K-drama review: I’m Not a Robot

I'm not a robot poster
Yoo Seung-ho as Kim Min-kyu, and Chae Soo-bin as Jo Ji-ah

This TV show had been on my to-watch list for so long that I’m not sure where the recommendation originally came from, but I’m grateful for it. I’m Not a Robot (MBC 2017-2018) is silly fun, confronting some of the cliché problems with K-dramas without taking itself too seriously. Which is for the best, considering its plot.

Jo Ji-ah (Chae Soo-bin from Love in the Moonlight) is an entrepreneur whose brother is threatening to throw her out of their shared home if she doesn’t give up on her inventions and get a “real” job. To make ends meet she has various part-time jobs and in the course of one of these she meets Kim Min-kyu (Yoo Seung-ho), a reclusive company director who refuses to pay her in full.

Shortly after this, Ji-ah is approached by her ex-boyfriend, professor Hong Baek-gyun (Um Ki-joon), with a lucrative job offer. His research team, Santa Maria, has secretly developed a humanoid AI robot called Aji-3 and they’re about to test it with a major investor but they’ve hit a snag: following a lab accident, the robot’s legs don’t work. Happily, the robot looks exactly like Ji-ah, so could she pretend to be the robot for the investor for a day or two while they get the robot’s legs working?

It sounds ridiculous but if you can accept the concept of an AI robot that is convincingly humanoid, the rest of this set-up does seem plausible. Ji-ah wears virtual-reality contact lenses that record everything she sees and give her information she might need from Aji-3. She also wears an earpiece that records her conversations and lets the Santa Maria team tell her what to say.

The inevitable snag? The potential investor is Kim Min-kyu. Ji-ah must hope that he doesn’t recognise her and rein in her anger and frustration at him, to obey his every command. Which might seem like a horrible position for her, with all the misogyny of the worst TV fare. But what we the audience quickly learn is that Min-kyu is not the asshole he appears to be.

Since the death of both his parents when he was 13, Min-kyu has had a psychological condition that makes him effectively allergic to human contact. He rarely leaves the mansion where he lives alone, and when he does go out he wears leather gloves and a face mask and keeps his distance from everyone – not unlike living through this pandemic! He also carries a baton to keep people away when they approach him, which at his workplace has earned him the nickname Mr Baton.

Even before she learns about this, Ji-ah is warming to Min-kyu, as she figures out that he is sweet, affectionate and desperately lonely. But when Min-kyu teaches her – as Aji-3 – how to use an epi pen on him, she sees the extra complication this adds: he thinks he can safely touch her. Is this a hiding to disaster or a potential pathway to curing him?

I'm not a robot side characters
The Santa Maria team are sweet and fun, and don’t fall into geek stereotypes.

The supporting cast are largely excellent. I particularly enjoyed Lee Min-ji (Reply 1988) as Sun-hye, Ji-ah’s best friend who owns a cafe, tells fortunes and straight-talks to a comedic degree. And Park Se-wan as Pi Jin, Professor Hong’s right-hand woman, full of smart insights and wry wit. The developing friendships between the Santa Maria team and the people in Ji-a’s life are sweet, with realistic bumps in the road.

What I enjoyed less was the inevitable shenanigans where Min-kyu’s senior colleagues are up to no good and trying to oust him. And for the most part they didn’t make sense. I get that it added intrigue and tension so that it took 16 hours to complete the story rather than 4 or 5, but I must admit that the whole corporate heir thing bores me.

However, overall this was really fun, sweet and silly.