All In

Reviewed by: il_mare

March 25, 2004

Rating: four

SBS drama (2003) - 24 episodes
For SBS homepage for this drama (in Korean), go to:
Aired on SBS in Korea: January 15, 2003 - April 3, 2003 Wednesday & Thursday nights at 9:55

Kim In-ha: Lee Byung Hun (Beautiful Days)
Choi Jung-won: Ji Sung (Days in the Sun)
Min Su-yon (aka Angela): Song Hae Gyo (Autumn Tale)
Suh Jin-hee: Park Sol Mi (Winter Sonata)
Choi Do-hwan (Jung-won's dad): Lee Duk Hwa (Age of Warriors)
Yoon Hye-sun (Jung-won's mom): Sun Woo Eun Sook (Autumn Tale)
Kim Chi-soo (In-ha's uncle): Im Hyun Sik (Cinderella/Sweet Bear)
Lee Hyun-ja: Park Won Sook (Romance)
Chairman Suh Seung-don: Jo Kyung Hwan
Jenny (Korean girl in U.S.): Kim Tae Yeon
Yoo Jong-ku (In-ha's friend from prison): Huh Joon Ho (Hotelier)
Detective Park Tae-joon (In-ha's hometown friend): Choi Joon Yong (All About Eve)
Yoo Jung-ae (Hyun-ja's daughter): Choi Jung Won (Sweetheart)
Yim Dae-chi (Gang leader): Park Sang Myun (Shoot for the Stars/Her House/Bad Boys)
Yim Dae-soo (aka Shorty): Jung Yoo Suk
Director Sohn: Kim Ha Koon (Piano/Secret)
Manager Jang Mi-ran: Choi Ran (This Is Love)

Writer: Choi Wan Kyu
Producer: Yoo Chul Yong

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For more information (in Korean) on the cast from SBS, go to:
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Kim Chi-soo is a professional gambler a.k.a. hustler. He travels around cheap gambling dens with his young nephew Kim In-ha, gambling and hustling to make a living. In-ha grows up under such circumstances, and eventually ends up as a “partner-in-crime” with his uncle. In-ha also picked up the skill of gambling, and as a young teenager, his hands became quicker than the eye. He has a bunch of friends and they are street kids who hang out in the poor area of Yong-doo Pu, committing petty crimes and getting into fights.

During one of Chi-soo and In-ha’s narrow escapes from their usual gambling escapades, in the train on the way home, In-ha meets a girl named Su-yon. In-ha steals from the food cart, and is questioned by Su-yon for stealing. When they get off the train, Su-yon is robbed and loses her precious music box left behind by her dead mother.

Su-yon is travelling to the city to look for her father who works in a cinema screening movies. But she meets him just in time to see him get beaten up by gangsters over an unpaid loan. She moves in with her father in the cinema.

Unknown to Su-yon, In-ha is the leader of the street kid gang who robbed her. Together with Yoo Jung-ae, the group are childhood friends. Jung-ae is in love with In-ha, but In-ha can’t forget Su-yon whom he met in the train. The gang congregates in the basement of the same cinema that Su-yon’s father works in. In-ha and Su-yon meet again in the cinema. In-ha returns the music box to Su-yon, but gets a slap across the face. In-ha is intrigued by Su-yon’s reaction and tries to get close to her.

Chi-soo insists that In-ha return to school and stop hustling with him. While attending high school, he meets Choi Jung-won, the son of a wealthy businessman. Jung-won is the brightest student in class, but is a rebel within.

Jung-won's father Choi Do-hwan is an unscrupulous businessman. Jung-won does not approve of his father’s unorthodox and ruthless methods of doing business. He also feels ashamed that his father made use of his mother and himself to gather business favours (Choi Do-hwan brought his wife and son, and knelt down in front of his business benefactor Director Suh and his daughter to secure more business favours. On the same day Choi Do-hwan beat up a long-serving loyal employee over some mistakes he committed).

