As the 2018 KBS2 drama series Are You Human? begins airing in the Philippines on GMA Network, I felt the urge to watch the entire series again after having followed along as it originally aired. And I must say, it was just as enjoyable, exciting and heartfelt the second time around.
Though I hadn’t written a review of it last year, it’s never to late to praise what was and is a thoroughly enjoyable series. And most importantly, an excellent performance by Seo Kang Joon.
Are You Human? tells the story of AI robot Nam Shin III (Seo Kang Joon) who must take the place of a comatose human, Nam Shin, in order to protect his place as heir to a huge conglomerate.
Originally, Nam Shin III (and his predecessors Nam Shin I and Nam Shin II) is created by renowed scientist Laura Oh (Kim Sung Ryung) to help fill the void left after she is forced to part with her son, the human Nam Shin. Nam Shin III must learn how to adapt to the human world, including how to understand and feel emotions. And he is able to with the help of former MMA fighter and bodyguard Kang So Bong (Gong Seung Yeon).
The series follows Nam Shin III’s efforts and the fallout when the human Nam Shin awakens to the shock that a robot has taken his place, in more ways than one.
Right off the bat, we must point out the incredible performance by Seo Kang Joon as both Nam Shin III and the human Nam Shin. A dual role is never easy for any actor, but Seo Kang Joon made it look effortless. Nam Shin III is immediately endearing. Perhaps partly because Seo Kang Joon is very handsome and charasmatic. But even more so because he really just has the talent that allowed him to bring two very different characters to life.
Especially for Nam Shin III who cannot feel or express emotion without having to search the internet first, Seo Kang Joon himself was able to express a lot of emotion with just his face, such as with just a simple smile or nod. And as Nam Shin III must pretend to be the real Nam Shin (whose personality couldn’t be any more different), Seo Kang Joon must shift between the two characters at the snap of a finger. And he was able to do so with ease. The subtle shifts in his face alone were able to relay the necessary emotions and meaning to his lines of dialogue.
And that’s quite an accomplishment especially when the character is supposed to be just a robot.
It really can’t be stressed enough how much Seo Kang Joon’s performance helped make this series such a success.
But that’s not to say the rest of the cast didn’t contribute. In fact, the series may have assembled one of the strongest casts of a drama in a while.
First, Gong Seung Yeon is perfectly cast as Kang So Bong as she is able to be equal parts tough and vulnerable. Kang So Bong has her own emotional journey and growth through the series as well.
And Gong Seung Yeon and Kang Seo Joon’s chemistry is perfect throughout. As Kang So Bong is the one who ultimately teaches Nam Shin III about friendship and love, it’s certainly important that their relationship is believable and natural. And it was thanks to Gong Seung Yeon’s performance.
Lee Joon Hyuk as Nam Shin’s assistant and only friend Ji Young Hoon also grows from being what starts out as a simple supporting character to one of the most important. He too shares an excellent chemistry with Seo Kang Joon and together they’re able to make one of the series’ running plot threads regarding the relationship between Young Hoon and Nam Shin feel fully realized and meaningful.
Kim Sung Ryung as Laura does a fine job having to navigate her character taking unexpected and almost dark turns through the series. Park Yeong Gyu as grandfather Nam Gun Ho too has to go through several twists and turns as well, keeping you guessing just whose side he is truly on, if any. Kim Won Hae as So Bong’s father Kang Jae Sik balances excellent comedic timing with sincere and comforting scenes. As does Choi Duk Moon as David who also acts as a father figure for Nam Shin III.
And Yu Oh Seong as the deliciously evil Seo Jong Gil. Yu Oh Seong is definitely a versatile actor, but certainly known for his excellent and effortless portrayals of less-than-upstanding characters. He shows just that here with a fun energy that sometimes makes you forgot that yes, Seo Jong Gil is one of the series’ antagonists.
Though the series doesn’t go deep into the very real discussion of artificial intelligence and its dangers, it does do a good job touching upon the very question posed in the title: Are You Human? While the series certainly could’ve done even more, it is still successful in comparing and contrasting the actions of Nam Shin III and the actual, real humans.
Ultimately, Are You Human? is a drama series about family, friendship and love. What people will do and how far they will go for those things as well as ambition. With science fiction thrown in, the series overall is an exciting, emotional and heartfelt look at and a strong reminder about what truly makes a human being.