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My Lovely Boxer: Episodes 7-8

With the first fight out of the way and a couple of months until the next match, our story turns to our characters’ emotional journeys. Both our boxer and her manager encounter setbacks in their personal lives that leave them emotional and raw, but will these experiences bring them closer together or pull them apart?

 
EPISODES 7-8

This week’s episodes should come with a warning label because I was not expecting a drama about boxing to punch me (pun intended) in the feels so hard. Oh sure, after Tae-young got beat up and kidnapped by the excessively violent gambling syndicate, I was anticipating some turmoil, but more of the anxious variety. I expected Tae-young’s desperation and urgency to appease his debtors to put him on edge and make him less patient with Kwon-sook.

Outwardly, aside from some bruises and a hairline fracture to one of his ribs — which he totally downplays — he’s relatively the same. He continues to oversee Kwon-sook’s training in the usual manner while continuously working behind the scenes to ensure that Kwon-sook’s (now confirmed) fight against Ah-reum goes according to plan. Except, Tae-young decided to deviate from his original deal with Kwon-sook.

Although she is still steadfast in her decision to quit the sport, Tae-young sees something in her that makes him believe she would love fighting once she grows accustomed to training in a more positive environment and without her father’s abusive, heavy-handed tactics. At the very least, with her talent, he believes she should try to see if a new environment will foster a love for the sport.

Without Kwon-sook knowing, Tae-young has been courting sponsors in the United States. Although I thought this was initially a tactic to drive up the hype for Kwon-sook and Ah-reum’s fight, it seems he legitimately wants her to build a career in the U.S., where the greedy match-riggers will have a harder time blackmailing Tae-young — and by extension Kwon-sook — into doing their bidding.

To ensure they both have this opportunity available to them, Tae-young instructs Kwon-sook to fight all the rounds and lose the match by the judges’ decision instead of being knocked out by Ah-reum. He tells her this will be more believable and lessen the likelihood that they will be suspected of throwing the match, but the truth is that this kind of loss will leave the door open for Kwon-sook to have a future in boxing.

But Kwon-sook’s insistence that she retire after her next match is so strong that she won’t change her mind for anyone — not even Jae-min, who finally shows her his true colors. I, for one, am immensely pleased that he revealed his inner weasel so soon, but am I the only one that actually liked him (and Kim Jin-woo’s acting) more when he stopped being the sickeningly sweet and attentive boyfriend?

He’s been subtly trying to lay the groundwork to be Kwon-sook’s future agent all along, but he finally reaches the point where he cannot hold it in any longer, and asks her more directly to sign with him when her contract with Tae-young ends. The idiot really jumped the gun, too. So sure was he that her smitten-kitten-ness would have her jumping on board to be his client, that he quit his job. It’s a pretty idiotic thing to do, but if your mom is your former boss, then I guess it’s not as reckless of a move as it would have been for most people.

Thankfully, Kwon-sook’s desire to quit boxing is stronger than her affection for Jae-min and she stands her ground when she realizes his affection for her is contingent on her helping him build his own sports agency. As emotionally strong as she was during their disagreement and subsequent break-up, Kwon-sook is still brokenhearted over the demise of her first relationship. Plus — obviously — the betrayal of realizing he was just using her for his own personal gain.

Given that Tae-young is also secretly making plans for Kwon-sook to have a long-term career, we can’t say that he’s a saint in comparison to Jae-min, but Tae-young can at least read Kwon-sook. He senses that something is wrong, and he steps in to cheer her up. It’s not long before Kwon-sook is past the worst of her sadness and is able to answer an interview question about past relationships calmly and with a sense of bittersweet detachment.

And maybe some of that detachment has to do with the fact that Kwon-sook is starting to develop romantic feelings for Tae-young. The signs are subtle — because even she hasn’t picked up on them — but they’re there and most obviously manifest when she sees Tae-young and Soo-yeon (who wants to restart their relationship) together. Despite being exes, there’s still a comfortable familiarity between the former lovers that leaves Kwon-sook feeling like a third wheel, especially when Tae-young leans on Soo-yeon when his world comes crashing down on him.

After sending KIM HEE-WON (Choi Jae-woong) to Taiwan to continue his baseball career, Tae-young believes his friend is safely out of harm’s way. What Tae-young doesn’t know, though, is that the match-riggers haven’t left Hee-won alone, and so he commits suicide overseas, leaving behind a three-page confession of his involvement with the match-fixing.

