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Worth the Watch: "Love All Play"

When it was released in April 2022, Love All Play garnered viewership ratings of 1.9% on South Korean channel SBS. It was the highest it ever reached, and at its lowest point, rated below 1%. It was broadcast in select territories of Disney+ where it generated some buzz online, but it never really took off.

Poor ratings are strange things. Now that South Korean audiences are not the only viewers of their show, a show (and its actors) may actually still garner some success even if it doesn't do well locally. Love All Play did not make it to my radar when it first came out, but when I watched it recently, I wish it had received more love. Here's why.

The Plot

Child prodigy Park Tae-yang (Park Ju-hyun, The Forbidden Marriage) unexpectedly disappeared from competitive badminton three years prior. Now that she’s decided to come back, she can’t shake off bribery rumors and her new team’s bad opinion of her. She crosses paths with badminton professional Park Tae-joon (Chae Jong-hyeop, Nevertheless) who is naturally gifted but seems to take his talent for granted. Along with the rest of their teammates, they must learn to work together if they’re ever to have a future in their sport. Rounding out the cast are Tae-joon’s sister played by Park Ji-hyun (Reborn Rich), his rival played by Kim Mu-jun, and Seo Ji-hye (no, not the one from Crash Landing On You).

The Review

Love All Play, whose literal title is Going to You at a Speed of 493km (in reference to the world record for the fastest badminton hit), is ironically a slow-moving romance drama that focuses more on character development than plot. It takes its sweet time to watch the characters come into their own with the help of the things they learn on and off the badminton court.

Since it is a sports drama, it delivers exciting scenes on the court. But contrary to the zipping speed of the shuttlecock, the characters are given the time and space to mull over their past choices, build lasting relationships, and allow their dreams to unfold. And this is the drama’s biggest strength. It doesn’t allow itself to be pushed into useless subplots that are just there for shock factor or scene fillers. There is no need to fill scenes because life is captivating enough.

Relative newcomers Chae Jong-hyeop and Park Ju-hyun aren’t (yet) super big-name stars and are completely believable as young wide-eyed athletes just waiting for their big break in sports and in love. Their Romeo and Juliet-esque love story is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. Can’t the world just give a break to two people who are obviously meant for each other?

But a pure k-drama love like theirs isn’t simply handed on a silver platter and so they must find a way to work through it—yet another plus for this drama. There are no noble idiots here, no super extended unexplained ghosting by one person with a two-year time gap. These two actually communicate and talk about the direction their relationship takes through various stages.

The whole drama, in fact, displays love in its many different forms. Multiple couples display the usual tropes: unresolved feelings for someone’s first love, unrequited love, and secret lovers. There’s also the complex love between parents and children, coaches and athletes, siblings, and among teammates. It’s a great little snapshot of life through the eyes of young adults who have been burned by life but refuse to become jaded.

This hopeful little gem of a drama with its subtle themes of regret and redemption ought to have been appreciated more. It’s the kind that should be savored and not just binged because it has much more to offer.

It may not have done well in the ratings, but in my book Love All Play is a win.

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