Despite their different family backgrounds, In-ha and Jung-won become quick friends. While hanging out together at the cinema (the cinema belongs to Jung-won’s father), In-ha sees Su-yon’s father being beaten by the gangsters again over his debts. Together with Jung-won, they fight off the gangster. But their elation is short-lived as one of In-ha’s friends is captured by the gangsters to lure In-ha to show up. In-ha bravely ventures into the gangsters’ den to rescue his friend. In order to exchange for his friend’s freedom, In-ha agrees to gamble with the gangster and wins with his outstanding skills. Impressed by his capabilities, the leader of the gang Yim Dae-chi asks In-ha to work in one of his gambling den. In-ha refuses and is beaten up badly for his response. Unmoved by his attackers, In-ha is eventually released. He ends up at Su-yon’s doorstep and passes out. Su-yon takes care of the injured In-ha, and they gain a deeper understanding of each other.

To help Su-yon’s father repay his debts, In-ha begs his uncle to help Su-yon’s father make money from gambling. Chi-soo reluctantly agrees, successfully sets up a gambling game, and makes money for Su-yon’s father. Unfortunately, Su-yon’s father is ambushed by the gamblers and is killed in the stuggle. Su-yon is then kidnapped by the loan sharks upon his death. In-ha, Jung-won and the gang organise an “operation” to rescue Su-yon. While running away from the gang, one of In-ha’s friends has to jump off a bridge to escape from his attacker. In the end, he is hospitalised and crippled for life.

To take revenge, In-ha and Jung-won decide to set fire to the gangster’s warehouse. Unfortunately, the 2 teenagers do not know that Yim Dae-chi is sleeping in the warehouse, and kill him with their arson attack. On the day of Su-yon's father’s funeral, In-ha and Jung-won are arrested for arson and manslaughter. Jung-won is cleared of all charges because of his father's intervention, but In-ha is stuffed with the entire crime and has to serve 7 years in jail.

Jung-won visits In-ha in jail. Shortly after, Jung-won is sent to the US for his studies. Su-yon is taken in by the church under the care of a nun.

The story jumps to 7 years later, and Jung-won is going to complete his studies in the US. He meets Suh Jin-hee and recognise her immediately as Director Suh’s daughter. They go out and both share their visions for the casino and hotel business in Korea. Jung-won also shares with Jin-hee about the 2 most humiliating moments in his life. One is when he had to leave his friend behind in jail, and when his father knelt down in front of Director Suh. Jin-hee recalls the incident. She gives Jung-won a kiss and asks him to forget the past.

Su-yon meanwhile grows up in an orphanage on Cheju Island, run by a group of nuns. She is training to be a nun. However, Su-yon realises that being a nun is not her calling, and requests to leave the orphanage. She is recommended by her guardian to Director Suh. She gets assigned to work in one of Director Suh’s casinos on Cheju Island as a card dealer.

In-ha has also grown to be a young man in jail. He gets transferred to a new cell and befriends a fellow inmate, Yoo Jung-ku. In-ha notices that Jung-ku leaves the cell every night for a few hours. He realises that Jung-ku is actually a professional gambler, hired by another inmate Sang-du, a gangster leader, to gamble at night. Apparently, the guards are bribed to allow such activities to happen every night, and the respective leaders’ henchmen in the outside world would do the settlement of the monies accordingly.

Jung-ku witnesses In-ha’s gambling skills and asks him to help with an upcoming game against another hired gambler of another gangster leader. The opponent goes by the nickname of “Shorty”. In-ha agrees and is shocked to find that his opponent is actually Yim Tae-soo, the younger brother of Yim Tae-chi the gangster leader who died in the warehouse fire.

In-ha manages to win the game, much to the pleasure of Sang-du. But Yim Tae-soo is furious to see In-ha again and vows revenge on his brother’s death. In-ha completes his time in jail and is released. He reunites with his childhood gang friends. One of them, Park Tae-joon, is a policeman, but he is a crook cop who accepts bribes on the side. Jung-ae, Chi-soo, Hyun-ja and another of In-ha’s friends work in the same nightclub owned by Jung-won’s father. The crippled one works in the same cinema that they used to hang out as the poster man.

In-ha finds work with Jung-ku at a casino in Cheju Island as a security staff. In-ha tries to look for Su-yon at the orphanage, but finds out that she has left. Unknown to him, he is working in the same casino as Su-yon. Jung-won also returns from the States and joins the same casino under the employment of Director Suh. Jin-hee is posted to the same casino to work as a card dealer to learn the workings of the casino. Her identity is kept a secret to all in the casino. She ends up sharing the same room with Su-yon. The 4 lives will be changed forever with this reunion at the Jungmun casino.

