Review: Racket Boys

THE SHORT VERDICT:

Essentially, Show is a diamond in the rough; emphasis on diamond, and emphasis on rough, heh. Show is rough around the edges, with one of those rough edges being a pretty scattered sort of approach to storytelling, but the warmth and community feels that it delivers are so good, and so strong, that you end up being more than willing to look past Show’s shortcomings.

The young cast really shines in this, and the adult characters are mostly there as sources of guidance and support, and that’s one of the things that I enjoy most about this show. Our young crew is earnest and competent, and all-around believable, not only as their individual characters, but as the team that they form. The stand-out for me, though, is Tang Joon Sang, whose character kinda functions as our protagonist. He really brings a lot of dimension to the role.

Wholesome and quite excellent, in spite of its flaws.

THE LONG VERDICT:

If Show were a blind date, he’d be the kind of guy with a corny sense of humor, and who’s sometimes a bit socially awkward, but who’s so warm and kind that you can’t help but want to spend more time with him – even as you sometimes groan at his dubiously bad jokes.

..That’s pretty much how I feel about Racket Boys. Flaws and all, I can’t help but feel all warm inside, when I think about this drama and its characters.

If you’d told me just 6 months ago, that I’d be this invested in a story about competitive badminton at the middle-school level, I would’ve found it hard to believe you, and yet, here we are. I was fully invested, and you could even say that I’m hungry for more, because I honestly wouldn’t mind another season with these characters. I like ’em that much. ❤️

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it as you read the review. As a general rule, I found the music in this show breezy and uplifting, which is very much in line with Show’s general vibe. I do find myself having a bit of a soft spot for Track 1, Will Be; it’s so immediately rousing, with its boppy, buoyant sort of feel.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of this one.

1. Show takes a bit of time to warm up, so be a little patient with it. I have to admit that I felt myself floundering a bit in trying to engage with episode 1’s first third, but by the end of the episode, I was having a good time, and looking forward to more episodes.

2. Our story is set in the countryside, so expect a good amount of exploration of the charms and quirks of country living.

3. Show often feels rather scattered, but a good amount of the time, the scattered pieces come together in a way that supports the warm community feels, which I consider Show’s strength. Show’s feel-good community vibes are very similar to the signature vibes of the Reply series, Prison Playbook and Hospital Playlist; the fact that writer-nim was a writer for Prison Playbook definitely shows.

4. The watch experience can be rather uneven. For example, in episode 8, the parts that I found underwhelming, I found really underwhelming – but the parts that worked for me, worked really nicely. It really says something about this show, that even though it has flaws that are quite obvious and sometimes those flaws make me roll my eyes, Show has my heart, and I sincerely enjoy spending time with these characters, and feel invested in what happens to them.

5. Our crew does an impressive job of playing badminton. I’m sure that not all our actors were great badminton players to start with, but those power smashes sure look convincing to my untrained eyes. It definitely feels like our cast worked hard to be able to play credibly as national athletes, and I’m very impressed with that.

STUFF I LIKED

Tang Joon Sang as Hae Kang

I must say, Tang Joon Sang puts in an excellent performance as Hae Kang. He makes Hae Kang’s admittedly odd and unusual layers mesh together in a way that feels organic and believable. In Tang Joon Sang’s hands, I somehow believe that Hae Kang is arrogance, bluster and badassery, while also being a scaredy-cat in some of the most unexpected ways.

My watch of Move To Heaven happened to overlap with my watch of this show, and I have to say, it’s a bit mindbendy, to see Tang Joon Sang in this, being all sullen and sporty, when his character in Move To Heaven is autistic and timid. I’m really impressed with the range that he’s showing, and he’s only 17!

I really enjoyed watching Show tease out Hae Kang’s softer underbelly, underneath the sullen prickliness. Kudos to Show and to Tang Joon Sang, for making Hae Kang’s evolution feel believable and organic, in that Hae Kang most definitely grows, but he does so, without ever losing the essence of himself. Even in his softest, cuddliest moments, I was never given the chance to lose sight of Hae Kang’s more annoying quirks. I found that upped the believability of his journey, and I liked that a lot.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I find Hae Kang an interesting character. On the one hand, he can be arrogant, aloof and surly, and yet, on the other hand, he can be really easily frightened, like in the way he balks at sounds in the night and doesn’t want to sleep alone, and he can be kind too, like how he tapes up the remote control in a way that makes it easier for the Grandma Ome (Cha Mi Kyung) to use it.

E1. What a great twist, that Hae Kang had been a badminton prodigy, since when we are introduced to him, he only has eyes for baseball. I’m curious to know why Hae Kang had quit badminton all of a sudden, when he’d been so good at it, and so competitive too. (Both parents turning out to be badminton coaches was another great twist.)

E2. I rather enjoyed getting to know Hae Kang’s peculiar temper, this episode. He’s turning out to be such an interesting mashup of things. On the one hand, he can be super awkward, and on the other hand, he has these flashes of badassery, like when he refuses to be intimidated by bullies. The way he stands up to those bullies this episode, you’d think that he’s some kind of ace fighter, because he appears so fearless, and he is so firm, in telling off the bullies. And yet, he gets beaten up just like everyone else. It’s oddly endearing.

It’s also endearing, to see him stand up for his teammate without hesitation, and it’s also pretty great to hear him correct the bully, that they play badminton, and not tennis. It all lands with a very united, teamworky sort of feel, so it’s extra interesting to hear Mom (Oh Na Ra) tell Dad (Kim Sang Kyung), that Hae Kang doesn’t care about this teamwork stuff; he’s just got that peculiar of a temper. I’m curious to see how this particular part of Hae Kang develops, because I am so sure that he will definitely start to feel those teamworky community feels, by the time we finish our story.

E2. Ooh. I’m intrigued that Hae Kang seems to have found his lost badminton mojo, by the time he takes the court during the Spring competition. Suddenly, he’s the center of attention, and with Yoon Dam’s (Son Sang Yeon) SNS savvy, I feel like it won’t be long before Hae Kang goes viral and becomes an internet star. Fun!

E3. I also really appreciate the reveal this hour, that even though Hae Kang really loves baseball, he recognizes that his team in Haenam needs him more. That’s really goodhearted of him. He’d delay the gratification of his own baseball dreams, for the greater good of his new community in Haenam. That’s huge, for Hae Kang, and I really like this new development.

E4. This episode, it’s quite poignant to learn more about Hae Kang and what makes him tick. At first, from the flashback to how his classmates in middle school had been completely unimpressed with badminton, and had been all about baseball, I’d thought that he’d switched to baseball, to be where the popularity was, so to speak.

So it’s quite sad, actually, to see that he’d actually quit baseball because of his peers’ poor opinion of his father. He’d told a white lie, that his friends had really enjoyed the hamburgers that Dad had sent to congratulate their victory, when in actual fact, those hamburgers, so proudly given, had gotten thrown in the bin. Ack. That moment when young Hae Kang see the burgers in the bin and picks them out, so that they won’t be thrown away, is so full of pathos. I feel bad for him.

Show isn’t specific (so far), about Hae Kang’s exact reasons for quitting badminton and choosing baseball, but it does appear that it has a lot to do with protecting Dad from the snide remarks of the other boys. They’d dissed Dad in favor of someone else’s dad who’d treated them to barbecue, and if Hae Kang wasn’t on the team, there’d be no more comparison. I think that this was the main reason, and Hae Kang had then just naturally chosen baseball as a substitute.

On a related note, we see from the flashback that Hae Kang had been very considerate, in that he’d even lose a match, if it meant that kids could be saved from being bullied. That’s a very big deal, especially since Hae Kang was known as a badminton prodigy. And the very reason he’d then gone ahead to beat the bully in a game, was because he’d seen the bully treat Se Yoon badly.

Hae Kang’s a lot more relational than he appears.

E5. Hae Kang and his hidden kindness is starting to get to me.

First, there’s the way he secretly sends Yong Tae (Kim Kang Hoon) 300MB of data, because Yong Tae’s been asking everyone, and no one’s said yes. And then later in the episode, we find out that it had been Hae Kang’s idea for Yong Tae to ask his father (Kim Won Sik) for an herbal remedy for Se Yoon’s (Lee Jae In) headaches and insomnia.

Of course, it’s also becoming apparent that Hae Kang has a crush on Se Yoon, but that doesn’t discount the fact that it was a very thoughtful and caring gesture. Plus, there’s the thing where he doesn’t claim any credit for it. If Yong Tae hadn’t said anything, no one would have known that it had actually been Hae Kang who’d first thought of it, and asked Yong Tae to look into it.

E6. How significant, that Hae Kang starts training on his own in earnest, because he wants to win at the competition, so that he can fulfill Hae In’s (Ahn Se Bin) wish for Wifi. That’s sweet.

E6. How cute, that Hae Kang texts Se Yoon to ask her to walk him home because he’s scared to walk home by himself in the dark. Pfft. I was thinking that maybe Hae Kang was faking it, so that he’d have a chance to spend time with Se Yoon, but later, when he really does get terrified by himself in the storm, I conclude that he isn’t faking it after all. 😆

E6. How interesting, that we see that the thing that Hae Kang had ended up clinging to for comfort, during the storm, was his badminton racket. Ahhh! He really is starting to love badminton, and he really is starting to see it as something that brings him solace. I love that.

E7. I like that not only does Coach Yoon give Hae Kang useful advice, Hae Kang actually puts in the work, in order to take advantage of that special advice. It makes total sense, when we finally get to know what that advice is: to build up his strength and stamina, so that he’ll be able to keep his racket up for longer, through the grueling matches. There’s no shortcut, though, and I’m impressed that Hae Kang’s actually willing to put in the hours and the work, even though he’s always made a point of appearing to have a very casual relationship with badminton.

This makes me feel that badminton, and the badminton boys alongside, are more important to Hae Kang now, than before. I like that a lot.

E8. It says so much about how seriously Hae Kang takes badminton, and the match itself, with the way he tells Dad that he’s only twisted his ankle slightly and can play without any problems. I mean, it does look that way, judging from the way he rises to the occasion and soundly trounces Seung Heon (Song Seung Hwan). It’s quite shocking, though, to hear later, from the doctor, that he must have been in severe pain, because the injury is absolutely not as slight as Hae Kang had made it out to be.

