Strike Love (a.k.a. 2009 Alien Baseball Team, 2009) is rekindling memories of my past, in ways sweet and sheepish.
Sweet because I remember similar scenes of sitting on the beach, my head resting on my first love’s shoulder. The two of us barely fifteen, unaware that prolonged exposure to the sun could cause skin cancer. Ah, the innocence of youth!
Sheepish because when I was young Eom-ji’s age, I didn’t possess half her maturity. Observe how maternal she is towards Hye-sung, hearken at the wise words that spew forth from her tender lips! In contrast, at thirteen I was prone to daydreaming (about inconsequential things) and nothing I said left an impression, even on myself.
But enough about childish yours truly. Let’s get to the drama, or specifically to…
A DISH CALLED WONDER.
Because he is every bit dishy and wonderful, yes, he is.
The first time I saw Yoon Tae-young, he was playing Ho Gae in Legend.
Now, whatever my feelings toward that 2007 drama, there’s no denying Yoon Tae-young’s solid acting there, even if he did play a love-spurned warrior sporting an expression alternately forlorn and furious. (You would be, too, if your object of desire is constantly pining for her object of desire, the Yonsama himself! It’s enough to drive a man to war.)
Fast forward two years, from period to sports drama, and he’s now a baseball player!
And when he’s not on the pitch, he’s modeling for a series of limited-edition postcards:
(Help yourself to the first two, but third postcard is MINE.)
Yoon Tae-young plays the adult Oh Hye-sung. His young self is played by… Oops, I have no idea. I searched everywhere for his name, but obviously child actors aren’t considered important enough to be listed in the cast info, even if they sometimes act better than the adults. (Not in this drama, of course. ^^)
Young Hye-sung has a gift that will interest wannabe robbers and shame Goliath. The boy is a marvel with stones or anything small that can be thrown… such as a baseball. (Get used to it, since said ball makes an appearance in the drama once every… five seconds? Yes, hammer home that motif, dear director. We forgetful folks sure need reminding what genre this is.)
(By the way, could you help me scrutinize that wound on Eom-ji’s knee above and tell me if such a wound is severe enough to cause its sufferer temporary loss of mobility and even consciousness? I’ve fallen plenty of times, bled much more, and never once become comatose. So much drama on account of a penny-sized scrape, aigoo.)
Hye-sung’s arm power is exploited by a Lee Jun-ki lookalike who runs (pun intended) a gang of petty thieves, all around Hye-sung’s age. Hye-sung throws, victim falls (and drops wallet, handbag, bank vault, whatever), and gang leader grabs (loot) and runs. (And portions out measly share to Hye-sung.)
With the little that he makes from thieving, filial Hye-sung buys rice for his jobless drunkard and gambler of a dad. (He really ought to be buying a shaver instead, don’t you agree? The guy looks like he got marooned on some deserted island while out fishing one day.)
Hye-sung’s life is naturally hard because of his dad.
Enter Choi Eom-ji (name unknown, but the adult version is played competently by Kim Min-jung), a thirteen-year-old girl who looks four but acts like she’s forty.
Witnessing Hye-sung at “work” one afternoon, Eom-ji develops an inexplicable urge to mother, I mean protect, him. So she arranges to sit next to him in class (she just joined the school), she encourages him to use his talent for something more useful (such as baseball, ha!), and she even christens him with a cute nickname.
(I like the child actor playing Eom-ji, but wish she would act her age instead of all maternal-like. Still, she is really sweet.)
Eom-ji’s dad is a baseball coach (we didn’t see that coming by a mile, of course) and she has a younger sister who has eyes that are twice as large as hers. (Never fear, though, because the passing years will enlarge Eom-ji’s eyes in ways that a scalpel can’t.) She also has a suitor, Ma Dong-tak, who is quite the looker even if he’s prone to jealous outbursts.
Who can blame the green-eyed monster rearing its head in Dong-tak?
Like I said earlier, Eom-ji is sweet. But until she learns she can’t hold hands with two guys in quick succession, she is trrrouble.
Anyway, our girl is innocence and initiative in one package, so who can resist her? Not Hye-sung. Not when she’s like his shadow, always following him and making sure he’s safe, even if it means scarring her own knee just a tad.
Speaking of following, guess who should appear in Strike Love? Yes, none other than Eun-sung’s alive-but-considered-dead father from Brilliant Legacy. I also just watched him last week in Spotlight as Woo-jin’s dad! Gosh, am I being stalked?!
Our man in shades is Son Byung-ho (Jun In-taek), a baseball coach. He comes to town one day and oh, happens to sit behind Hye-sung at a packed baseball stadium while our lad is watching a game.
From that vantage point (staring at Hye-sung’s back), the coach is able to discern that there’s fire in Hye-sung’s eyes. (Give him the benefit of the doubt, please; odder things have happened. The chap might not even be human, thus the “alien” in Alien Baseball Team? Just a conjecture.)
