Basketball: Episode 10
It’s like someone dared this show to go as dark as possible and Basketball said, “Challenge accepted.” Which means that San’s Suffering Saga (say that seven times fast) continues in an all-new adventure filled with daring prison escapes, backhanded betrayals, beatings, torture, and the darkest, bleakest thing of all—wedding bells. Of course, I’m just kidding.
But this show isn’t.
SONG OF THE DAY
Joseph Arthur – “Leave Us Alone” [ Download ]
EPISODE 10 RECAP
As the mine shaft collapses around San and Byeo-ri’s Dad, Chi-ho is left completely blindsided by Shin-young’s sudden marriage request. She’s at least truthful when she tells him why she’s asking, in that she’s doing it to protect San. Points for honesty?
San regains consciousness amidst the rubble and helps free Byeo-ri’s Dad’s leg from fallen rocks. The leg is badly crushed and bleeding, so the elder tells San to find a way out without him. San refuses—they’ll escape together.
Shin-young acknowledges how shameful her request is to Chi-ho, and it’s bizarrely funny how she says that he of all people would understand when he also has someone to protect, prompting Chi-ho to ask if marrying her will save In-soo. Her answer? No, he’ll still have to change his name.
So there’s nothing in this marriage deal for Chi-ho (aside from true love), but since he wants to save In-soo he declares that he’ll change his name anyway. And he doesn’t accept her offer for a very valid reason: “If you marry me while forever keeping someone else in your heart, it will hurt me too much.”
Shin-young’s response is just to derp before we cut back to San and Byeo-ri’s Dad, having nothing else to do but sit and hope for rescue. Dad brings up the fight San was in right before the collapse, and San’s instant reply is: “It wasn’t my fault.”
He’s saying it like he’s trying to convince himself more than anyone, and Byeo-ri’s Dad lets him know that this is a blame-free zone. San is still torn up about all that’s happened and admits that all he wanted was a house for he and his mother to live in, and success in order to change his life.
Byeo-ri’s Dad shows San a picture he’s kept of his daughter, encouraging the downtrodden youth to focus on those he loves in order to endure the labor camp, just like he does with Byeo-ri.
The sad thing is that Dad thinks the money he’s making is being sent to his daughter, so to him, all this pain is worth it.
Meanwhile Bong-soon, who was on Team San until this scene, tries to dissuade Shin-young from making any sacrifices for him. Shin-young stares into the distance as she admits that her feelings for San were real, despite the fact that he didn’t take their relationship that seriously.
After all, it’s not like she kissed Chi-ho and had a crisis over whether to dump Sa-… OH WAIT. Either way, Bong-soon tests Shin-young’s claim that she’s forgotten San, and Shin-young loses. She still loves him.
Bong-soon spots Sung-won acting suspiciously outside the house, and doesn’t take too kindly to him ordering her to tell no one what she saw. Ha, I like her spunk.
So Sung-won immediately changes his tune and claims that whatever secret work he’s doing is for her and everyone—he wants to create a society where everyone is treated equally, one where Bong-soon won’t have to talk so formally to Shin-young because she’s her servant/maid. Bong-soon is completely sold, and sighs with longing once Sung-won’s gone.
San’s memories of the promises he made to Shin-young and Mom are what drives him as he tries to dig a way out of the tunnel, but eventually exhaustion overcomes him and he collapses.
Shin-young tells Mom that she’s let San go, and poor Mom even asks her to reconsider—she’s the only thing San has left. But all Shin-young can promise is that San will be coming back soon, before she runs off to cry in private. She can’t tell Mom that she’s sacrificing her love for San’s life.
Voices from outside the mine call to those trapped inside, and Byeo-ri’s Dad has just enough strength to hit a rock against a beam to help the rescuers (or aliens, if the lighting is any indication) find them.
Byeo-ri’s Dad keeps watch over San in the aftermath, even sacrificing what little food he has so that San can eat something when he wakes up from his coma-like state.
When he eventually does, the other men (the ones who followed his advice to work in the camp, and the ones that ran away instead of helping him) comment that they wish San had died instead. Ouch.