The news absolutely destroys Tae-young, and the scenes depicting his grief and depression were the definition of perfection. When he tries to leave for the funeral without his shoes — oof! Kwon-sook takes care of him passively, making him porridge for him and ensuring he eats, but she worries that he’s closeted himself in his room.

Unable to coax him out into the light, she asks Soo-yeon for help, and Soo-yeon takes a more aggressive approach by breaking into Tae-young’s space and offering him a shoulder to cry on. Kwon-sook observes the intimate moment as an outsider and is envious of their connection. Meanwhile, the fresh flowers she purchased to try and cheer him up are on the floor next to their shattered vase.

Struggling to find her own means of helping Tae-young, Kwon-sook continues to assist in quiet little ways in between her training sessions. One day, during her morning run, the husband of the nice neighborhood halmoni, who always gives her candy, asks about her “boyfriend” (Tae-young). When Kwon-sook — without correcting him, mind you — explains that Tae-young is going through a rough time, he motivates her to find her own way of helping Tae-young climb out of the darkness.

Inspired by a technique that once worked for her, Kwon-sook forcefully drags Tae-young out of bed and into the boxing ring. With instructions to try and punch her, Kwon-sook riles him up until he reaches his emotional breaking point and cries. This scene, y’all. This scene was everything, and both actors deserve awards (and certainly better viewer ratings) for this scene alone.

After Tae-young’s cathartic crying session, he gradually rejoins the world and Kwon-sook on her daily runs, but now that Tae-young has overcome his debilitating grief, he’s become focused on finding justice for Hee-won. The match-rigging syndicate has gone underground since Hee-won’s death prompted an investigation into the claims Hee-won made in his suicide letter, but it’s only a matter of time before they resurface and come after Tae-young for the money he owes them.

All signs point to Tae-young going rogue and on the offensive to gather the evidence he needs to entrap them, and the biggest sign of them all is that he’s severing his connections with the people who could be harmed either directly by the match-riggers or indirectly if his involvement with the match-fixing is exposed. Most importantly, Tae-young steps down from his company and hands Kwon-sook’s management over to his junior.

She’s distraught by the news, partially because of the feelings she’s starting to develop for him, but equally by the betrayal. What about their plan for her to throw the match and retire into obscurity? He tells her that she can throw the match (or not), but either way it will be on her terms and without him (and the goons chasing him) pressuring her into it.

Although it devastates Kwon-sook to see him rip up their contract, Tae-young earned major brownie points with me this week. Not only is he giving Kwon-sook the autonomy to make her own decisions, but he’s also protecting her by giving her the room to disassociate herself from him — and any potential match-fixing scandals he may be implicated in. Because, even though Hee-won didn’t name any names, a lot of eyes are on Tae-young, Hee-won’s agent with a bad reputation.

I still feel like there is a maturity gap between our leading characters, but the gap feels smaller now. Interestingly, the writers won me over by directly addressing the disparity that I’d been feeling. Kwon-sook felt it, too, when she watched Tae-young lean into Soo-yeon comfort and found herself lacking. I appreciate that Kwon-sook then took conscious steps to grow and become someone Tae-young could lean on.

After the boxing scene between Tae-young and Kwon-sook, I definitely feel like Kwon-sook’s emotional maturity has increased. Now I’m just waiting on Tae-young to make a move that’s clearly romantic and cannot be confused with the same care and attentiveness he’s shown to all the athletes under his care.

 
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Interestingly, I found the maturity gap in episode 8 obviously bigger than in the previous episodes. Maybe the drama will do a time jump at the end, for example when Kwon-sook is in the US. I think that would be a good solution.

Otherwise, I'm so glad I didn't throw in the towel after episode 1, but gave the drama a chance. It got better episode by episode.

I had to laugh out loud at Kwon-sook's stunned expression as she watched Jo A-ra interact with her fans. If I had looked in the mirror, I would have had the same expression for sure.

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If their romance is endgame, I'm with you in that I -- for once -- hope there is a time skip. The gap got a little smaller this week, but it's still too large for me to believe they could be a long-term couple. Everything else about this drama feels so rooted in reality that I need to see them connect in a thoughtful and realistic manner before I'll believe. Their relationship is still that of a caring manager and a boxer with a crush, for me, but after this week, I could see it growing into something more -- maybe -- with a lot more time than the four episodes we have left. A time jump could be a solution, but even then I don't want to jump and see them in a relationship. I want to skip ahead and see a moment where you just know something has undeniably changed about their dynamic and romance is on the horizon for them.