Su-yon reunites with In-ha and soon after they become a couple. In-ha's gambling instincts is also recognised by Director Suh, and is quickly promoted to the position of Pit Boss in the casino. However, In-ha is constantly haunted by his feud with Yim Tae-soo. In the meantime, Jin-hee admits to Jung-won that she likes him, and would like him to be her boyfriend. She believes that with her wealth and his intelligence, their union will bring benefits to all and enable her father’s casino empire to scale to greater heights. However, Jung-won refuses Jin-hee’s love as he cannot forget the humiliation he felt 7 years ago.

Choi Do-hwan has his eyes set on the buy-out of another casino hotel, Sea World Hotel on Cheju Island, which Director Suh has already indicated his interest. He engages Sang-du to convince the respective shareholders of the casino to sell them his shares. Jung-won learns of his father’s underhanded plans, and inevitably gets caught up in his plot.

Sang-du conveniently decides to take a stake of the casino as well by devising a plan to be a shareholder. He tracks down In-ha to gamble for him and drip one of the key shareholder (Han Myung Jin) dry. In exchange, he will negotiate peace between Yim Tae-soo and In-ha (Sang-du is Yim Tae-soo’s gang leader), Sang-du will also have Yim Tae-soo give up incriminating evidence of Detective Park’s bribery acts. In-ha unwillingly agrees. However, when Han Myung Jin dies after his game with In-ha and Jung-ku, both are implicated by his death. Desperate and with no options, they start their lives as fugutive, and run away to the States for fear of being prosecuted by the law.

Choi Do-hwan succeeds in his takeover and snatches Sea World Hotel right under Director Suh's nose. Jung-won leaves Director Suh’s employment to join his father in the new casino.

Su-yon is left behind, without a word from In-ha, and heartbroken by his abandonment. Jung-won comforts Su-yon, and tries to woo her. But Su-yon can't forget In-ha and decides to leave Korea to further her studies on hotel management in the US.

In-ha and Jung-ku try to rebuild their lives as illegal immigrants in the US. In-ha manages to find employment as the security staff of a mafia boss in LA. Su-yon and In-ha meet again in the US for the second time. They get back together and want to get married, but on their wedding day, In-ha is shot by the enemies of the mafia boss and is left in a coma. Su-yon is told that In-ha died in the crossfire and she is once again heartbroken, and leaves the US.

In-ha wakes up from his coma after 8 months, and is crushed that he has once again let Su-yon down. In exchange for what he has done, the mafia boss agrees to release In-ha and Jung-ku from his employment. In-ha spends a long period of time mourning for his lost love. He calls Jung-won to let him know that he is alive, but is instead chided by Jung-won to be a letdown and that he does not have the right to love Su-yon anymore.

While back in Korea, Director Suh and Jin-hee feel betrayed by Jung-won as he crossed over to work for his father. He manages to poach staff and customers from Jungmun casino and even orchestrates a successful takeover of Jungmun casino. Jung-won continues to shower Su-yon with attention and affection although she continues to mourn for In-ha. Eventually, Su-yon recovers from her mourning and seeks employment at Jungmun casino, which is now under the care of Jung-won.

Jenny and Jung-ku, unable to bear In-ha's self-destructing ways, decided to rejuvenate his interest in life with gambling. They engage a professional professor to teach In-ha the art of poker. With his natural instinct for gambling, it is not long before In-ha emerges as the poker champion in the Las Vegas World Champion poker competition, and begins his life as a professional gambler. His win is witnessed by Jin-hee, who happens to be in Las Vegas on a business trip. Jin-hee returns to Korea and tells Su-yon of her sighting, but Su-yon is not convinced that In-ha is alive.

Another professional gambler Michael Jang witnesses In-ha’s skill. He is impressed with In-ha and tempts In-ha to participate in a game that will require staking his life. Intrigued, In-ha agrees and in the process returns to Korea where he inevitably heads for a show down with his childhood best friend, Jung-won.


