2003’s All-In consisted of 24 episodes that aired from January to April of that year on SBS. The series’ finale ended with a peak viewership rating of 47.7%, making it the 42nd highest-rated K-drama episode in history.
The life of Jimmy Cha, Seoul’s most well-known real money poker player, serves as inspiration for All-In. The show tells the love story of Kim In-ha and Min Su-Yeon. In-Ha is an orphan taken in by his compulsive gambler of an uncle, Kim Chi-soo, who drags him along wherever he may go. The duo spends most of their time hopping around gambling dens, hustling to make a living. Inevitably, In-Ha picks up many of the traits taught to him by his uncle and learns that his hands are quicker than most people’s eyes.
One day, on their train trip home, following a close call during one of their gambling escapades, In-Ha meets Su-Yeon, who he finds stealing from a food cart. It is love at first sight, as In-Ha becomes enamored with the young girl, whose father later gets murdered by local loan sharks. Acting in revenge, to win over Su-Yeon, In-Ha sets fire to their hideout, inadvertently killing their leader.
In-Ha gets sentenced to seven years in prison for his crime. After finishing his bid, by pure chance, he winds up working at the same casino as Su-Yeon, and the two reignite their old romantic flames. However, things do not work out as planned, as In-Ha has to illegally immigrate to the US, where he gets involved in criminal activity. Yet, fate does not give up on the pair and reconnects them. Though, obstacles once again come in the way of true love. Due to a set of wild circumstances, the couple drifts apart. To win back Su-Yeon, In-Ha decides to turn to his poker talents, as he risks everything to return to Korea so that he can feel the embrace of the love of his life again.
All-In stars Lee Byung-hun, who, in 2003, was most famous for his collaboration with Chan-wook Park, acting in his 2000 hit – Joint Security Area. Following All-In, Byung-hun starred in some of Korea’s highest-grossing movies of all time, like Master, Masquerade, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and Inside Men. Song Hye-kyo plays the role of Su-Yeon. At the time, she was riding high of the success of the melodramatic series Autumn in My Heart. Other notable cast members include Ji Sung, Park Sol-mi, Heo Joon-ho, and Jeong-won Choi.
Though it features some K-drama clichés like amnesia and forbidden love, All-In is still a must-see. It is a decently-written show that features strong performances from Lee Byung-hun and Song Hye-kyo, and its soundtrack is captivating. The two main actors have incredible chemistry, and the storyline features many twists and turns. In fact, there may be too many for most viewers’ tastes. At times, it feels inconsistent, as it mixes genres and rolls story-beat on top of story-beat. The writers develop an edge-of-your-seat atmosphere at the expense of realism, which some audiences may frown upon. The storyline continuously evolves, with setting changes and somewhat convoluted subplots. The two lovers keep getting together, only to drift apart, and there is a love triangle in play. It is all very dynamic but has a soap opera feel to it. The 24 episodes were also too short for a show with so many developed characters.
That said, All-In also stands out due to its US action and by offering a rare glimpse into the world of casino gambling. Know that while it may seem like a romantic show, falling into the sub-genre – all about the girl, it does feature a pronounced criminal element. Though, there are no outright despicable characters in All-In that Lee Byung-hun strives to defeat. There are also no angelic ones, In-Ha included. Everyone here is a shade of grey, and there is something unique about that. It is a show about love and walking the fine line between good and evil to get what your heart desires.
About the Author
Shelly Schiff has been working in the gambling industry since 2009, mainly on the digital side of things, employed by OnlineUnitedStatesCasinos.com. However, over her eleven-year career, Shelly has provided content for many other top interactive gaming websites. She knows all there is to know about slots and has in-depth knowledge of the most popular table games. Her golden retriever Garry occupies most of her leisure time. Though, when she can, she loves reading Jim Thompson-like crime novels.