It blows my mind that he would endure that much pain, in order to fight for a victory that he felt that his team deserved. He’d wanted to shut the naysayers up, and he’d wanted it fiercely enough, that he’d endured severe pain, in order to play an exceptional match. Wow.

E8. I like that we get some comments for closure, from his parents, about Hae Kang choosing badminton. I can buy the idea that his baseball coach knows him well enough, that just seeing the look of determination in Hae Kang’s eyes, was enough to convince him that Hae Kang would not be choosing to leave badminton. And, I appreciate that baseball hasn’t been thrown out the window, in some convenient sort of manner. I like that his parents acknowledge that Hae Kang still loves baseball – he just loves badminton a little more.

E10. I’m glad that Hae Kang is cognizant of the fact that he’d never been pushed into badminton in the first place; that even though he had followed his parents to the gymnasium, it had been his own choice to pick up a racket. It’s great that he’s now refocused his goals on badminton, and sincerely wants to become a national badminton player. I like that a lot.

E12. I’m a little disappointed that Hae Kang turns out to have lost the match from last episode, but given that Eun Ho’s leaked Hae Kang’s secret to Coach Chun, it really isn’t that much of a surprise. What I appreciate, is how Show teases out the way the relationships take a hit from this, and then how they recover from it.

I think it really says something about Hae Kang, that he doesn’t blurt out his frustrations at Yong Tae, but instead keeps his struggle to himself. This shows that he’s trying to be understanding, and I think it also shows that Yong Tae’s become important to him. In the past, Hae Kang would have blurted out every frustration without even thinking twice. He’s grown, our Hae Kang has.

I find it so heartwarming, that the people he ends up confiding in, are Big Gran (Lee Soon Bok) and Song Hee (Baek Ji Won), and I’m glad that the lesson he takes away – that some secrets are better not kept – gives him a new perspective and peace of mind.

It’s cute that he gets Yong Tae to meet him at the Tree of Truth, and then tells Yong Tae that he’s ok, and feeling much better about being able to focus on his game without the need to keep his eye injury a secret. On top of that, he even asks Yong Tae to forgive Eun Ho (No Yi Han). That’s really big of Hae Kang, and I’m proud of him for this.

E14. Although I wish our badminton boys didn’t bullied by those baseball guys, I do love that this arc shows us how much Hae Kang has matured in a relatively short period of time. When push comes to shove, the old Hae Kang would have absolutely gotten into a fight. But now, Hae Kang refuses to engage in a fight, because he’s keeping in mind what his team has at stake. He’d rather lose his brand new phone to the bullies, than throw away everything that the team has worked for. That takes strength of mind and maturity, and I’m glad Hae Kang is able to demonstrate a good amount of both.

Also, how cool, that Hae Kang defends In Sol (Kim Min Ki) to the bullies, telling them they don’t get to call In Sol names, because In Sol is awesome. That’s so great.

[END SPOILER]

Son Sang Yeon as Yoon Dam

This is my first time noticing Son Sang Yeon on my screen, since I hadn’t noticed him in Suspicious Partner or Chicago Typewriter, where he played the younger versions of adult characters.

I really liked Yoon Dam as a character, and thought that Son Sang Yeon did a very nice job of making Yoon Dam come to life. Yoon Dam’s the team captain, and is also the eldest child in his family. Along with that, comes the pressure to be more mature than those around him, and I thought Son Sang Yeon gave Yoon Dam a nice amount of youthful gravitas.

On a shallow note, I also feel like Son Sang Yeon’s look has a bit of Classic Hollywood Handsome going for it, that works nicely with Yoon Dam’s more mature sort of vibe.

[SPOILER ALERT]

One of my favorite things about Yoon Dam, is the running gag that he’s the king of media savvy, and is addicted to posting about his life on Instagram. This provided a lot of nice commemorative Instagram posts, sprinkled into our story, complete with hashtags and lots of likes.

I also thought that it was cute that his family treats him like a big badminton star, and his parents even have a portrait of him up on the wall of their bakery, because they’re just that proud of him. That beat, though, when he realizes that his family always eats his favorite foods when he’s around, is complicated. It feels like Yoon Dam’s touched by his family’s love and their pride in him, but also feels guilty, that his brothers and sisters have felt obliged to eat his favorite foods whenever he’s at home.

The arc that stands out most to me, regarding Yoon Dam, is the one in episode 13, where Head Coach Bae tells the boys that he won’t be with them for the NJSF, because of how upset it makes Yoon Dam. Aw. Poor Yoon Dam. It does feel like his dream – of competing at the NJSF with Coach Bae by his side – has been snatched from him, just as he’s on the cusp of seeing it become a reality. I’m glad that Coach Bae is so gentle with him, and hugs it out with him, and so respectfully – and wordlessly – invites Yoon Dam to give him the birthday present that he’s so earnestly prepared.

And, I’m glad that in the end, Coach Bae does make an appearance at the NJSF after all, and Yoon Dam gets to reconcile his dream with his reality.

[END SPOILER]

Choi Hyun Wook as Woo Chan

Woo Chan is arguably the quietest of our badminton boys, and mostly feels like this unassuming, benign presence that’s mostly in the background.

However, thanks to Show gently teasing out what makes Woo Chan tick, and giving him snippets of time in the spotlight, I found myself growing very fond of Woo Chan, and wanting him to do well in his chosen passion. He was the underdog that I rooted for the most, I do think.

On a completely unrelated note, Choi Hyun Wook gives me pretty strong Park Seo Joon vibes; I feel like they’d be perfect playing brothers. Dya see it too? Or is it just me? 😅

[SPOILER ALERT]

E8. I love that we get some important insight into what’s really been going on with Woo Chan’s dad (Lim Chul Hyung). How poignant, to realize that he’s actually been going to Woo Chan’s games, and it’s been upsetting him, that Woo Chan’s been struggling, and that other people have been talking trash about Woo Chan. That puts a whole new spin on Dad’s efforts to get Woo Chan to quit badminton.

It’s not just that Dad thinks Woo Chan doesn’t have the talent for it; I think it has a lot to do with Dad wanting to get Woo Chan out of harm’s way. Dad doesn’t want people talking trash about Woo Chan, and he doesn’t want Woo Chan to struggle against that.

It’s so important for Woo Chan to realize that Dad’s been coming out to support him, all this time. It makes so much sense, that Woo Chan would then work so hard, to impress Dad during the very next match. And how timely too, since Coach Yoon’s now given Woo Chan some important pointers to improve his game. It’s just too bad that Woo Chan falls and hurts his shoulder.

Poor Woo Chan. His frustration is so palpable, from having to withdraw from the match. But, I am heartened that he manages to catch a few minutes with Dad, before Dad makes his getaway, and I’m glad that they reach an understanding, even though not so many words are exchanged. It is pretty great though, that even without having to say the words, Dad now understands Woo Chan’s potential and passion, and Woo Chan now knows that he has Dad’s blessings.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Kang Hoon as Yong Tae

I first sat up and took notice of KIm Kang Hoon in When The Camellia Blooms, where I thought he was outstanding in his ability to deliver complicated, very adult emotions, despite being a little kid. So I was really interested to see what he would do with the role of Yong Tae, in this show.

I found Yong Tae an interesting bundle of contradictions, because while he’s the youngest in our badminton crew, and therefore can come across as a little naive and clueless at times, there’s also a bit of an old soul quality about him, I feel like. I think that’s enhanced by his very strongly accented Satoori, which just sounds extra cute, coming from a tiny kid rather than, say, an old grandpa.

I really enjoyed Yong Tae’s bright-eyed cheer, but I also appreciated Show giving Yong Tae a few challenges to work through, because not only did that mean growth for him as a character, it also meant a chance for me to see Kim Kang Hoon flexing some of his more nuanced acting chops.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. I find it quite cute, honestly, that the one boy among our crew, who’s most familiar with wild herbs and their uses, is the littlest one, Yong Tae. I’d have expected that the older boys who’d grown up in the area would have more experience with it, but it’s little Yong Tae who’s able to name the wild herbs, and who knows enough, to pick an antitoxin herb to feed Woo Chan, when Woo Chan accidentally eats a poisonous herb. He’s a little hero.

E11. Yong Tae is so guileless when it comes to his friend Eun Ho. He really trusts Eun Ho implicitly, and therefore doesn’t even think twice, when he lets slip that Hae Kang’s changed his playing style to accommodate his eye. And Eun Ho’s been poisoned enough by Coach Chun (Heo Sung Tae), that he uses that information in the hopes of gaining favor with Coach Chun. Ack. This was hard to watch.

Yong Tae’s growing horror and guilt, as it dawns on him what’s happened, is just painful to watch. Kim Kang Hoon is brilliant in this scene. I can just see Yong Tae crumbling internally, even as he barely holds up, on the outside. I feel bad for him, because he hadn’t meant to hurt the team, and I also feel bad for the team, especially Hae Kang, who shouldn’t be playing so long and so hard, with his eye not fully recovered.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Min Ki as In Sol

In Sol’s a late addition to the badminton crew, and I’m honestly blown away, by just how big of a soft spot I ended up having for him, given how aloof and prickly he is, when we’re first introduced to him.

I love how Show peels away those prickly outer layers to reveal the vulnerability beneath, and I sincerely grew fond of In Sol, and loved how he found his own way to make a difference, in the badminton team.

Besides Woo Chan, In Sol was the other underdog for whom I rooted earnestly. I wanted, so much, for him to achieve his badminton dreams, alongside the friends whom he so dearly wanted to be a part of.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. What a twist, that class president In Sol, who’s always being sarcastic to our badminton boys, is not only very promising at badminton, but actually – very secretly – wants to be part of the badminton boys’ crew. In fact, as we find out later in the episode, he’d actually been the one to volunteer to tutor the boys before the exams; the teacher had never made the request of him like he’d said. Aw. He really does want to belong. He’s too proud and embarrassed to actually say so to the boys, but I’m glad that he gets frustrated enough, that he tells his father how he feels.