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Nooooooooooooooooo, what do you mean only 4 episodes left? This isn’t 16 episodes?
This is tragic 😢

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Sadly, it's only 12 episodes. :-(

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I'm on-board for the romance whether it happens before or after a time skip, but it does seem more likely than not that we'll get a jump at the end. The thing about the US trip that confuses me is that unlike DaebakGrits, I didn't feel that Tae-young was pushing it because he truly believed Kwon-sook would be happy boxing if it was in another setting away from her father's harsh tactics. I thought he was rationalizing his behavior by saying that, but really, he was only motivated by a desire to get out of Korea and away from the loan sharks.

So I'm not sure if it makes sense for her to go to the US, with or without him. I believe her when she says she wants to stop boxing (although I could see her happy teaching or coaching); it's not clear to me why she would ultimately go abroad to do something she still doesn't want to do. I'm wondering if Tae-young will go to the US by himself (maybe after he and Kwon-sook make it clear to each other that their feelings are mutual, but that now is not the time for a relationship) to get away from the loan sharks, and maybe also to escape any fallout that happens when his ties to them are revealed in the media (which I do think is inevitable). In the meantime, Kwon-sook could go on with her life, be a coach or teacher, keep in touch with him for a year or so, and then when he returns I could see the show suggesting that they will date then. Just a random prediction :)

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Maybe I missed something... but I think that moving to US was just a deal he had to make to get the match they needed. I didn't get the impression he wanted to go there to escape from the loan sharks. But I could be wrong. Not sure if he now truly believes that moving to US could be good for Kwon Sook.

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Yes, you're correct. I was thinking that getting away from the loan sharks became his motivation after the fact, and again, it's doubtful to me that any part of this was him truly believing that this is what Kwon-sook wants as well.

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Surprisingly, the age gap became a problem for me with every new episode. Kwon sook calls him ahjussi, Tae Young prepares her meals and mirrors her father's actions to comfort her. As much as I like both leads individually, I need a time skip to get abroad that ship.

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The age gap has been an issue for me from the start, and that hasn't diminished, but it's the power differential between athlete and coach that really bothers me and the show has done nothing to lessen that. There are a lot of things about this show that I love, but I'm kind of dreading ANY romance because that still feels so wrong. As you say, he's still both acting like a parent/coach - and he's still hiding things from her that would materially affect her career choices, which makes him not much better than the sneaky vice-principal.

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I do believe the writer has in mind something to fix the age gap problem. They could have made the age gap smaller easily from the start of this story. So I hope they will deal with it properly.

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Very good point about the relationship between agent and athlete. It probably looks imbalanced here mostly because of the age gap.
About the second part of your comment... I'm still not sure if he really meant what he said to Kwon Sook about going to US to keep boxing. I do wonder if he really meant it or if he said it because he had to... because of the whole situation. Still I agree he needs to treat her like an equal and really start to talk to her.

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For me, there's a difference between agent and athlete and coach and athlete. The latter is the same to me as teacher/student in that the power dynamic is clearly skewed towards the teacher/coach who evaluates the student/athlete and determines how or whether or not they can compete or move forward in their field. As far as I understand it, agents function more as representatives and in some cases, friends and family members. They negotiate for and support the athlete, but because the athlete employs them--and not the other way around--I don't see a real power imbalance there.

That said, the one big criticism I have of the storyline is that the main theme of Kwan-sook's arc seems to be that none of the men in her life actually listen to what she's saying. Her father, Jae-min, and Tae-young all have and continue to ignore her when she says she doesn't like to box and would rather teach, date, and maybe start a family. They all decide that either she must not know herself as well as they do OR they know what she's saying is true, but it's not convenient for *them* so they ignore it. Either way, it's offensive and annoying and the show does need to attend to this at some point. But I think that issue is outside of the fact that Tae-young is Kwon-sook's agent--it's more about how he's relating to her at this point in this life, and being in the kind of financial bind he's in. For them to have a real romantic relationship, that dynamic needs to change, regardless if he remains her agent or not.

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Tae-young have nothing to lost now, he did everything to protect his friend/sportive, so now he will go against gambling syndicate.

I was happy he cut his ties with Kwon-Sook to protect her from this battle. But I think it's too late. The gambling syndicate won't hesitate to attack her if it can help them.

Kwon-Sook is finally realizing her fer feelings. She isn't lucky with the men she loves.

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I don't think what she felt for her first boyfriend was love. It was infatuation, the desire to be in a relationship, to finally discover what a kiss was. The fact that it wasn't love is best demonstrated by how quickly she recovered from the disappointment. In addition, at the same time, when she was in a relationship for a short time, her love for the ML character was born. I would call FL's relationship with her ex-boyfriend a puppy love that was experienced after the age of 20, when in most cases this type of feeling is experienced as a teenager. I don't think it would leave a scar on her memory because she didn't really care about him as a specific person.

