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 Story: 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.
In Ha is an orphan raised by his gambler uncle Kim Chi Soo (Im Hyun Sik). As a 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, Swallow 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.
RARE FULL OST
Then, seven years later, the lives of these three people converge again. In 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!).
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).
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 of a Man) 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.
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 legal 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 K-drama sites to update their prints of these Classics. If no one pressures them nothing will ever change and these excellent shows with stars we all love will be lost to future generations.