And, I’m glad that Hae Kang is compassionate enough, to cover for In Sol, by saying that he’d been the one to ask In Sol to join the team. That protects In Sol’s pride nicely, and I hope it will pave the way for a nice friendship to form, between Hae Kang and In Sol. They would make the unlikeliest odd couple, which makes me want to see this happen all the more.

E8. I do love that In Sol’s turning out to be such a great asset to the team, with his detailed analyses of everyone else’s performance on the court. It’s the perfect way to apply his braininess, and I love that the boys welcome his input, and appreciate his talent.

E11. I find myself growing very fond of In Sol. He strikes me as very sincere and earnest. The way he searches all night for inspiration to solve the problem of Hae Kang not being able to see well out of his right eye, and then eagerly gets his dad to drive him over there first thing in the morning, so that he can share his findings with the rest of the gang, is really heartwarming. And when he doesn’t get to play in the team matches, he takes it all in his stride as well. Aw. He’s such a good egg.

E12. I feel bad for In Sol, who loses the match against Hae Kang, and therefore doesn’t get a chance to play in the Junior Nationals. Did he cede that last point to Hae Kang on purpose? Show hints at it, with Hae Kang fixating a little bit, on In Sol’s wrist movement for that final point, and the other boys also remark that it’s just not In Sol’s style, to play like that. I’m guessing that In Sol might have actually ceded that point to Hae Kang, in the interest of the team, because he knows that Hae Kang really is the better player, between them.

I do really wish In Sol could play alongside the rest of the crew, though. His tears, as he cries in the car, are so poignant. He wants this so badly, and he’s just closed that door, by losing to Hae Kang. 💔 I hope Show will find a way around this, coz I’d really like In Sol to compete too.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Jae In as Se Yoon

Se Yoon’s main trajectory, as a character, at least, is us getting to know the real her, underneath the star player persona.

I actually found Se Yoon’s predicament an important one to explore. So often, the ones who shine the brightest, can easily become the most neglected &/or stressed, because everyone expects that they will always know what to do, and that they will always win. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with, particularly for teen athletes, and I’m glad that we got to understand more about this, from Se Yoon’s story.

I thought Lee Jae In did a very solid job of making Se Yoon believably focused and distant, while also giving us glimpses into Se Yoon’s vulnerabilities.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. I really enjoyed Se Yoon’s arc this episode; it feels organic and needful. She’s been such a badminton star, and has such a hardworking ethic, that it’s understandable that the coaches feel like they have nothing to tell her. How ironic – yet how fitting! – that it’s Hae Kang who says the words that she most needs to hear. It’d never occurred to me that Hae Kang might have known Se Yoon from before, but it makes perfect sense, since Hae Kang had been a badminton prodigy, and had played competitively at the same time as Se Yoon had.

I love that Hae Kang’s able to speak to Se Yoon both as an old friend, and as someone who’s walked on a similar path. And I was so pleasantly surprised to hear the serious, sincere tone of his video message. It’s so fitting, that it’s Hae Kang’s acknowledgement, that Se Yoon’s done all that she can do, and his counsel, that it’s ok for her to lose, that actually sets Se Yoon free to play with freedom and abandon. I love that.

I’m glad she still took home the top prize, even though she received the message, that it was ok for her to lose. Also, what a great little touch, that she uses the victory dance that Hae Kang had suggested.

E5. While I’m generally not super keen on sports day arcs, the fact that Se Yoon is the one who steps in and becomes the village’s ace runner, easily beating out the tall dude from track and field, is pretty great. Her determination and exhilaration on the track is lovely to witness, and it also feels like she’s beginning to relax into this space, which I like.

What a great bonus, that the wish that Se Yoon makes, in exchange for winning the race for their village, is a badminton court, right there in the village itself, in a converted warehouse. That’s surely going to be a great place for our badminton gang to train and hang out and bond, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

E14. I love that Se Yoon’s big reason for rushing back for the NJSF, isn’t because she felt the absolute need to play; she rushed back because she badly wanted to be there to cheer her team on. Aw. That’s true team spirit, and I’m so happy that she makes it back in time to cheer Han Sol on towards her win. That tearful, heartfelt hug that they share once the match is over, is priceless.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Ji Won as Han Sol

Han Sol is the loyal friend that, in any story, often gets taken for granted; she’s always supportive, and she’s always cheerful, and Se Yoon can always count on her.

..Which is why I’m glad that Show takes the time to explore what it’s like, from her point of view, and show us what kinds of stresses and pressures she faces, as Se Yoon’s partner – particularly when Se Yoon isn’t there to provide the assurance of a win.

I thought Han Sol’s arc was very nicely done, and I also felt that Lee Ji Won showed a nice amount of range and depth, in these more confronting and difficult scenes.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E13. It hurts extra, when Han Sol, who’s always been so unquestioningly supportive of Se Yoon, suddenly goes cold on her and even accuses her of only thinking of herself.

This did make me wonder if Han Sol’s always felt this way, or if this is just the stress talking, because the prospect of competing without Se Yoon places her in a difficult and uncomfortable situation. It must be hard – and incredibly stressful – to have everyone think that the team is nothing without Se Yoon, and to have the prospect of that playing out for everyone to see, while she competes on her own.

I’m glad that Han Sol has Yoon Dam to comfort her, though. Yoon Dam might be young, but in that moment, where he hugs her without saying too much, it feels like such an empathetic, mature thing to do.

E14. There’s lot of angst and emotions involved in facing the match without Se Yoon, and I’m glad that Han Sol breaks through that mental block, where she couldn’t see herself winning without Se Yoon’s help. It’s a nice touch, that Se Yoon’s mom shows up as the bearer of good wishes from Se Yoon, and I’m glad that it’s with these good feelings towards Se Yoon in mind, that Han Sol achieves her big win. It feels important, that Han Sol is able to accomplish this with good feelings powering her, rather than fear and insecurity. Also, YAY Han Sol, for staying strong and pushing through!

[END SPOILER]

The boys together

Our badminton boys together was THE highlight of my watch, no lie.

I loved the idea of these boys overcoming any differences and annoyances, to come to genuinely like and care for one another, and I perked up at any and every hint of growth and progress, for this little ragtag group. I loved watching them becoming a badminton team to be reckoned with, but I loved even more, watching them become family to one another.

I luffed these boys together, So Much. ❤️

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I really liked that scene when Hae Kang couldn’t find Hae In, and the other 3 boys just jumped into action, and looked for her too. In this moment, all the tension between Hae Kang and the boys is completely forgotten, which I found very heartwarming to witness.

E1. I think it’s pretty great that the boys already understand Hae Kang so well, even though they’ve just met him. They know exactly which buttons to press, to get him to agree to stuff, and I kinda love that it’s their wink-wink-nudge-nudge plotting and acting, that first gets him to agree to the match with Yoon Dam, which lands him in the badminton competition, and then gets him all riled up to participate in the next competition, to regain his honor, after losing to a 6th grader – whom the boys conveniently omit to tell Hae Kang, is a badminton prodigy. Ha. I found this really quite funny.

E2. Somehow, it gives me a sense of gratification, that even though it’s Hae Kang’s first day of school in a completely new location, he already has his own group of friends to hang out with, because the badminton boys live in his house. This seems like a really cool side effect, to me, because in my head, it’s a very intimidating thing to be the new kid on the first day of school. And yet, Hae Kang already has buddies who’ll automatically hang around his desk during breaks. I like that.

E2. I think it’s pretty darn great, that it’s Hae Kang who first responds to Head Coach Bae’s pronouncement, that they wouldn’t get to compete, by offering to finish Yoon Dam’s punishment for him. Aw. That’s team spirit, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.

E4. My favorite moment, is when Hae Kang goes to see Hae In, and realizes that the other boys are all fast asleep next to her, exhausted from all the running. It feels like such a pure sight, because there’s something so uncalculated and guileless about how the boys came together to protect Hae In, with all that they had, and are now blissfully collapsed in a heap, from the effort. I love it.

I can totally see how this would have given Hae Kang the final nudge that he needed, to call these boys his friends. All this time, we’ve seen hints of Hae Kang wanting to belong, but this is the first time he’s actually doing anything about it, and I like where we’re going. I love that he brings them to Grandma Ome’s home, land of amazing Wifi and fantastic food, which, up to this point, has been his precious secret that he’s only shared with Hae In, and then Se Yoon. And, I love that he tells the boys that henceforth, he will do his best in everything.

Aw. He’s trying to say that he’ll do his best for the badminton team, which is huge for him. I do love that the other boys are so nonchalant about the whole thing, like Hae Kang hasn’t just taken a huge emotional step to open his heart to them. It’s business – or rather, games – as usual for the boys, and I kinda love how it doesn’t seem to make a difference to them, that Hae Kang’s telling them he’ll do his best; they accept him anyway. Again, so uncalculated and pure. I love it. ❤️

E5. I love the little details that give us evidence of the growing closeness among our badminton gang. Things like the way they lie down together in formation on that outdoor table, heads on one another’s stomachs, so that everyone’s cushioning someone, or the way they now all sit together in a row on the bus, when before, Hae Kang had made it a point to sit on his own. And then there’s how Hae Kang clips his bag straps together because the other boys do it too, as a matter of habit. These little things tell us so much about how this band of boys is growing close as a single unit, and I love it.

E5. The whole thing with Yoon Dam and Hae Kang learning to work together as a doubles team was necessary for their growth, though still slightly perplexing to watch for me, as a neutral bystander.

I just found it hard to see them fail so hard at being a team, because of their individual pride, even though they are now reasonably good friends off the court. It was also a touch (just a touch!) disheartening to see them show animosity towards each other, on and off the court, in the midst of this stage of establishing their teamwork. However, Show does play this with a light hand, so I always had the assurance that they would get through this and be stronger and even more bonded, afterwards.

While this is going on, I have to admit that I took a lot of pleasure in watching Woo Chan and Yong Tae excel at being partners. Their synergy is great to watch, but more than that, I love how happy they are, to be playing as partners. The joy on their faces when they achieve a win, and the affection they show each other on a regular basis, in high-fives, smiles and hugs, is so pure. I luff these two, so much.

I also really liked seeing In Sol play well when paired with Woo Chan.

