The good news is, I am currently watching a drama that I love with a million hearts. The bad news is that Are you Human? (Viki title is Are You Human Too?) starring Seo Kang Joon (The Cheese in the Trap) and Gong Seung Yeon (Six Flying Dragons) is not that drama. A very watchable drama with decent acting, Are You Human? could have reached for profound, but settled for easy. It is also one of the few shows that had me constantly yelling at the screen: He is a robot! A robot!
Yes, my friends, this is a robot story involving a theme that has been overdone in sci-fi at this point: defining humanity. Exploring the question what does is mean to be human through a robot’s eyes can be effective, but in this show it was used to promote the idea that it’s ok to think of robots and human and even to replace actual humans with them. Not sure if this was the intended message by the writer, but nevertheless, it made me sick to my stomach.
The story is about a young man named Nam Shin, and in this review I’ll mainly call him Shin, who of course is the grandson of a rich company CEO. The grandpa is…how can I say psychotic nicely? I can’t. Anyway, grandpa basically holds kid Shin hostage, saying if he goes to his grieving mother (dad just committed suicide), grandpa will harm mom. Thus mother and son grow up apart. But this is not your average mom. Oh Ra Ra is a super smart robotic scientist who flees to the Czech Republic and there makes a robot to look exactly like her son. She finds out later that her project is funded by (spoilers) grandpa. Robot Shin III is programmed to be a kind, loving, young gentlemen, who in disaster mode will leap into action to save whatever human lives are at stake. Not a bad thing, but at the beginning, it’s unclear just what mom’s motive is in this. Her son is still alive, and I would have actually found it less weird for him to be dead and in her grief she finds comfort in a lookalike machine.
The real Shin grows up and appears to be a typically spoiled rich boy, but he does long for his mother and makes a plan to escape grandpa’s watch and go to Czecho to see her. This involves the manipulation of a bodyguard, Kang So Bong, who used to be a pro fighter, but had to retire due to injury. She’s a somewhat feisty character who becomes less so over time. Robot Shin runs across real Shin in the town of Karlovy Vary, and I kind of wish the story would have stayed in Czecho, because it’s a beautiful fairy tale country and I miss living in it. The bad guy, played stereotypically by Yu Oh Seong (Faith) wants to take over the company and has a hitman take out Shin. Mom and her scientist buddy arrive just in time to witness the accident and mom instinctively knows it is her real son that has been run over. Turns out Shin isn’t dead, but he’s in a coma and so mom and Shin’s watcher for grandpa Ji Young Hoon (Lee Joon Hyuk from City Hunter) come up with the obvious plan to have robot Shin pretend to be human Shin.
The story didn’t quite play out as I imagined it would, but instead of surprising me, it continually disappointed me. The acting was very good, Seo Kang Joon has a bright future ahead of him and played both Shin’s well. He also has great screen presence, something one just has or doesn’t have, and will continue to be a great lead because of that. Gong Seung Yoon started out strong, as did her girl bodyguard character, but the writing basically killed her character by the end. She would have benefited from a ton more screen time with human Shin, which would have been a romance worth watching. Everyone else did a decent job, but nothing really of note.
Let’s get into the ranting part. So human Shin is a jerk, a spoiled jerk, but he loves his mom, has been royally abused by his grandpa, and wakes up partway through the series to find that he has literally been replaced by a lifelike robot built by his mother. And she won’t destroy it for his sake. She’s far too attached. Understandably, Shin is upset, very upset and wants the robot gone and his life back. He does pretty despicable things to try to make this happen, and the thing is, most of the time I was cheering him on! His fellow humans were all acting psycho, continually telling him that the robot was a better human than he was, and having affection for a machine that just…shouldn’t be there. I like my cell phone and my vacuum cleaner, but I’m not about to fall in love with them. Come to find out that crazy grandpa has the plan to actually fully replace his grandson by the robot and having the robot run the company.
This is a dark side of humanity, that we think we can create something better than a human and replace humanity with it. But it’s faulty, sinful human beings doing the making and programming, and it’s simply wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, to do this. Robots are a machine, a tool, and while they can certainly be humanlike, we walk a dangerous tightrope trying to make them as much like humans as possible. And on this show, what does that look like? Sadly, it reduces humanity to one thing: emotion. There’s a little nod to kindness, etc., being a part of humanity, but the focus is on emotion. Robot Shin is only still a robot because he doesn’t have emotions. He’s programmed to smile or give someone a hug when they need it, but that’s about it. Humans are so much more than their emotions, and why the writers didn’t choose to plumb the depths by either doing outright fantasy and having robot Shin somehow earn a fairy blessing of humanity, or by giving human Shin a beautiful redemptive love story, I don’t know. Either choice would have been so much better than what they went with. Yes, robot Shin (spoilers) does magically shed tears at the end, but this is never explained, and other than the humans continually telling him he seems human to them, no reason is given other than the fact that he sacrificed himself to save a human. But that’s no great feat, because he’s a robot programmed to do just that.
Let’s talk about the love story. Gong’s first interaction is with human Shin, who actually hit her to carry out his little escape plan. She then has a chance to vent her anger, but it ends up being on the robot Shin. It takes a little while for her find that this Shin is a robot, but bizarrely, she continues down the path of a relationship with the robot. Yes, he’s handsome, he’s kind and gentle, and so on, but he’s programmed to be that way. At times she treats him like a child, and other times like a pet. If a real, grown woman tells you she wants this kind of romance, run. Run away fast. Real woman do not want robots or pets, they want men, real men that don’t do whatever they say, and who have flaws and faults that they sometimes courageously overcome. Real women want a man they can argue with, share their lives and dreams with, and…ahem…have sex with. Now the show doesn’t go there, but they could probably program robot Shin to do the deed, but he’s not more much more than a blowup doll. Is that really what Gong should be aspiring to, a pretend relationship with a blowup doll? They did give him tears at the end, they did, but even at the end, when she first encounters human Shin, there’s a spark there that is not there when she and the robot kiss. The ending turned my stomach. Human Shin happily looking on as a woman kisses and makes promises to a machine that looks just like him. It was rather gross and not romantic in the slightest.
Give human Shin his life back. Rewrite this atrocity and give him a redemption and love story that values humanity, not programmed robots. There was another character that did love human Shin and the writers did nothing with her, except finally send her away to America where hopefully she found someone to appreciate her persistence, sweetness, loyalty, and bravery.
Are You Human? is watchable, far more than some other dramas, but the message it conveys is just so icky to me that I have trouble recommending it because of that. Even emotionally, there wasn’t really a good cathartic moment. Anger, maybe, Shin’s anger at being replaced, and then more anger because he’s met not with understanding, but with the robot is a better human that you are. I mean, what the actual blank? As for robot Shin, he’s got a bland personality, but of course he does. Humans can’t program a personality the way God creates one. The idea that we can is laughable. Also really not sure what to make of the talk in the show of a whole city with humans and these humanlike robots…sounds nightmarish to me. Sometimes I really hate science and think that at its heart it is anti-God and anti-human.