Rated as a must-see by many reviews, how could I miss this serial after my recent inauguration as a Korean serial fanatic? And lured by the fanfare of the real life romances between Lee Byung Hun and Song Hae Gyo, as well as between Ji Sung and Park Sol Mi, I really needed to check it out for myself whether I could see traces of their romance on screen.

"All in" is a term used in poker, usually in HK movies. They call it "Showhand", i.e. to gamble all your capital and stake everything. Initially, I was expecting a HK-like gambling serial along the lines of The Shell Game or God of Gambling. I was pleasantly surprised that the serial actually focused on the casino business versus devising ridiculous gambling skills e.g. shaking the dice to bits, supernatural card "rubbing" skills that's been portrayed so often in HK serials and movies.

The scenic Cheju Island was the main setting for the entire serial. Besides Cheju Island, part of the production was filmed in Las Vegas. It gave a fairly detailed, insightful and interesting outline of the casino and hotel business. The serial also threw some light on triad struggles, and the involvement of the triad world with the corporate world. You will also see a lot of nifty HK inspired fighting moves by Lee Byung Hun as well.

My favourite part of the serial was the latter portion when In-ha was hired as the representative for ISIC bidding for the respective gambling businesses on Cheju Island. The way the different teams pitched for the deal and how they tried to manoeuvre their way around to win was really exciting.

I like the way the key characters were written, as there were no outright baddies, and there were no absolute goodies either. When did Jung-won become a bad guy, when did In-ha become a good guy (he did start out as a gangster/street kid)? And maybe because of the large gray area that the characters moved within, it was difficult to invoke a strong liking or dislike for any particular person. I was relieved that no one had any terminal disease, nor was there any wailing heroine waiting to be rescued.

Lee Byung Hun (LBH) was again outstanding as the enigmatic Kim In-ha. From his struggles from an ex-con gangster to a Pit Boss in a casino, and then a fugitive and to his eventual transformation to the slick pro-gambler, one could see that the character of In-ha required different facets of portrayal that LBH transcended with ease. There were also a lot of fighting scenes where LBH had to perform high kicks and quick moves, which was quite refreshing. LBH looked so stylish as the sophisticated Jimmy Kim in his pin-stripped suits and white trench coats.

If I have to sum up In-ha's life, it'd be: "It's all about a girl." His yearning for Su-yon is so strong and yet so painful, you can’t help but pity his sad predicament during the serial. I truly felt the destinies of the 2 leads crossing, yet they lacked the “Fate” factor to stay together. Everytime they get together, they are separated by some divine forces above e.g. jail time, murder, mafia crossfire. It is no wonder that they are so freaked out by the bad karma of their relationship that it took them a long time to come together for their third reunion.

Perhaps because of LBH’s strong performance, Song Hae Gyo’s (SHG) execution paled in comparison as the love of In-ha’s life, Su-yon. She had a pretty wooden expression for most part of the serial. As the US portions were made before the rest of the Cheju Island scenes were shot, it may explain why she seemed “unconnected” with LBH when they reunited in the US. The chemistry during their first reunion when Su-yon was a casino card dealer seemed more natural and intimate versus those in the US. The costume people, perhaps in trying to age SHG, made her wear really frumpy suits when she was working for Jungmun Resort. That made her looked fat and unattractive. It was a big contrast to LBH's image as Jimmy Kim.

I really like Ji Sung’s character Jung-won. He towed the fine line between good and evil, and even towards the end I could not really make out whether he wears the good cap or the bad one. With his good looks and boyish charms, it was difficult to accept Ji Sung as a baddie. I felt Ji Sung was very good as the ambitious and complicated Jung-won. His love-hate relationship with LBH was also well played out, exhibiting distress and anger in his eyes yet without too much teeth-gnashing.

I wished the writers had expanded the role of Jin-hee, as I felt that they had crafted a strong vibrant character, but did not exploit it sufficiently. There was definitely room to include Jin-hee in the love quadrangle versus stopping at just a love triangle. I could feel the on-screen chemistry Ji-Sung had with Park Sol Mi (PSM), and I was hoping to see some more sparks between them. PSM surprised me with her execution of the mature, confident and smart Jin-hee. Pity the serial did not enable her to do more with her character.