E6. I wasn’t too hot on the arc of the boys running off the Gwangju to escape practice, but I’m glad that, coming back, they each express their trust in Coach Yoon, and also, each have a newfound appreciation for how much their parents love them and care for them.

Yong Tae’s dad making herbal tonics for Yong Tae in spite of his bad back; In Sol’s dad buying a wrist guard for In Sol despite his initial disapproval of badminton; Yoon Dam realizing that his family always makes sure to have pizza when he’s home because it’s his favorite food; all of these must land with extra impact, when contrasted with the cheating and swindling that the boys experienced in Gwangju.

E7. I am really digging the burgeoning friendship between Hae Kang and In Sol. I love how In Sol actually puts in time and effort – even forgoing the chance to compete in the singles match – in order to analyze Hae Kang’s opponent Seon Gyun (Kim Gun). It’s In Sol’s analysis that gives Hae Kang the strategy that eventually wins him the match.

I love how, when Hae Kang tries to thank In Sol, In Sol just brushes it off as him repaying the favor, of Hae Kang covering for him when he’d joined the badminton team. And then, Hae Kang goes one step further, to give up a spot on the bed and sleep on the floor, so that In Sol will get to sleep on the bed with the other boys.

I feel like these two, continually returning favors to each other, is going to become A Thing, and this Thing will eventually turn into a great friendship. Considering how antagonistic these two once were, this is great. I love it. ❤️

E8. I find it really sadly endearing, how the boys mope so much, at their expectation that Hae Kang will now leave them and go back to baseball, because not only has he achieved what he’d stated he wanted to do, his baseball coach has come to see him as well, presumably to get him back.

For a bunch of boys who are usually so quick to bounce back, it’s heart-pinchingly endearing that they feel Hae Kang’s imagined departure so acutely. Aw. They really have grown genuinely fond of him, and don’t want him to go. That’s the sweetest, cutest thing. 😍

What a great surprise it is, then, to see that not only is Hae Kang not leaving, he’s been selected as a National Youth Athlete, and he’s extremely, almost annoyingly proud of it, too. Ahh! I love it. It’s such a turnaround, from actively wanting to leave.

[END SPOILER]

The entire badminton gang together

I already loved the idea of the boys’ team growing closer over the course of our show, so this idea, of the girls’ team also spending a lot of time with the boys’ team, and everyone growing closer to one another, was just bonus.

I particularly loved the scenes where we see the girls’ team cheering on the boys’ team at their matches, and vice versa. I found it very heartwarming to see how invested they are in one another’s success, even when it’s not their own team on the court. ❤️

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I was happy enough with the idea of the badminton boys living together, but I’m not opposed to the idea of the badminton girls also joining them under the same roof, especially since Hae Kang has already managed to offend their star player, by mistaking her for a boy, and then interrupting her jumprope training; reportedly the two things that get her goat the most.

Given Hae Kang’s timid core nature, I can already guess that he’s terrified, and I’m sure it’s going to be interesting to watch him try not to offend her, while she lives in his house. Muahaha, this promises to be fun.

E7. I really love how everyone else on both teams rallies round and is supportive of Han Sol and Yoon Dam, even though Yoon Dam’s rash act gets Se Yoon and Hae Kang disqualified from their mixed doubles match. There’s no blame game at all; everyone just reaches out to tell one another to keep their chins up, in their own ways, and this warms my heart, so much.

E8. Aw. I like that all our badminton kids end up at Grandma Ome’s house, once they realize that that’s where Hae Kang’s gone.

And, I appreciate that Hae Kang’s there, and feeling badly towards Grandma Ome, that the other kids wouldn’t want to come over to her house as much, now that they have wifi of their own at home. It’s great to see that now they’re there to hang out, not because of the wifi, but because of the company.

E13. I love that our boys’ team shows up for the girls, and cheers Han Sol on so loudly. That demonstration of support and team spirit is so heartwarming.

[END SPOILER]

Woo Chan & Yong Tae together

I loved that Woo Chan and Yong Tae are such close friends that they are basically inseparable. I find it especially cute because Yong Tae’s younger and smaller than Woo Chan; I find the visual dissonance very endearing. In particular, I love Yong Tae’s habit of linking arms with Woo Chan, when they sleep at night. How adorable.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Augh. The scene where Yong Tae breaks down sobbing because he thinks Woo Chan is possibly dying, just hits me right in the heart. He’s just a little kid, and yet, he feels so alone, that the badminton crew is his closest family, so much so that the thought that he might lose Woo Chan, has him beside himself with fear and worry.

The way Woo Chan and Yong Tae end up clinging to each other, while they both sob it out, is really sad-cute. We also see that Woo Chan’s refused to move with his parents, for his dad’s new posting, because it would mean transferring to a different school. He’d stayed, for Yong Tae and the other boys.

Aw. These boys really do mean the world to each other. I love that little detail later in the episode, where we see Yong Tae sleeping with his arm linked with Woo Chan’s. They are so inseparable. I love it.

[END SPOILER]

Hae Kang & Se Yoon

I honestly wasn’t expecting any loveline in our story, because all our key characters are in middle school (not even high school!), but Show decided that a little loveline or two wouldn’t hurt – and I’m happy to report that Show was right.

Show keeps the lovelines mostly in the background, and in the end, I thought the little loveline between Hae Kang and Se Yoon was really cute and endearing, in its youthful innocence.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. The new connection between Hae Kang and Se Yoon, after she comes back from her competition, is pretty endearing. I really like that he takes her to eat at Grandma Ome’s house, and they even get to talking about their situations with their respective parents. This feels like very good bonding, and I’m looking forward to this bond growing stronger.

E5. That scene, of Hae Kang and Se Yoon going to get those potatoes together, is so awkwardly sweet. Their hyperawareness of each other is clear to see, and the little detail, that Se Yoon’s tray of potatoes progressively becomes smaller and lighter while Hae Kang’s gets bigger and heavier, as they go, is so cute.

The fact that we hear from Coach Ra that Se Yoon’s agreed to play mixed doubles for the first time, with her partner as Hae Kang, is a sure sign (aside from the lip tint!) that Se Yoon’s absolutely returning that crush on Hae Kang. I see dorky cute romance in our future, with these two, and I’m looking forward for that too.

E7. Even though it’s a little disappointing to see that both Hae Kang and Se Yoon lose their individual matches, it does bring us back to that important element that Show had introduced earlier. Se Yoon’s always been so good, that the expectations of everyone around her to win all the time, have only built up over the years. The pressure must be immense.

Previously she’d gotten release and comfort via the video that Hae Kang had sent, telling her that it’s ok for her to lose, and it feels fitting, that this time around, when no one else seems to understand, it’s Hae Kang who gives Se Yoon comfort again.

Se Yoon immediately crying on Hae Kang’s shoulder, when she sees him, feels like a breakthrough moment for their relationship.

E9. Things are somewhat stalled between Hae Kang and Se Yoon, in that Hae Kang is definitely holding back because he’s uncertain of what to do. I felt that Se Yoon, being as shy as she is, is already doing a fair bit, by suggesting, not once, but twice, that they pair up. However, both times, Hae Kang doesn’t really manage to get anywhere, though he attempts to ask her about Park Chan (Yoon Hyun Soo) and his apparent intention to confess his feelings for Se Yoon.

It is sweet, though, the way Hae Kang jumps into the water without hesitation, to get Se Yoon’s runaway shoe back for her, even though he’s just said that he doesn’t like the cold water. Aw. That’s really gallant of him, and it’s clear that Se Yoon takes it to heart.

And, Hae Kang does get his chance to ask his question, when they end up stuck in the cupboard together, while everyone else gets punished for staying up late.

The way he declares that he won’t let Park Chan make his love confession, by not allowing him to win at the National Junior Sports Festival, and the way Se Yoon asks if he’ll be able to keep that promise, definitely feels like some kind of indirect mutual confession of their feelings – just in a language that only badminton athletes would understand, heh. It’s cute. And, I’m rooting for Hae Kang to beat Park Chan, so that he’ll be able to make that love confession, instead of Park Chan.

E10. That moment between Hae Kang and Se Yoon, with unspoken feelings heavy in the air between them, is slightly giddy stuff. Hae Kang’s not great with words, but the way he sacrifices himself while protecting Se Yoon, when Head Coach Paeng (Ahn Nae Sang) comes back to the room to snag any final stragglers, says everything.

He’s getting punished, and even smiles while running those punishment laps, because he’s protected Se Yoon, and because Se Yoon’s indicated that she would like him to prevent Park Chan from making that confession. It’s adorable.

E13. Hae Kang really is the kind who gets a kick in butt from having competition, ha. Even though he’s deathly afraid of being alone in the dark, the thought of Se Yoon being in Park Chan’s company, is enough to galvanize him into going out there, and waiting for Se Yoon, even though it’s dark and there’s nobody else around. That’s huge, for Hae Kang, and I like that he’s cognizant of this, and tells Se Yoon so.

His little mini-confession feels so honest and guileless; listening to it made me smile.

“I’m a huge coward. You know I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself late at night. But I’ve been waiting for you here. I was worried that you were alone with Park Chan. And even if it takes you a long time, I won’t be bored at all while I wait. Even during a match with a huge audience, I can find you in one second. I mean it.

Remember? I told you I’ll tell you a secret when I win at the NJSF. That secret is, I’m going to confess my feelings to you. I just couldn’t hold back today.”

How is Hae Kang so dorky and earnest, and yet, kinda swoony, at the same time? I’m glad that Se Yoon seems to think so too, judging from her tamped down amused smile.

E13. It’s really heartwarming that both Hae Kang and Se Yoon separately decline the opportunity to go to Seoul, even though it’s a pretty big deal to be scouted. And I love that their reasons are so personal. They really are in sync.

Hae Kang wants to achieve his goal alongside his teammates, in an environment where it’s ok to lose, and Se Yoon wants to achieve her goal while playing with the partner whom she already finds to be perfect. Also, Se Yoon’s private goal, of wanting to help her teammates get an advantage entering high school, and Coach Ra, get a promotion, is so sweetly thoughtful.

[END SPOILER]

Yoon Dam & Han Sol

Similarly, I found the little loveline between Yoon Dam and Han Sol very cute, wholesome and endearing.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E7. That sunbae dude who kept heckling Han Sol, was just too much. It’s bad enough that he says such embarrassing things to her, but to say it in front of Yoon Dam, knowing that she now likes Yoon Dam, is cruel.

