to be completely different from the first, but still have the elements that made the first season great: life-and-death suspense, innovative use of time, mystery, intelligent story-telling, and a stellar cast. Sounds like huge shoes to fill. But I think a sequel could work if it took time to develop. I recently saw The Incredibles 2. It took 14 years between the first and second movies, however, the story was really tight, the animation was crisp and I actually liked it better than the first one.  

Now, I’m not proposing Circle have a decade before its next installment, but if a few years are needed to come up with another original concept and execute it as novelly as the first, I would be all for that.

And really, aren’t most K-dramas recycled plots, tropes, and stories in new, shiny packaging?  Isn’t that why we like them?  With the right actors, chemistry, and mystery, I would watch something like Circle, repeatedly. 

circle-yeo-jin-goo-and-gong-seung-yeon-9

Chingumode I’d probably just be happy if they explained the weird final scene. Does that contradict my original point?

Ally Not at all!  We all want satisfying story arcs for characters with whom we fall in love.  Whether that be through our own imaginations or played out on screen, we’re not picky, just give us something deserving, and make us not regret wishing for it.

 

2 thoughts on “Circle, take 2: When you wish upon a “Byul” (star)

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