One of the things about Korean television that I enjoy is the fact that they have no fear about going into a series and saying, “One season, one story. Done.” In English-speaking television, this is rare enough to snag alternative titles like “miniseries” or “limited engagement”. For Korean TV, it’s pretty much the norm. They seek to tell a whole story almost like you would in a film, but rather than limiting the tale to a couple of hours, it’s 12+ of happy story time.
Perhaps this is the draw to K-dramas, as it allows a much different sort of binge-watching for us non-native audiences. I love that I can start a series and know that I’m going to get the whole shebang by the end of the season, rather than waiting for that end game cliffhanger. Sure, there are setbacks to this visual storytelling style, but dang it, I love it.
I’m Not a Robot
I’m Not a Robot is a 32-episode series about Kim Min Kyu, a man with what appears to be an extreme allergy to, well, other people. With one touch Min Kyu’s body immediately responds with a scab-like rash.
The longer the physical contact persists, the more the reaction will spread. As such, all contact with other humans Min Kyu keeps to a minimum, including hiring substitute purchaser, Jo Ji Ah, to snag himself a limited edition gaming figure.
However, there is obviously something more than genetics at play with his mysterious “illness”. Min Kyu is untrusting, paranoid, and entirely socially inept with it comes to interacting with others. It is these flaws in his personality that cause his transaction with Ji Ah to quickly go south. Like, way south. As in, he-refuses-to-pay-so-she-attacks-him sort of south. Yep, meant to be.
Still, even with his insistence that he’s fine on his own (including practicing making out with his pillow), Min Kyu naturally longs for some sort of companionship. Thus, when Min Kyu is approached with the opportunity to own an incredibly lifelike robot called Aji 3 offering him the chance at real companionship, he’s intrigued.
The robot itself just-so-happens to be invented by substitute purchaser Ji Ah’s ex-boyfriend and scientist, Hong Baek Gyun, who swears he’s over here, but he modeled Aji 3 after Ji Ah’s likeness. One thing that is awesome about this is that Chae Soo Bin, who plays Ji Ah and Aji 3, does such great work to make these two characters distinct. Wardrobe does a few things–Aji 3 has longer hair, for one–but otherwise, Soo Bin’s acting is what really sets them apart and she does a fantastic job.
Of course, very quickly accidents happen, Aji 3 is busted, and Baek Gyun must hunt down Ji Ah in order to have her pose as a robot so Min Kyu can run tests before he decides whether he’ll fund Aji 3 or not. What results is a show that is naturally humorous, but also has a surprisingly strong human element to it.
Min Kyu is the kind of guy with everything. In contrast, Ji Ah is the person who received nothing and asked for nothing. Her education was overshadowed by the importance of her brother’s, and even as she continually struggles to finally achieve her dreams, she is yet hard for cash and jobless.
Ji Ah’s meeting with Min Kyu is a many-layered catalyst, leaving her out the money she worked so hard for and cementing her need for revenge. Finding herself face-to-face with him again while posing as Aji 3 provides more information to her, like that fact that, while Min Kyu is technically a genius, he’s surprisingly gullible. What’s even more clear, however, is that Min Kyu is an incredibly isolated guy.
Much like our small discussion on WALL-E, I’m Not a Robot addresses the same necessity that we all have for contact and connection with others. There are a lot of things that any person can live without, but that sort of human-to-human existing is just as necessary as food and water.
While Min Kyu lives in this expansive mansion and has lived a life with great career success, with access to anything money can by, he knows that something is lacking. (I mean, obviously, when you’re throwing birthday parties for your Roomba.) And yet, Min Kyu spends the majority of his time attempting to mantra out the truth–that he’s very, very lonely.
The use of robots is always an excellent way to explore humanity, and I’m Not a Robot does so in a way that’s fun, but also compelling. Much of Min Kyu’s “illness” isn’t what it appears to be, and a lot of what goes on in the show is psychology at work. It all, so far (we’re only 20-episodes into the series), has meshed in a way that makes you laugh with the ridiculous scenarios and then punches you in the heart with the realities attached to those same scenes.
I love what I’m Not a Robot has done because it presents a unique concept to some tried and true character flaws. Min Kyu’s allergy, Aji 3, Ji Ah, really the entire cast all comes together into this story that has some strongly conceived robot-based plot points to tell us about some very real human struggles.
Really, the casting for this show is just so freaking excellent. Every character, even down to the most minute side-character, is so well-cast, and it truly does make for a better experience when show’s detail down like that. The film itself is also beautiful, but, of course, that’s to be expected of the majority of Korean television drama productions (in my experience, at least). The overall experience of I’m Not a Robot is strung together so tightly–plot, visuals, character development that it provides a solid viewing experience.
And again, let me reiterate, I love the K-drama styling of allowing a story such as this to flesh out in a long series, rather than condense it to a film slot. I’m Not a Robot has a lot to tell, and it’s so enjoyable to be able to soak up every minute rather than worry about a film length limit.