And then, to think that he’d continue to taunt and harass her during the match, is just mind-blowing. Was he paid to do this, or what? Because I find it really hard to believe that someone who competes himself, would do that to someone else. It’s just all kinds of awful, and it’s clearly really hard for Han Sol to bear.

I can understand how Yoon Dam might lose his cool and go straight to knocking Awful Sunbae over, to demand an apology for Han Sol. That’s definitely not the wisest course of action, but given how triggering Sunbae’s behavior was, I can see how Yoon Dam might not have been thinking very straight.

In all of this, I appreciate how Yoon Dam only means to protect Han Sol. Sunbae’s words aren’t personally offending to Yoon Dam himself, which means that Yoon Dam’s anger is purely on Han Sol’s behalf. He’s a good dude, isn’t he? He doesn’t appear to return Han Sol’s feelings (or does he?), but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to protect her and ensure her wellbeing. I like that a lot.

Also, how sweet is Yoon Dam, to make it a point to ask Han Sol if she’s ok, after everything that Sunbae said. It feels like this incident has brought them closer together, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a loveline out of this, in future episodes.

E8. It definitely feels like Yoon Dam and Han Sol are shaping up to be a very cute couple. Aw. I like the idea of these two dating; they are so bashfully adorable together. The way Yoon Dam not-so-subtly buys them matching soft toys to hand on their bags is so endearing and dorky at the same time.

[END SPOILER]

Shin Jung Keun as Head Coach Bae

Coach Bae starts out so quiet and unassuming, that I’m really kind of shocked by what a pillar he turns out to be, for our story, and for our characters. I ended up feeling really quite fond of Coach Bae.

I also really appreciate that Show dedicates time to exploring Coach Bae’s backstory, and give him the closure that he wants and deserves.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I found it a pretty fun reveal, that Head Coach Bae turns out to be the legendary White Wolf that Coach Yoon’s been hearing about all episode. He lives up to his reputation too, practically driving Yoon Dam to the ground with the punishment that he metes out for Yoon Dam’s lack of team spirit (for not joining the others, in standing up for maknae Yong Tae), but managing to deliver a strong lesson in teamwork and solidarity, through the experience.

E4. Head Coach Bae actually paying for the competition out of his own salary, while passing it off as them getting an advance on funding, is so selflessly caring. The badminton team isn’t even that strong at the moment, so their chances of winning are pretty slim. I mean, they don’t even book accommodation for the full competition, because everyone’s so sure that they’ll be ready to go home before the competition’s over. And yet, Head Coach Bae honored the boys’ dedication and strong desire to compete, by funding the competition himself. That’s so good of him, honestly.

E13. Like the boys, I’m disappointed too, that Coach Bae isn’t more present with our badminton crew, but I do recognize that there are things that need closure, which have been quietly haunting him for years. I’m glad that he and Tae Seon (Kang Seung Yoon) finally talk about that incident, and Tae Seon finally gets to tell Coach Bae that he’s sorry for not speaking up, when everything had happened.

What a heartachey twist, honestly, when Show reveals that the woman (Kim Jung Young) whom we’d seen supporting Tae Seon in such a motherly way, wasn’t Tae Seon’s own mother, but Coach Bae’s wife; that Coach Bae hadn’t just been Tae Seon’s coach – he’d taken in Tae Seon and given him a home and a family, after Tae Seon’s mother had died. Augh. No wonder Tae Seon’s so torn up about what happened to Coach Bae, because of him.

Therefore, it’s quite perfect, that Tae Seon now decides to come back to badminton, and Coach Bae offers to work with him, because Tae Seon’s dream is aligned with what Coach Bae himself desires to do.

Y’know, I am sad at the thought that Coach Bae will likely be not very involved with our badminton crew anymore, but, in terms of a personal outcome for Coach Bae, this couldn’t be more perfect.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

Ahn Se Bin as Hae In

I just had to give Hae In a little shout-out, because she is such a cutie pie, seriously! 😍

Even though Hae In is the youngest cast member and often stays on the peripheral of our story, there are times when she gets to be the catalyst of pretty important developments, and I thought that was pretty cool.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. The sight of Yoon Dam, Woo Chan and Yong Tae taking turns to carry a passed out Hae In, while they ran towards the hospital, really moved me. They are so exhausted, and yet, they just keep going, because they don’t want anything bad to happen to Hae In. That’s really sweet and heroic of them.

I love, too, that the adults in the small town all cancel their important plans, to drive to the rescue, and manage to get Hae In to the hospital to get treated. The community feels are pretty strong in this arc, and I like it.

E6. I’m glad that little Hae In also gets a bit of love and appreciation. It’s true that because she’s the littlest, and isn’t involved in badminton, she’s always getting left behind while everyone else busies themselves with training and competitions. It’s sweet that everyone in the house does something special for Hae In. The cutest thing of all, though, is that Grandma Ome’s grandson is now Hae In’s friend, and looks forward to visiting Haenam because he wants to play with Hae In. Aw. Cute.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Oh Na Ra as Coach Ra

I’ve got Coach Ra in this section because even though I generally found her likable, she is more on the periphery of our story, and therefore, I kind of felt like she was a little less developed as a character, than our main crew.

I really admired Coach Ra’s professionalism and competence at her job, and I also appreciated that Show acknowledges that just because Coach Ra is a successful coach with a decorated history as both coach and athlete, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have issues to work through.

I thought that Show giving screen time to Coach Ra, to make sure that she, too, gained growth and closure on important matters, was pretty cool.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. The moment the kids start talking about Hae Kang’s mom in the car, and asking why she hadn’t competed in the Olympics despite being top of her game in Korea, I had an inkling that it’d have to do with her getting pregnant with Hae Kang. However, it was still poignant to see Hae Kang have that confrontation with his mom, because as valid as her reasons were, it doesn’t change the fact that he’d grown up feeling distant from his mom and neglected by her. I do think it’s important that this gets acknowledged, and I’m glad that Mom apologizes.

Se Yoon’s advice to Hae Kang works like a charm; the moment he announces that he doesn’t feel well, all the tension between mother and son melts like wax on a hot day, and Mom’s nursing him with medicine and a cold towel in no time. Aw.

E12. We finally learn why Coach Ra had told Hae Kang that her best day as an athlete had also been her worst – the day she’d won that gold medal at the Asian Games, had also been the day that her mother had died.

How awful. It’s understandable that her mom hadn’t wanted to interfere with her competition, but I think Coach Ra is absolutely right on this; that gold medal cannot compare with the chance to see her mom for the last time. What an awful wound to carry all these years; I’m glad that Coach Ra finally gets to cry it all out now, in the arms of everyone who cares about her.

E14. It was a poignant side arc, to see that Coach Ra lost herself for a bit, when she realized that Se Yoon wouldn’t be able to make it back in time to play. Although I would have expected a professional like Coach Ra to have maintained her focus regardless of the circumstances, it’s true that we’re all human. Plus, the team had gotten into the rhythm of winning, with Se Yoon paving the way. It’s human to get complacent, and it’s also human to feel lost, when things suddenly change. Coach Ra just got lost for a bit, when the status quo was suddenly rocked.

I’m glad that she was able to process it all, and I’m also glad that the girls don’t hold it against her. It’s not that she’s a bad coach; she’s just a coach having an off sort of day.

[END SPOILER]

The village arcs

I’ve got the village arcs in this section because this was a mixed bag for me.

On the upside, there’s a lot of charming stuff around community that also teases out the little joys of countryside living, and I liked those a lot. On the downside, there are some arcs that I really found far from enjoyable.

Here’s a quick look at both sides of that coin.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Heartwarming arcs

E1. How poignant, that Hae In and Hae Kang are kinda-sorta becoming Grandma Ome’s surrogate grandchildren. It’s such a win-win situation, that by the end of the episode, she’s inviting them to sleep over, and they both say yes.

E3. I was glad to see the city couple (Jung Min Sung and Park Hyo Joo) bring the pot back, and tell Hae Kang that they’d really enjoyed the curry. Aw. The way they filled the pot with burgers is so cute, and I’m glad that they got to hear the delighted whoops coming from all the young people inside the house, as they walked away.

E5. I really liked what Show did with the arc around Grandma Ome teaching the city couple the finer details of farming. Of course, Grandma Ome’s rather loud and rough in her ways, and this causes the wife to misunderstand that Grandma Ome’s taking advantage of her docile city husband, by making him do work around her farm. I do love the aftermath of the reveal, because this city couple gives Grandma Ome such a beautiful gift, to express their gratitude for what she’s doing for them.

That mural on the walls of Grandma Ome’s house, complete with an artist’s impression of what Grandpa and Grandma would have looked like on their wedding day, because they’d never taken wedding photos, is such a lovely, personal gift. I love it. It makes Grandpa and Grandma so happy, and it even entices their grandson – whom they miss dearly – to visit, because he’s intrigued to see his face on the wall. That’s priceless.

I also love that Show takes this gift, and turns it around, to show us what this gift has done for its giver, as well. I love that beat of City Wife quietly musing under the cherry blossom tree, contemplating her paint-stained hands, and just enjoying the look of how the paint on her hands blend well with the beautiful cherry blossoms. It feels like, in this moment, she’s beginning to see her place in this new rural world, and I like that thought a lot.

E10. I like that reveal, that all the errands that Yong Tae had demanded of the national youth athletes on the trip of Busan, had been in service of Big Gran’s 90th birthday celebration. As it turns out, Yong Tae had learned of Big Gran’s birthday wishes during that Town Hall meeting, and had then arranged for Hae Kang and co. to look into those exact items during their free time in Busan. What a lovely surprise for Big Gran. Way to tie an apparently random couple of narrative threads together, Show. And what a nice touch, for Woo Chan to turn out to be such a soulful singer.

E11. This episode, the spotlight on City Couple turned out to be so poignant. The poor things; they’d been through so much, and they really had come out to the countryside to die. I’d thought that they’d put aside that notion after episode 2, when the warmth from Hae Kang and the other villagers had stopped them from their double suicide. But this episode, it becomes clear that they hadn’t made a decision to live, either, and with all their old wounds resurfaced, particularly of their failure to have children, it seems that their determination to die had been reignited.