So he trails Hye-sung and watches him and Dong-tak pitch and bat against each other. Hye-sung loses, is despondent, until a pair of legs appears mysteriously before him and a hand passes him a name card. (You’ve got to hand it to the coach, seriously. That’s what I call divine scouting!)
It’s one thing to lose to snooty Dong-tak. Not a big deal when you consider what else is happening in Hye-sung’s life. His dad is in jail and Eom-ji is moving away!
(I don’t know how much worldly possessions Eom-ji’s family owns, but it sure is unbelievable that she has no inkling of the impending move until minutes before the event. Share packing tips, Eom-ji’s mom!)
The move is heartbreaking for our young sweethearts. I get teary (my first tears in the drama) when I see him pitching the ball for her in the distance as her train races past. How sweet… and sad.
With Eom-ji’s departure, the trajectory of a baseball propels our drama magically forward and in mere seconds we see our couple all grown up.
Hye-sung is now clad in a baseball player’s garb and practises pitching in pristine surroundings comprising cliffs and brooks and waterfalls. (Hence those “postcards” earlier.)
Three possibilities here, you choose. 1) There’s a severe shortage of playing grounds. 2) He’s deranged. 3) It’s a seasonal pilgrimage for him, a return to the mountain where he first carried a (mildly) wounded Eom-ji on his back. Whatever the reason, I suspend judgment and just soak up the scene. The guy looks so yummy it’s illegal!
Eom-ji, on the other hand, is as far removed from nature as she can possibly be. Surrounded by consumables–clothes, shoes, accessories–our girl is studying fashion design. She’s also being courted by Dong-tak (Park Sung-min), now a professional baseball player and supposedly crème de la crème. (Hence the size of his ego.)
Dong-tak woos Eom-ji by raining bling-bling on her and she collects the stash, which is all the more puzzling when you consider she really isn’t all that fond of him, or so she claims. Apparently he’s been caring for her family after her dad passed away and that gives him ownership over her. (The guy’s been nothing but possessive since we first saw him.) A big function is coming up and he insists she accompanies him.
(You can tell how much she’s enjoying the function by that look on her face. Cracks me up.)
Also at the function venue is Hye-sung, there to meet his old neighborhood buddy and partner in crime, Baek Doo-san (Im Hyun-sung). Both have forged a strong bond over the years from being underlings in that gang of petty thieves.
Portly as before but noticeably more appealing (he did seem rather dull when he was younger), Doo-san is ecstatic to see his old friend and the two leap into each other’s arms. Aww…
Hye-sung and Eom-ji miss seeing each other by inches at the function grounds (insert mild swearing). He realizes belatedly that she could be Eom-ji and runs after her, but she has gone home in a huff, struggling to contain her angry tears on the bus. (The crying’s got nothing to do with Hye-sung; she’s just mad with Dong-tak.) Once home she takes out Hye-sung’s old pics and drawings and gazes at them lovingly and happily. (The shift in Eom-ji’s emotions is just so abrupt and jarring. Or maybe she’s the sort who doesn’t stay mad or down for long. Still, really awkward transition there.)
The next day while in school, Eom-ji is startled to see a series of messages on the ground. They lead to a spot where who else but Dong-tak is waiting, flowers in hand.
(You’ve got to give the guy props for being creative, even if the creativity borders on corny. Most girls would squeal with delight at being so ardently pursued, and by a national sports figure, too!)
Dong-tak gives Eom-ji a diamond ring to add to her burgeoning collection, she accepts it reluctantly (the guy practically pressed it into her flesh!), and then goes home and decides enough is enough. She will reject his proposal, she will return every bling-bling to him. (About time, don’t you think, dear Eom-ji?) So she heads for the training grounds where Dong-tak is, ready to shatter his heart.
(I don’t follow baseball, so I don’t know if it’s normal for a pro player to wear glasses, but Park Sung-min sure looks like he belongs in an office rather than out on the field, don’t you think?)
Eom-ji tells Dong-tak that he’s just a brother to her; she has no romantic feelings for him and in fact resents his control over her life. (I’m firmly on Hye-sung’s side, of course, but I can’t help feeling sorry for Dong-tak here. Hope nourished and dashed is always painful to watch. His eyes redden and I reach automatically for a tissue to give to him.)
Meanwhile, also at the training venue is our Hye-sung, there to attend the Yoosung Seobu’s tryouts. He’s impressive, did anyone expect otherwise? (^^)
I lean forward, holding my breath for the inevitable. And here it comes… Eom-ji running out, Dong-tak chasing her, Hye-sung witnessing it all…
And thus the second episode ends, on that most spine-tingling of notes.
Now, if you would excuse me, I have a dish to gobble up. Episode 3, here I come!