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?
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.