I want to specially mention the character of Jung-ku. As In-ha’s “partner in crime”, Huh Joon Ho was a natural as the unassuming underdog who held his own against the enigmatic LBH. I watched him in “Hotelier” and I hated him as Manager Oh, but as Jung-ku in “All-in”, he has shed all the negative impressions I had of him, and he was another outstanding actor in the cast.

I could not understand the difference in pace in the first half of the serial versus the second part when In-ha returns as the slick casino investor Jimmy Kim. The events from the first time he paired up with Su-yon up till his intended wedding with Su-yon happened relatively quickly (from episode 5 to 13) within the first half of the serial. And the pace slowed down considerably thereon after he wakes up from his coma. He actually did not meet Su-yon till very late, towards the end of the serial (episode 21). I found this extremely inconsistent, and the writers had me on the edge of my seat guessing when they will actually meet again for the third time.

I also find 24 episodes a little short for a serial with so many roles crafted. I don’t know whether anyone noticed, but the scenes of In-ha’s uncle in the nightclub seemed to be filler to make up screen time, versus actually developing the other characters in the serial. I personally enjoyed the sub-plot of Yim Tae-soo and Yoo Jung-ae. As the crook who loves Jung-ae helplessly, he was heartwarming to watch, and heartwrenching to see it end. Unfortunately, the writers did not spin many such tales within the serial.

I was impressed with the loyalty that In-ha’s friend showed. They all stayed loyal, and none strayed from that, which was disappointing as there could be more to play round with on that front, but the writers kept his circle of friends as unimportant roles to the entire storyline, except for Detective Park.

I can’t help but feel that the writers started with ambitious roles, but were not able to expand the story to fit all the interesting characters that they have created. “All-in” could have been an outstanding serial with 5 stars, but the writers did not maximise the serial’s potential.

My favourite scenes
1. In-ha staring at Su-yon when he finds her at the casino
2. In-ha and Su-yon smiling and laughing at each other via the security camera in the casino
3. In-ha kisses Su-yon as she reprimanded him for failing the pop quiz she set for him
4. All scenes when Jung-ku talks about Jenny
5. In-ha wakes up from his coma and mourns his lost love at the beach
6. In-ha as the slick Jimmy Kim in white trench coat
7. In-ha as the slick Jimmy Kim in dark suits with tan-coloured shoes
8. In-ha and Jung-won pitching their skills against each other for the businesses on Cheju Island
9. In-ha's yearning look at Su-yon while she searches for him frantically in the crowd during the volcano show, and Jung-won's "I wish you were dead look" as he observes In-ha from afar
10. In-ha driving Su-yon to his hotel without a word in his car, then seeing Su-yon off while choking on his tears, and Su-yon trying to walk away normally from In-ha (You can just feel the intensity from LBH without him saying much, the fear they both have with meeting each other, and longing that they have for each other! It drove me crazy!)
11. In-ha grabs Su-yon, and punches Jung-won for asking her to leave Jungmun Hotel after he was threatened by Yang Seong Kook.
(As I type out this list I realise that I am obsessed with In-ha!)

What I can’t comprehend
1. When did Jung-won first realise his attraction for Su-yon? There did not seem to be much explanation for any form of attraction, and then bang, it just happens! How strange. I felt it was a little disconnected.
2. Did In-ha have to run away to the States? (Well, I guess the story would have been much shorter than 24 episodes if he didn't)
3. Why did they have to tell Su-yon that In-ha died in the crossfire?
4. How could Michael Jang let In-ha off so easily after he has thrown so much money into the project? He could have easily hired another hitman to take In-ha down
5. For a serial about gambling, there were not that many gambling scenes.

“All-in” grows on the audience, and it is a must see for any LBH fans as he is really the key attraction and the soul of the entire serial. Unlike some Korean serials that provoke emotional outpours in every other scene, “All-in” is much subtler. I have watched it 3 times, and every time I loved it more.

P.S. Found traces of the off-screen romance onscreen for LBH and SHG in their first reunion, but not in the 2nd and 3rd one. Defintely saw the off-screen romance onscreen for JS and PSM.

P.S. I Loved the OST as well. My favourites are the ballads by "Who" and "Purple Rain" by Yatz. Both are very sexy and give the listener a strong sense of yearning.

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