All In 올인 (2003) SBS 24 Episodes
Romantic Melodrama, Grade: A
Review by Alison,
Addendum by Jill, USA
Starring one of South Korea’s
most charismatic, talented and versatile actors, Lee
Byung-hun, All In (2003) is an exciting,
fast-paced and touching drama set in the glamorous world
of high stakes gambling (and filmed mostly on beautiful
Jeju Island with some scenes in Las Vegas on location).
The series starts with a bang (literally) as we see a
beautiful young woman, Min Su Yeon (played by the
exquisite Song Hye-kyo, more recently displaying her
acting chops in Descendants
Of The Sun and That
Winter, the Wind Blows), preparing for her
wedding while the man she is waiting for, Kim In Ha,
played by Lee Byung-hun, is shot in the chest.From there we
flashback to the events leading up to that day.
In Ha is an orphan raised by his gambler uncle Kim
teen, In Ha is played by a young actor named Jin Goo,
who bears a remarkable resemblance to Lee Byung Hun.
(Another Korean drama specialty characteristic is that
they often seem to get their casting perfectly right
with the younger / older versions of characters). The
boy finds a friend in Choi Jung-won (later played as an
adult by handsome Ji Sung, who would later get his own
chances to be the leading player in a similarly set drama,
the Sun, and also in the hit series Kill
Me, Heal Me), the rich young son of a movie theater
owner named Choi Do-hwan (Lee
Deok-hwa from Hyde,
Jekyll and I and countless other dramas).
In Ha falls in love at first
sight with Su-yeon (played as a young girl by Han Ji
Min; she would go on to star in such dramas as Padam
Padam and Hyde,
Jekyl and I, and Rooftop
Prince), who is the daughter of the
theater’s projectionist.When Su-yeon’s father gets into debt with some
evil gangsters (are there any other kind?) and later
dies, In Ha and Jung-won seek revenge by starting a fire
at the gangster’s hideout. However, their plan to simply
do damage goes awry when the gang leader is killed.
In Ha is caught, and spends the
next seven years in jail.Jung-won is spared any jail time because his rich
family flexes their connections to get him out of it.Meanwhile,
heartbroken and orphaned, Su-yeon joins a convent where
she becomes the beloved Sister Angela.
Then, seven years later, the lives of these three people
Ha is hired at the casino where Su-yeon (forsaking her
original vocation to help the convent by earning money) is
a dealer and surprise!Jung-won’s
family owns this casino.In
Ha and Su-yeon are drawn to each other yet again, but many
obstacles await, including In-Ha’s detour to America and a
bout with amnesia.
(It's amazing how often amnesia figures into so many
Korean dramas' plot lines!).
All In Cast: (l to r): Song
Hye Kyo, Byung Hun Lee,
Ji Sung, Park Sol-mi
I absolutely loved
All In; it is one of my top favorite dramas.It has a little bit
of everything, romance, action, endearing and
multi-layered characters, friendships and rivalries, big
business and criminals, and off the charts chemistry
between the two leads (who also dated in real life).You get a glimpse
into the world of casinos, where In-ha shines because he
is a natural born card shark (thanks to his uncle’s
tutelage when he was a boy).
There is also a beautiful soundtrack, multiple subplots,
and endless complications driving the lovers together
and apart over and over again.It is also fun to see part of the action
set in the United States.Of course, as we often see in Korean dramas,
there is also a love triangle, as both In Ha and
Jung-won love Su-yeon, while a wealthy young casino /
hotel heiress Jin-Hee (lovely Park Sol-mi, with her
fantastic head of hair (who was in Beloved,
and also played the other woman in Winter
Sonata) longs for Jung-won.
Another thing I
liked about this drama is that the two lead women are
also smart and capable.Best of all, there is the performance of Lee
Byung Hun, who captivates you with his masculinity,
charm and startlingly sweet smile.A terrific
soundtrack too, with the main theme song later revealed
as being sung by the wonderful late actor Park Yong Ha (Winter
Sonata and Story
who committed suicide in 2010.
A dynamic Korean
drama that both men and women will enjoy, All In
demands a long commitment for its full 24 episodes but it
is worth every minute.
Addendum by Jill (Nov. 2015):
Now that I finished All
In (2003) myself, I can add that I agree with
Alison's review and grade of A for this classic. This show on the high stakes world of
gambling had great breadth and vision, wonderful
location shots in Vegas and Jeju, and depicted constant
struggles between good and evil, loyalty and betrayal,
love vs. obsession.
My only reservation on this show has nothing to do with
the production values of the drama itself, which were
excellent, even for 2003, rather the mediocre prints
that are circulating on the online sites. If you really
want to enjoy this classic for all its worth I would say
there is no other substitute than to purchase the DVD
set at Amazon. The resolution and sound quality and even
the English subs will be better in a professionally
packaged legitimate DVD box set.
One would think the online sites would want to obtain
the best prints, since this show, as well as other early
K-dramas, began the Hallyu Wave in the first place, but
I guess they just don't care. What a shame. If you do
watch through an online site on your big screen TV
through ROKU or other external device then make sure to
use your remote to expand the screen image to "stretch";
that should at least make your experience watching a bit
better. Consider writing to these sites to update their
prints of these classics. If no one pressures them
nothing will ever change and these excellent shows will
be lost to future generations.