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I think she was in love with him. She spent a lot of time with him at school crushing on him. It wasn't deep but still.

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I think it's one of those things where her feelings for him were as strong as they could be for anyone at that time in her life, but that in retrospect, she'll look back at them as infatuation. The biggest test will be in how fast she gets over him. If she has already moved on and he is no longer in her heart (which still remains to be seen), then I don't think we can look at her feelings for him as anything other than attraction and infatuation. But if she finds herself pulled back in, or wanting to believe he has changed because she sincerely wants to be with him again (and not because she's trying to make Tae-young jealous or get over *him*) then I'll think it was love.

At this point, I suspect the whole purpose of this relationship and her feelings for Jae-min was to contrast with what's between she and Tae-young (i.e. puppy love vs. real love). But obviously, that isn't clear yet.

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I really like the love story between the main characters, it's as realistic as a drama can be. These characters slowly get to know each other and discover their own feelings. But they do not immediately make declarations of love and promises of eternal love, because their realities do not allow it at the moment.

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Oh, damn, I love this drama. I'm kind of obsessed. I'm already sooo looking forward to the new episodes! Give them to me NOW. And the previews are so evilly deceiving XD but it's okay, I forgive them.

These two episodes gave me all the feels. I love these characters. And the interactions between the two leads are just delightful. Love how their relationship is slowly growing... I was kind of tired of the love at first sight that we keep seeing in many dramas.
I ship them with all my heart, even if I must admit that the age difference is real and well shown in the drama. I wonder how they will deal with it.
I see the creepy boyfriend is back next week... hope just to be sent to hell forever together with the father.
Hope Tae-young will be able to tell the truth to our lovely boxer at some point. She deserves it and it would do him good.

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I was a bit late to this show but have now caught up, though it was nice to be able to binge the first 6 episodes.
I am really loving it. 
The quality of the writing and characters is fantastic. Well done to the writer for making such messy, morally grey characters be so interesting and thought provoking.
I have never seen Lee Sang Yeob in anything before but wow, he is so charismatic and amazing in this. He owns the screen when he is in the scene, there is something about his 'presence'.
He reminds me of Namkoong Min, they are in a league of their own.
Kudos to him for the grief scenes, that would have taken a lot out of him, it was so believable.
Kim So-hye is also well cast in this role. In contrast, she looks young, soft, sweet and a bit naive in love but in the ring she is a hard, formidable opponent and has had to grow up quickly because of her father. 
My only gripe would be the actress who plays Jo ar-a, I find her a bit annoying and her plot line boring.
 Keep up the great work show. 
Thanks for the recaps DaebakGrits.

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Abslutely agree. It's also my first time seeing Lee Sang Yeob work and I need to check his other dramas. He is seriously good.

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I first saw him in the long family drama Once Again. His character there is mostly comedic and he is super funny in that role. Totally different from this show.

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I liked him in WYS as a villain. A much more nuanced and likeable character here tho.

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I'm missing something because the agent took on the baseball player's debt and that was the whole reason he got involved with the game rigger guys. If he took on that debt, why would they still harass or threaten or whatever happened with the baseball player?

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I think they told him about the debt Tae-young had taken on hoping to reel him in again. Hoping that to help his friend, he would help them rig a game (not sure about what he would be able to abroad). Or simply they wanted to mess with him because they are bastards and thought he was getting away too easily...

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I absolutely love the leads and am in awe of the writing/directing/acting but not in love with the gangster story even though I can see that the stakes are high because of it. I find myself fast forwarding the violent scenes.
Not expecting a HEA here. I can see how the ML could sacrifice himself to protect the FL. Hoping I'm wrong.
Lee Sang-yeob is truly something else here! The anger scene in the ring was fabulous.

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I thought these two episodes were the most emotionally impactful yet. Hee-won's suicide was genuinely shocking to me, and although I never warmed up entirely to that character or his relationship with Tae-young (the actors didn't have any bromance chemistry, imo), this twist was still very powerful. I appreciate the way the show isn't glossing over any of the many negative realities of dealing with mercenary, well organized criminals who have you in their pocket. I really feel for Hee-won's family (even though the show clearly didn't want to dwell on their grief, I know this will be the most traumatic for them).