I’d been wondering where they’d been off to, that they’d keep making detours to help the villagers who called or whom they came across. It’s never made super clear, but the implication seems to be that they’d been on their way to end their lives, and each time, they’d turned back because someone from the village had needed some kind of help.

I’m glad that in the end, they realize that they have more to live for than they’d realized, and it was a nice callback to episode 2, to have them receive a knock on the door, along with a pot of Hae Kang’s pot of curry, and then a container of kimchi, anonymously nestled outside on their front porch. I’m happy to see that this time, instead of simply not going through with their suicides, they make a conscious decision to live.

That scene on the porch, when City Guy starts bawling and gurgling his thanks, and Hae In wraps her little arms around him and tells him not to cry, is the most heart-tugging scene this entire episode.

This really is a perfect expression of love – which City Lady draws for Hae In in her homework, where she’s supposed to illustrate what love is. I do kinda like how this arc ties in with Hae In’s homework in the end.

I’m also glad that things are now smoothed over between City Couple and Song Hee. They’ve managed to reach an unspoken truce, and sometimes, that’s the best way to go.

E12. The parallel between Coach Yoon’s dying van, and Big Gran’s passing, is rather heavy-handed, but I found it touching anyway, to see Big Gran hold Song Hee’s hand, and finally be able to speak words to her, and tell her to eat well and take care of herself.

Song Hee’s siblings are downright awful, for wanting to mess with Big Gran’s legacy, and I’m glad that City Couple is there to set the record straight, with the will that Big Gran had left, with them as witnesses.

City Couple really turns out to be such a big help to Song Hee, in the course of her mother’s passing. It’s so compassionate of them, to do all this, for Song Hee, who’d been harsh with them before, without expecting anything in return.

It feels like a blessing from the heavens, when City Couple discovers that they’re pregnant, after years of being unable to conceive. This almost feels like a reward, for having been so kind to Big Gran.

I’m really glad that City Lady – whose name we learn is Pil Ja – and Song Hee become friends. I feel like both of them are lonely and really could use a friend, and this is such a win-win situation, where they can be that friend to each other.

E14. I love that the entire village shows up to cheer the boys on, during the competition. That’s so heartwarming, it gave me all the feels. Everyone’s so excited to be there, and cheer so enthusiastically, it really brings new life to the entire competition. And how sweet, that they cooked so much food and brought it with them, so that the athletes would be able to eat well after their competition. Augh. I love it.

Not so enjoyable arcs

E7. The littering city guys are inconsiderate pricks, who don’t have respect for the countryside environment that they’ve come to hike in, nor the country folk who are trying to protect that environment. I did find it incredibly rude, for them to park their car on an actual road, which caused a build-up of vehicles behind them, because no one could pass.

E8. It’s been frustrating to see the obnoxious city guys behave so atrociously towards our village folks, and treat their environment so carelessly, and almost disdainfully. And it’s been even more frustrating to see that our village folks can’t seem to make any headway in getting through to the city guys, whether it’s via video evidence, or through trying to appeal to their conscience.

E9. I was not at all interested in the arc where the village chief gathers everyone for a town hall meeting, in order to brainstorm ideas on how to revive their village. The style of this arc was strangely OTT, with Yong Tae and Mr. Hong (Woo Hyeon) coming to actual “blows” and getting all mussed up from tackling each other.

I have to admit I was bored by this arc, and felt that we spent too much time watching the villagers offer weirdly unusable ideas, like building a subway station, a department store or an airport. I dunno; maybe if this type of humor appeals to you, you might find this arc a lot more enjoyable than I did. It just didn’t work for me.

I do think City Guy’s onto something, with is idea of hawking their traditional specialties online, though. I mean, not too long ago, I’d purchased dried persimmons directly from farmers in rural China, because my mom loves them, so that was very much a win-win.

E14. What a bummer, that the awful city litter dude, turns out to be the CEO of the company that wants to build a golf course at the village. Ack. I’d thought his sudden appearance and disappearance in our story in earlier episodes was weird, and now he’s back. I hope that golf course doesn’t get built; I don’t want our villagers to be displaced.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED LESS

Kim Sang Kyung as Coach Yoon

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t much care for Coach Yoon, as a general rule.

I didn’t like how losery he was made out to be, and there’s something about the way Kim Sang Kyung plays him, that rubs me the wrong way. His hangdog, hapless expressions have the opposite effect of endearing him to me; they actually annoy me further, oops. 😅 I honestly don’t know if Coach Yoon’s effect is by design, or whether this is just my personal reaction, and I’m the only one who finds him annoying.

To be fair, I don’t actually hate him, and Show does work to turn Coach Yoon’s image around by the end of our story. I just.. don’t like him all that much, even after all is said and done.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. With Dad, he certainly comes across as rather pathetic, particularly in the first half of our episode, and (maybe it’s in Kim Sang Kyung’s delivery?), I found Dad’s hapless grins not very endearing at all. I mean, I felt bad for him, for having such a hard time with money, but somehow, I just didn’t find him very likable. To give Show the benefit of the doubt, maybe I’m not supposed to like him all that much, at this early point of our story.

By the end of the episode, however, I do find that I’m warming to him a bit. I think it’s partly that I’m just getting used to him being a little wretched, and becoming more accepting of his not very communicative ways with Hae Kang. It’s also partly because Show does peel back some layers, to show that in his own limited way, he’s trying to do his best for his kids.

E4. I have to admit that I don’t enjoy Coach Yoon very much. There’s something very losery about him that I don’t like. What I mean is, there are times when things are not within his control, and that’s why he’s losery, and I can accept that. For example, he can’t change the fact that he’d made a bad decision to co-sign his friend’s loan, and so, he can’t help the fact that his family is in bad financial shape. However, there are times when things are totally within his control, and he goes ahead to be a loser anyway.

This episode, the way he conducted himself for the boys’ competition was so unacceptable, honestly. He had so many people telling him not to drink so much the night before the competition, but he didn’t listen to any of them, and would have kept on drinking, if his friends hadn’t dragged him back to the hotel. And because of his stupid decision to keep drinking, he had no buffer to correct the mistake of bringing the boys to the wrong location, thus getting the boys disqualified. UGH.

On top of this, there are so many things that he didn’t do for the boys, which he ought to have done, as their coach. Never mind that he didn’t go early to do due diligence like his wife did for her team. The least he could have done, was to have the correct address, when it came to competition day.

To make Dad more aggravating, Kim Sang Kyung’s portrayal makes Dad’s brand of haplessness not at all lovable. I appreciate that this episode, Dad learns a big lesson, and is determined to do better, but until he does do better, I’ll continue to be firmly unimpressed.

It’s so aggravating to realize that Coach Bae had paid for the competition with his own salary, but this means that Coach Yoon had blown everything, with his one stupid decision. He’d disappointed the boys, and wasted Coach Bae’s salary, in one fell swoop. Boo.

E5. Even though the implications of what Yoon Dam’s father (Kim Tae Hyang) says to Coach Yoon aren’t very pleasant, I actually think it’s good that Coach Yoon gets a kick in the pants. Like I mentioned before, I can’t seem to warm to Coach Yoon very well, especially when he does stupid things because of his thoughtlessness, and makes other people (especially the boys) suffer. I’ve been waiting for Coach Yoon to get a grip, and have some kind of awakening, and this episode, we get the beginnings of that.

Even though he still does rub me the wrong way with his hangdog expressions (for some reason, that hangdog expression really gets to me), I’m glad to see that he’s putting in the effort now, to do what a good coach would do. He’s paying attention to his players, and recording their moves, and taking notes, and thinking about how to help them improve, and that’s many small steps in the right direction.

E6. I find it weird, that in response to the boys running away, Coach Yoon goes to visit his friend for the day, instead of going to look for them, or staying with Yoon Dam and the girls, for the combined training. Also, for the record, I still find Coach Yoon’s efforts, to talk like and act like the young people, really cringey. 😅

E7. It’s good to see Coach Yoon being a more purposeful, hands-on coach, actually studying the boys’ moves with them, and giving them specific advice and tips. I still think he’s quite losery a lot of the time, but it definitely helps to know that he does know a thing or two about badminton, and is an actual help to the boys.

I also like the arc where Coach Yoon gives Yong Tae that necklace, and gives him the words of encouragement that he needs, to bolster his confidence, and help him win his match.

E8. Even though I still think Coach Yoon is on the losery end of things, I’m glad to see him apply himself to become a better and more effective coach. I did feel bad for him when he took the trouble to wear a suit, and the other coaches jeered at him, and made fun of him for bringing cheap canned coffee to greet Head Coach Paeng.

I’m glad that in the end, Head Coach Paeng puts the other coaches in their places, and then drinks the canned coffee that Coach Yoon brought. What an encouraging piece of news, that Head Coach Paeng shares as well.

It’s not just that Yoon Dam’s been selected to be a National Youth Athlete; it’s that the deciding factor – that his swing is now more relaxed – is something that Coach Yoon had helped fix. Yay Coach Yoon!

E9. While I get that Show’s working to turn Coach Yoon’s image around, I find it a rather hard-sell, that Head Coach Paeng would credit Coach Yoon for the boys’ win this year.

I understand the idea that Coach Yoon is a better coach than he appears to be; however, I can’t shake the question of, if he’s such a good coach, how could he have been such a lousy coach for so long, just skating by on the boys’ own efforts and the occasional fist pump from him?

I rationalize that Coach Yoon had gotten distracted by financial pressure, but I also think that if you’re a truly dedicated &/or gifted coach, it’s kind of impossible to become so abominably lousy, that you’d become the butt of every joke? So.. I get what Show is selling, but I’m a skeptical customer.

[END SPOILER]

Some of the writing / execution choices

As much as I enjoyed Show as a whole, there were a number of times when I thought Show could have done different and better. Here’s a quick look at those times, for the record.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I didn’t think the inclusion of Jonathan (Jonathan Thona) as a character was actually necessary. This felt weird and awkward, especially since our characters mostly gawk at him for being the token black dude, and he doesn’t do anything but stand on the court.

