Love All Play: Episodes 1-2 (First Impressions)
Lace up your sneakers, Beanies, because our latest sports drama is also a race — make that a sprint — towards romance. Set in the world of professional badminton, Love All Play is a youthful love story about two people who play the sport for vastly different reasons.
Editor’s note: Continued drama coverage is pending based on Beanie feedback.
EPISODES 1-2 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I knew I would be checking out Love All Play when it was announced because I’m an absolute sucker for an underdog sports drama that has a side of romance. Our leading pair — both on and off the badminton court — waste no time getting their flirt on, so I think it’s safe to say that the romance isn’t going to be overshadowed by the sporty vigors and competitive battles of the badminton world.
PARK TAE-JOON (Chae Jong-hyeop) treats badminton like a job. He’s not on the court for fun or prestige, but for that sweet, sweet salary that pays for his sneaker addiction. So when his doubles partner is injured during a match and wants to play through the pain, Tae-joon forfeits on his partner’s behalf. No “job” is worth permanent physical damage.
But Tae-joon doesn’t just quit the match. He decides to quit playing badminton altogether and focus on starting a coaching career. After packing up his locker, he goes out drinking with his former teammates, and they just so happen to choose the same dive bar as team Yunis, a professional badminton team composed of several former and current national players.
The rivalry between the two teams is less than friendly, but Tae-joon offers to mend fences and cover Yunis’s tab. Thinking they have a free meal, a few members of Yunis order a bunch of expensive menu items and intentionally drive up the bill… which Tae-joon then skips out on.
PARK TAE-YANG (Park Joo-hyun), Yunis’s newest team member, offers to pay the expensive bill, but her generosity is barely appreciated. Once a prodigy and national team member, Tae-yang’s now a pariah in the badminton world. Rumor has it, she disappeared three years ago in order to avoid a bribery scandal, but Tae-yang’s one-sided conversation with an arcade game outside the bar reveals that she’s too poor to have bribed any officials. Whatever the truth is, though, she’d rather have her new teammates at Yunis believe the rumor than reveal the real reason for her hiatus.
When Tae-joon sees her outside the bar playing the arcade game, he knows exactly who she is. She also recognizes him… as the guy who walked out on the bill she paid. Tae-joon apologies and repays her with his racket, which he supposedly used while setting the unofficial world record for the fastest smash. Tae-yang, who happens to have the unofficial women’s record in Korea, happily accepts the racket as payment. It’s an item to be treasured.
The next time our leads run into each other is when Tae-joon interviews for a coaching position with Tae-yang’s adoptive father PARK MAN-SOO (Jeon Bae-soo). When Tae-joon sees Man-soo, he realizes that he knows Tae-yang from his childhood.
He once caught her stealing his bike, and in response to her attempted thievery, he’d challenged her to a game of badminton. If she managed to score a point on him, he wouldn’t tattle on her. That playground match not only revealed her to be a prodigy, but it caught the attention of Man-soo, a badminton coach, who adopted her.
Tae-joon puffs up at the realization that he literally changed her life and kick-started her career, but when he gets physically close to her and wants to exchange phone numbers, Tae-yang tells him to back away because she smells sweaty from all her training. When she looks up, Tae-joon is standing comically far away from her, but it’s all a ploy to lure her into standing on the water fountain when it turns on in three… two… one…! Cue a flirty little scene of our couple running through the man-made water geysers.
Later, Man-soo calls Tae-joon to let him know he didn’t get the job. He says Tae-joon should play professionally for five more years first, and so Tae-joon meets with Yunis’s head coach LEE TAE-SANG (Jo Han-chul). Tae-joon’s not terribly interested in being a badminton player anymore, but 1% of him — probably the part that wants to be on the same team as Tae-yang — is hesitant to decline Tae-sang’s offer. When he hears the proposed salary (60 million won), though, that 1% gains a couple of zeros, and he’s all in for team Yunis.
Tae-yang is happy to have the friendly Tae-joon join the team and be her ally, especially once Tae-sang suggests switching up the doubles partners. After watching videos of Tae-joon’s gameplay (and writing his name over and over in her notebook), she sets her sights on Tae-joon as her future mixed doubles partner, but he’s not an easy recruit. Being her partner sounds like a lot of work to him — the badminton equivalent to unpaid overtime. Besides, she’s too short to give him a high-five whenever they score a point.
As expected, though, not everyone is pleased with the newest Yunis additions. YOOK JUNG-HWAN (Kim Mu-joon), a national badminton team member who is famous enough to have fangirls, seems to know the real reason Tae-yang left the sport three years ago — something involving her former doubles partner — and he’s not happy that she’s back. To add insult to injury, when he returns to the Yunis dorms after causing a scene during a press conference, he finds Tae-joon has commandeered his old bed.
Meanwhile, LEE YOUNG-SHIM (Joo Soo-hyang), who is prone to anger outbursts that keep the team on edge, is excessively cold to Tae-yang. They used to be friendly, but Young-shim is bitter that Tae-yang disappeared three years ago without an explanation or a goodbye.
Young-shim challenges Tae-yang to a one-one match and — in front of the entire team and the coaches — and then humiliates Tae-yang, who is still under conditioned and out of practice. The defeat is rough, but Tae-yang presses on and continues to endure the hazing.
Whatever happened three years ago has made her feel like she deserves the punishment, but I’m personally not a fan of Tae-yang’s martyrdom. Much like Tae-joon, who questions why she insists on lying that the bribery scandal is real, I wonder if the big reveal will be worthy of all this self-imposed torture she’s putting herself through.
Tae-yang gets defensive when Tae-joon probes into her past, so she decides that she no longer wants to be his doubles partner. Yes, it would have been beneficial for her to be paired with someone so skilled, but she chose him because she thought she could help him appreciate his own talent.
Although unintentional, her remarks are textbook reverse psychology, and after some time to think — and stare at Tae-yang while she’s sleeping in the infirmary — Tae-joon asks to be her partner. She agrees by taking a running start and jumping to high-five his hand, and thus this week’s introduction to Love All Play ends with the promise of romance and sportsmanship.