In contrast, Tae-young's grief was achingly real and well played. It did serve to bring him closer to Kwon-sook, and for her to realize her feelings for him run deeper than she realized, but the situation was never trivialized. I cringed when Kwon-sook decided the way to help Tae-young was to teach him to box, as it seemed so inadequate and mirrored how she once bonded with Jae-min. But I shouldn't have doubted the show--once again, it created a character-driven, touching scene of healing without resorting to cliches or drama magic. I believed that Tae-young was ready to vent his anger, that he would be that awkward and clumsy at throwing a punch, and that in the end, having Kwon-sook push him as he pushed her would be enough for him to open up. It was beautifully done.

As much as I hate noble idiocy, what Tae-young did at the end was perhaps the most selfless and loving thing he could have for Kwon-sook. It is dangerous for her on every level for him to continue to be her agent and go forward with their plan. It would also be unfair to her in other ways. Even though, as I've argued before, I don't think these two are that far apart in emotional maturity, right now Tae-young is simply not in a place where he can be a real partner to her--not because of her age, but because of the circumstances and reality of his life right now. I'm not sure if he sensed that her feelings have now shifted, but if he did, then that's another reason why it was absolutely the right thing for him to draw a clear line so she can live her life as she wants. That doesn't mean I don't want them to work this out somehow and be good partners to each other, especially now that Kwon-sook seems poised to accept that she's feeling a lot more than platonic affection for Tae-young. But things do have to evolve, and now it's Tae-young who has to grow up and figure out a way out of this mess that won't hurt others or himself.

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Totally agree <3 lovely comment!

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Hae Won is an example of a guy who has never done anything in life besides playing baseball. I feel terrible for saying that because he genuinely seemed like a good person, but the guy's lack of foresight is just ridiculous. What exactly was his suicide supposed to achieve? The surgery can still get canceled, the thugs would not suddenly leave Tae Young alone and now Hee Won's kid has to live without a father. One would think that the suicide note exposing the gambling syndicate would have at least something about that syndicate, but nope. Hee Won just kills himself saying that he was forced to lose a game.

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It's hard to understand why he would unleash this kind of generational trauma on his wife and son, both of whom adore him. Clearly, even with Tae-young taking on the initial debt, the loan sharks were never going to leave him alone. I know Hae won felt stuck and ashamed, but I was thinking he might end up quitting and working with law enforcement to bring down the gambling ring.

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I have little to add to @daebakgrits and @laurensophie's excellent interpretations, except to say that I'm still unconvinced that the end will see the two leads in an actual romantic relationship. Of course in these episodes we do see Kwon-sook falling in love with Tae-Young, and perhaps Tae-Young will reciprocate those feelings by the end. But I think it far more likely that this story ends with them separate, both of them having used their feelings and experiences together to grow.

Alternatively, and I hope this doesn't happen, Tae-young could get in real trouble with the gangsters, and it will be Kwon-sook alone who is recalling those experiences. As I said last week, though, I'm not sure about the direction of this one, the way I can be about some of the more badly written fantasies.

But I would also like to pay tribute to the acting, especially of the leads, but also of the secondary characters. Park Ji-hwan has been great as the falsely empathetic, underlying menacing gangster. Kim Jin-woo does not have much presence, and I won't be looking for him in other dramas, but he has made me dislike his character intensely, so that's something.
I think Chae Won-bin is really good as the driven but frustrated champion, and Han Da-sol is hilarious with her social media aegyo. (I tell you, that fake cutesiness never fails to crack me up when it appears in shows or kpop promos. I don't think I'll ever see it in real life, but if I did I'd burst out laughing.)
Obviously, though its the two leads, who are carrying this show. As @daebakgrits said, that was a really convincing portrayal of grief and frustration by Lee Sang-Yeob--on the edge of overacting, but just realistic enough that it moistened my eyes a little bit.
But its Kim So-Hye who, for me, makes this show worth watching. I do not really find her convincing as a boxer--the other actors are much more realistic in that regard, to be honest, but as a character she is very appealing. Her smile when her character is happy is radiant, and yet she is also really effective at conveying sadness, irritation and resolve. I'm really rooting for things to work out for her character, even if it does mean an implausible May-September romance!

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Age gape will be the same after time skip, she is of age, I have no problem if she likes an older guy, he is her manager, but only till their deal is over and he actually already not managing her personally, so I don’t need a time skip for them to be together

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In a drama where every episode is better than the last, this week took the cake. Amazing acting, a beautiful OST and such gripping writing. My heart broke when she said she’d even go to the US and play a sport she hates just to be with him. God, this drama is so underrated.

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My Lovely Boxer is criminally under appreciated!

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