Plus, Jonathan himself is made out to be such a kpop fanboy that he’d literally move to Seoul just because he got tickets to a GFriend concert. Altogether, this felt disrespectful, and I count it a waste of screen time. They could have easily cut this out, and we would have had a slightly more compact episode. That would have worked better.

E5. One of the things that was uncomfortable for me, this episode, is how Show makes out the Jakarta side – and by extension, Indonesia at large – to be a petty people with poor sportsmanship. The details around that were really specific and unflattering. Do the makers of this show think that Indonesians don’t watch kdrama? Coz they do, and I’m sure that they wouldn’t like to see their country being portrayed in such a poor light.

E9. In principle, I like the idea of getting to know more about how our adult characters are connected, via the flashbacks to their younger days. But somehow, this is better in concept than execution, for me. I find it all quite cringey, and I just.. didn’t feel that interested, somehow. 😝

E10. Hae Kang does come across as nonchalant and annoying, while he rests from training. I do think he could have showed more consideration towards Se Yoon, like ask her how her injured arm is doing. HOWEVER. I don’t think it’s fair of Se Yoon to be upset at Hae Kang for not training during this period. After all, his doctor had ordered complete rest, and so even if his arms and legs are fine, continuing to train while his eye is recovering, is not complete rest.

This detail made me uncomfortable, I have to say. I’d like rest to be accepted and normalized, and forcing Hae Kang to train with her, even though he did say that his eye was still a bit uncomfortable, is not a good thing.

E12. I appreciate that it’s Head Coach Bae that stops Coach Chun in his tracks, but I must say, I didn’t find this very believable at all. After all, why would Coach Chun be afraid of Coach Bae? Even in the flashbacks, Coach Chun showed no fear nor remorse for what he’d done to Coach Bae. And yet, we’re supposed to believe that the sight of Coach Bae would turn Coach Chun into a shivering, sniveling mess? Uh. No, I don’t think so. I also thought the CGI white wolf thing was way too cheesy.

[END SPOILER]

THEMES / IDEAS

Be kind to others, because your act of kindness might mean the world to someone else – and your harsh words could literally drive someone to suicide

E2. What I appreciate is how City Couple’s experience settling down at Haenam, is that it’s a vicarious experience for us, too, of the small town sort of hospitality that is prevalent in Haenam. From Mr. Hong passing them farming supplies, to Grandma Ome giving them an earful for driving over her spring cabbages, to Hae Kang bringing them a pot of curry, it’s quite a journey.

It was a nice way to turn things on their head, by having Grandma Ome get a taste of what it’s like to flounder in an unfamiliar place on her day trip to Gwangju (cute cameo by Kim Min Seok!), and therefore come back with some empathy for the new couple. Her gift of kimchi was exactly what they needed, and it gives me chills to realize that this new couple had been on the verge of a double suicide, only to be brought back from the brink, by the unexpected warmth and care that they’d received from their new neighbors.

E10. City Guy pointing out that it’s harsh words like Song Hee’s, that can drive people to suicide, is very thought-provoking. Truly, you never know what other people might be struggling with.

You don’t have to do things a certain way just because they’ve always been done that way

E6. Coach Yoon and his friend Coach Lee (a welcome cameo by Park Hae Soo!) think back to how much they’d suffered at the hands of their own coaches and seniors, back in the day, and reinforce their resolution not to perpetuate the same unhealthy behavior with their own teams.

The thing that strikes me most, is that Coach Lee is still haunted today, by the one time he’d gotten so frustrated at being beaten by his seniors, that he’d beaten his juniors too. It’s been literal decades, and he’s apologized to his juniors, and his juniors have expressed forgiveness – and yet, he can’t sleep at night, sometimes, because this memory still haunts him. Dang. That’s terrible. I hope that he’ll be able to forgive himself and move one, someday.

I do appreciate the points, though, that you don’t have to do things a certain way just because they’ve always been done that way, and that you don’t have to be harsh on people in order to get results. You can get results through positive reinforcement too. The fact that Coach Lee respects Coach Yoon for never having given in to the urge to beat his juniors, does go some way towards increasing my respect for Coach Yoon.

Do we make life choices that are true to ourselves, or do we make those choices because of external influences around us?

E10. The arc about Dad suddenly unsure about whether he ought to let Hae Kang continue with badminton, is quite a thought-provoking one, despite the more comedic treatment. It is quite an interesting question: do we make life choices that are true to ourselves, or do we make those choices because of external influences around us?

And, I also rather like the way the question of parental guidance is wrapped up. It is true that our parents guide us in making those life choices when we are too young to decide on our own, and it’s a heartening thought, that this ultimately works, because our parents know us best. I get that this might be a point of contention, since not all parents are as attentive, and not all parents exercise wisdom when guiding those decisions, but it is a warm idea that I still do enjoy.

Good sportsmanship trumps violence and manipulation

E11. Coach Chun really is awful. Being tough on your athletes is one thing, but he is manipulative and downright nasty. Teaching them not to speak to their competitors, or even shake hands with them, is the opposite of good sportsmanship, and showing them that they need to be sneaky in order to get into his good books is just plain wrong.

Next to their miserable competitors, our badminton crew looks happy and motivated, and with a nurturing environment and coach. And even though Coach Chun’s tactics gain the team a win in the short term, it’s our happy and motivated badminton crew that prevails, in the long run.

Actions speak louder than words

E12. I’m not surprised that the truth behind the White Wolf rumors, is that Head Coach Bae is innocent. I’m also not surprised that it’s Coach Chun who had been the one beating the boys, and Coach Bae had been made to take the fall, in order to protect everyone. That sucks.

However, I’m pleased with how Coach Yoon works with Manager Noh and Councilman Jeong to root out the terrible people who’ve enabled Coach Chun and covered for him, all this time. More than that, I appreciate the detail, that the boys didn’t need to hear the truth behind that rumor, in order to decide to trust Coach Bae. His actions had spoken louder than words, and the boys naturally trust and believe in him, because he’s proved himself trustworthy. I do like that.

The community is larger than the individual

E14. Things come to a head in our story, and the emphasis is on community, rather than about star players, and growth, rather than winning. I love that our team manages to win, underdog players and all, without fielding their star player. Because star players are great, but ultimately, it’s a team thing.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

I have to admit, I’d balked at this episode’s length, when I went to start watching it. 1 hour and 27 minutes! I could hardly believe it, especially given that this is a drama that aired on SBS, rather than a cable network. Now that I’m done watching this episode, though, I have to say, that 1 hour and 27 minutes just flew by. There was no drag for me, at all. Impressive.

That’s not to say that the episode was perfect; I’ve long concluded that this show is far from perfect. But what Show gets right, is the heartwarming feels, and I am very much here for those – especially those that have to do with our little badminton crew.

I think my favorite thing about this episode, is how Show manages to balance personal breakthroughs with team progress. I feel so gratified, watching our boys overcome their individual struggles and insecurities, and come out winners, not just for the team, but in terms of their personal journeys too. And, it’s so, SO heartwarming, to see how concerned the kids are, for each other. They worry and hover, when someone’s not feeling their best, and then celebrate with abandon, when that same someone achieves their personal breakthrough. Those community feels made my heart feel like it was bursting. I love it.

I love the idea that these kids aren’t just close as members of the same team; they are close as friends who hang out together, and who even live together and sleep together all under the same roof. This is a big part of why the girls’ team and the boys’ team are so close-knit, and so mutually invested in one another’s progress. I love that.

I was especially taken by the scene of the boys together in their room, at the beginning of the episode. It struck me that half of them sleep, two to a blanket, which feels like the kind of thing that only siblings would do, and Yong Tae even sleeps with his arm linked with Woo Chan’s as a matter of habit. How cozy and endearing is that? 🤩

With each boy getting some time in the spotlight, as we work through his issues, I can see why this episode turned out to be as long as it is. But because I am so fond of the boys, and wouldn’t want any of them to miss his chance to grow onscreen with us as witnesses, I can’t find it in my heart to begrudge Show its mammoth of an episode.

One thing that really struck me this episode, is how much of a mental game sports is.

I’m no sportsman myself, so even though I’d heard that there’s a great deal of mental pressure involved in competitive sports, I couldn’t truly understand it, for not having experienced it myself. Show does a really nice job, this episode, of giving us a taste of what it’s like to have that mental pressure bear down on young minds, as our athletes work to keep it together out on the field.

I feel like Yoon Dam’s arc brings this out most clearly, since he literally faints from the stress of it all. And yet, when all is said and done, what he’d really needed, was a good dose of perspective and encouragement. Changing his way of looking at things, was enough to give him a better grip on the situation, and enable him to come back with a bang – and win the very match where he’d fainted. That was quite thrilling to witness, and it felt like a big moment for the team, as well as for Yoon Dam personally.

I do like the idea that a change of perspective can change everything, because it ties in perfectly with what I always believe, that context changes everything. And I’m glad that Coach Bae gives Kang Tae Seon a different perspective, by showing him a different context.

It felt a tiny bit staged, sure, but the idea of Kang Tae Seon being overwhelmed by such an enthusiastic welcome from our badminton crew, full of excitement and admiration, when he’d been disdained and given the cold shoulder by his peers, is so heartwarming, that I can’t even blame Show a little bit.

I love the idea that this gives Tae Seon a new perspective of his purpose for working hard, and that this also allows him to tune out the haters and shut them up – by beating them on the court. Very nice.

On the village side of things, I did feel relatively less interested in this arc, and in particular, I thought the appearance of Big Gran’s ghost, was a little out there. However, I did find it heartening to watch the villagers band together and make a stand for the things that are dear to them. In particular, I liked that Grandma Ome’s effort to learn how to write her mother’s name, came in so useful, in exposing the dirty CEO’s underhanded tactics. I also felt proud of City Guy for speaking up with his knowledge of the law, and refusing to be intimidated. Good on him!

Going into the finale, I love the idea that every player has a part to play, and that every person can be a strength, when they’re ready and willing to take the opportunity, as it presents itself. I have a fondness for Woo Chan, and I’m pumped to see him play at the finals, when he’d assumed before, that he was too weak to have a chance to compete.

I’m looking forward to witnessing these boys come through all their obstacles together, as one team. Fighting~!

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Wistful anticipation. That’s exactly what I felt, coming into this finale. I was excited to see our boys compete in the finals, but I also felt distinctly wistful, at the prospect of saying goodbye to these characters. I really have grown very fond of them. Sniffle.

Ultimately, this was a very heartwarming finale, silly tangents and all, and left me with a big smile on my face. Sure, I thought certain moments were a little overly loaded with cheese, but the feels were real and bountiful, and completely satisfying. What more could I ask for, from a finale, right?

I love that our boys win the finals against the team from Seoul, and I’m so heartened to see that it’s a result of teamwork among our boys. In Sol doesn’t get to compete, but his analysis and strategy proves key, to Hae Kang and Woo Chan winning the match, and I like this idea a whole lot; that it takes a village, and everyone’s contribution is significant.

I love Coach Ra’s point, that what gives Hae Kang and Woo Chan the edge, isn’t their confidence or their skills, but the time that they’ve spent together. A BIG yes to that, I say.

Hae Kang and Woo Chan might have only been playing as a doubles team for a short time, but they’ve been living together and they’ve become so familiar with each other, that the understanding and synergy naturally carries over. I love that.

That jubilant victory shot, is made all the sweeter, by the now-overt closeness between Hae Kang and In Sol. I love how Hae Kang puts his arm around In Sol, and how In Sol mirrors Hae Kang’s action, of biting the gold medal. Ahhh. How far these two have come. My heart. It’s just bursting over this. ❤️

And how sweet, of course, that Hae Kang finally manages to make that confession to Se Yoon like he’d promised. They make quite a perfect couple, I feel. Not only are they able to understand each other’s struggles and challenges, they are well-matched in temperament too. Se Yoon’s able to be tough with Hae Kang when he needs it, and importantly, she’s also able to be tender with Hae Kang, when he needs it. And from what we’ve seen of their interactions all this time, I’m pretty confident that this flows both ways.

I felt rather sorry that Hae Kang didn’t win against Kang Tae Seon at the draft competition, but in the overall scheme of things, I feel it’s more important for Kang Tae Seon to win, and get his place as a national player.

It is consoling to know that Hae Kang has another chance the following year, and it’s also comforting to know that Se Yoon’s there to hug him and let him cry it out. Aw.

And, on Tae Seon’s side of things, beyond his win, it’s so poignant and lovely, to see him reunite with Coach Bae’s wife, who’s mothered him with such a pure heart, all these years. That honestly feels more precious than Tae Seon’s actual win against Hae Kang, actually. I’m so glad for him, that he’s back where he belongs now.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the time skip, but on hindsight, I’m glad that Show gave that to us. Not only was the time skip beautifully done, with Grandpa and Grandma Ome walking through the changing of the seasons, we’re greeted with puppies after the time skip. I mean, puppies basically make everything better, yes? 😍

What I like most about the time skip, is that we get to see that even though some things have changed – like Yong Tae being left behind in middle school while the rest of the crew moves on to high school – the most important things stay the same.

I’d honestly been a little apprehensive about whether our crew would be able to stick together, with the various changes that our characters would experience, so it’s wonderfully heartwarming to see that they’re all still living together at Hae Kang’s home. That’s so cool, to me.

I mean, there’s honestly no real reason for Coach Yoon and Coach Ra to continue hosting these kids, because they’re no longer coaching most of them. But, I realize that this is no longer relevant, because in the time that has passed, these kids have become family, and that’s reason enough, for them to continue living at the house. I love that. ❤️

I also love that our older boys are in the same high school, and training together on the badminton team. That makes me happy, and I imagine that given a bit of time, Yong Tae will eventually join them there, and our OG badminton crew will be able to play on the same team, all over again.

It’s good to see that our other villagers are doing well too, and that their online sweet potato sales are keeping them busy enough, that they’d welcome an extra pair of hands. The romance between Mr. Hong and Song Hee is rather cheesy, but I liked the idea of Mr. Hong’s affections finally being properly reciprocated, enough that I don’t even mind the silly cheese too much.

The arc that I really groaned at somewhat, for being silly, is how everyone gets all awkward and overly dressed up, for the documentary that’s being made about Se Yoon. I felt so much secondhand embarrassment, particularly when Coach Ra swans out of her room with her hair and makeup done, and in a flowery dress, and then claims that she just woke up like this, and that dress is her pajamas. Ack. I felt the cringe there, can’t lie. How great, though, to have a few minutes of Kim Seul Gi on my screen, though. I always enjoy seeing her.

I thought Coach Yoon’s video message to the boys was a little heavy-handed, but I love the heartfelt message it carries, and so I can’t complain. I love the idea that Coach Yoon’s grown so much, from working with the boys, and I love the thought, that the boys make him feel like a better person.

As a bonus, I love that we get to see In Sol compete, finally. He’s wanted this so much for so long, that I felt a vicarious sense of achievement for him. And, I love that Dad is in the stands, cheering him on, with a pretty head band to boot. Aw. 🤩

I’m also pretty stoked to see Se Yoon and Hae Kang playing mixed doubles together, just like Han Sol and Yoon Dam are. The fact that they are pitted against one another during a competition, makes me feel like they’re sharpening one another’s skills, like iron sharpens iron, and that they’re going to come out of this stronger than ever.

All in all, it’s been a great journey with our badminton crew, watching them grow as athletes and as people. Hae Kang might have been the catalyst to this group’s growth, but they all worked really hard, and each of them has come such a long way, that I legitimately feel proud of each of them.

More than anything, though, I love how their friendship has grown. From looking upon these boys as annoying and inconvenient strangers, Hae Kang now literally welcomes them as family. It warms my heart so much, to see that the pile-up, where they all lie on one another’s stomachs out in the garden, has now grown from a pile-up of 4, to a pile-up of 5. Aw. I love that. And I love knowing that these boys will continue to be family to one another, even after the credits stop rolling. 🥰

THE FINAL VERDICT:

A little scattered in structure, but so heartwarming and wholesome, that it doesn’t even matter.

FINAL GRADE: B++

TEASER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Racket Boys, is Chinese drama The Rational Life. I’ve taken a peek at the first two episodes, and I really like it so far! 😄

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
17 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Paulina
28 days ago

I liked this show too and I’d give it as much as A-. It’s for its positive vibes and for the understated way of dealing with more serious issues.

I’d add a few more themes to your list, KFG:
·        It’s okay not to win all the time.
·        Its okay not to be the best. You are still extremely important and there might be times that the team’s success will depend solely on you.
·        Being successful doesn’t mean you are not allowed to have fun and to enjoy life.

I have a feeling that in the success orientated Korean society these might be quite revolutionary concepts.

I agree with KFG that Coach Yoon’s losery was at times hard to stomach. But I think his character, however cartoonish, was there to make a point. Namely, that to be a good and successful coach you don’t need to be as hard as nails and that warmth, empathy and humanity/vulnerability can go much further and be more effective than cruelty and heartless pushing. Which I think might be added as another theme. 😊  

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
1 month ago

This drama has been my happy pill this summer. Not perfect, but so endearing. I have to admit that I enjoyed it more than season 2 of Hospital Playlist. I liked that the show did not shy away from some darker topics, such as abuse inflicted on young athletes by their coaches. Overall, I am very impressed with the young members of the cast and will definitely follow up on their next projects.

BE
BE
1 month ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

@Snow Flower: another happy pill, comfort food summer show, really the best surprise I have had in that line was following up on Sean’s tip vis a vis On the Verge of Insanity, the most underrated show of the year; totally entertaining, very good ensemble. Just a wonderful change of pace from what has been mostly served up this year, even among quality shows.

Natalia
Natalia
1 month ago

It seems that Tang Joon Sang is everywhere these days; that is good, he seems like such a talented young man. I’ll get around to watching that show at some point, but I think Move to Heaven will come first.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
1 month ago
Reply to  Natalia

Move to Heaven is next on my watch list.

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
1 month ago

A wonderful, “pictorial” review, kfangurl. I felt like I was actually there with them 📸 😊

Geraldine Tan
Geraldine Tan
1 month ago

I almost said “amen!” after reading your review. I just agree with everything you wrote. I watched the series with zero anticipation, i just got curious with it when I found out that Tang Joon Sang, who impressed me in Move to Heaven will be one of the leads. Then I got hooked with the series right from the start.

Im looking forward to watching these young actors in their next projects. Kudos to the writer, trainers, cinematographer and director of Racket Boys. Wishing for season 2

Thank you for you in depth reviews. Always looking forward to reading your thoughts and adjusting viewing lens with some series help a lot in appreciating them better. Good luck.

BE
BE
1 month ago

While it’s pretty scary to see one’s personality put in a nutshell as a description of someone that someone else might find an intriguing if a bit goofy blind date, let alone that then gone on to be a projected metaphor for watching a serial drama about a bunch of young teenage badminton players on a show I would have simply loved when I was 10 or 11
(some 65 years ago) I am glad you took the time to really go in depth on this.

I do wonder if preteen boys would still find such a show cool enough to watch without their parents, rooting for Hae Kang, identifying with Yong Tae, and yearning for Se Yoon. Or has our time and place so jaded our youth that show has become an adult rather than youth entertainment.

Show is manipulative, cliched, and simply delightful. A breath of fresh air in the midst of all the traumatic childhoods, cynical violence, dystopia, mayhem, bad sex, broken hearts, broken dreams, and the lives of rich and famous ghosts and zombies currently populating our dramma landscape.
In American terms, Raquet Boys is the mac & cheese of this seasons’ buffet table, all you can eat.
Between this and Move to Heaven, it is clear we are watching a star talent on the horizon, and I will again urge folks to catch Tang Jung Sang in his brief but well enacted support role in the very interesting sageuk film concerning King Sejong and the creation of Hangul, The King’s Letters.

A special shout out for Kim Mi Kyung as grandma Ome, the paprika on show’s comfort casserole. And the ever charming Woo Hyun 👍 as village head and amorous suitor of village crank Song Hee.

D S
D S
1 month ago

I totally got WooChun/Park Seo Joon vibes as well! Made me like the character even more. 😁

My favorite was InSol. I cried along with him when he broke down in the car.