San can barely stand, but he confronts them all the same to thank them—he couldn’t die because he had a score to settle with them. “It’s not my fault that you were forced here,” San finally says. “I was forced here too. We’re all victims. Let’s find the bastard who put us here and pay him back.”
Then he makes an unspoken promise with himself: “I will return soon, Shin-young.”
Meanwhile, Chi-ho changes his name to a Japanese one before Shin-young confronts him that she’s now ready to be responsible for her decision to marry him. “From the moment I become your wife, I will not think of anyone else. I will do my best to be a good spouse to you.”
Bookie Gong reads the engagement announcement between Asano Jiko (Chi-ho’s new name) and Kayama Yu (Shin-young’s) in the paper. His bickering with the ajumma’s daughter gives him an idea to blackmail Daddy Choi about sending San away forcefully in order to get money for his business venture.
He sends the application Daddy Choi forged to the man who forged it, but instead of being frightened, Daddy Choi gets an idea and calls Bookie Gong in.
Since he knows Bookie Gong stole the incriminating document, Daddy Choi pretends to call the police in order to scare him into compliance. Bookie Gong immediately drops to his knees and presumes to blame everything on San. New leaf my butt.
While San devises a secret escape plan with his fellow laborers/prisoners, Daddy Choi offers Bookie Gong a hefty sum if he brings San back. I can’t tell if he means dead or alive, but knowing him, he probably means dead.
Byeo-ri’s Dad wants no part of San’s escape (which involves a raft San made by hand), because he’s convinced that the money he’s earning in the mines is going to his daughter, which is all he cares about.
He asks San to give her a letter though, and shows him her picture. San seemed like he recognized her back when they were trapped, and now that he’s able to see her more clearly he remembers a very similar story about such a girl in the article about Chi-ho.
So San has to break the news to Byeo-ri’s Dad that a girl in the beggar’s village had a father who was sent off to a labor camp and that she never received a dime from him, which caused her to become homeless. He doesn’t know he’s telling Byeo-ri’s story, but it’s enough to instill doubt in her father.
The one morally conflicted ajusshi wants to escape with San, but is talked out of it by the other, more hateful ajusshis who still hold a grudge against him. They vote to report San instead, since they’ll be rewarded with a bag of rice each—enough to feed their families, the whole reason they came in the first place.
Something’s fishy when the three ajusshis join San on his daring escape, though they’re all eventually joined by Byeo-ri’s Dad. He couldn’t sleep after the story San told him and wants to know if his daughter is all right, so he’s chosen to escape with them.
The group has to inch their way through the camp, avoiding spotlights and soldiers as they make their way through the barbed wire fence using nothing but threadbare blankets.
Byeo-ri’s Dad’s leg is still in bad shape from being trapped, and it becomes useless once he takes a tumble down a hill. He tells them all to go on without him, but again San refuses. The other men help to half-carry Byeo-ri’s Dad to the riverbank.
San goes looking for the raft he hid in the brush while the three ajusshis share a knowing look. C’mon, you guys did not let him make it all the way here just to betray him, did you?
And the answer is: yes, they did. Instead of finding the raft, San is met with a gun to the head—thanks to the tipoff, Japanese soldiers were lying in wait. Only then does San realize he’s been betrayed and shakes in rage.
Whoa, so it’s already wedding day for Shin-young and Chi-ho. (How much time has passed?) Chi-ho has a pre-ceremony meeting with Shin-young, all dolled up in her wedding gown, to gauge her feelings toward San. He’s no dummy—he knows that this wedding is her sacrifice to save San.
Shin-young acknowledges this as the truth, but dispels Chi-ho’s fear that things will go back to the way they were once San returns. She wasn’t lying when she said she’d take responsibility for her decision, and claims that her feelings for San end here and now.
This is enough for Chi-ho, who promises that he’ll be good to Shin-young as her husband, and treat her like the most precious person in his life.
Cut to: San and Byeo-ri’s Dad being beaten in front of all the other prisoners. Muttonchops Hee-bong gets to be in two places at once—not only is he officiating San’s beating, he’s also emceeing Shin-young and Chi-ho’s wedding.
…Except it’s not a wedding(?!!) and just the engagement party announcing their future wedding, which for some reason required them to be in their wedding garb. So, this means that they’re STILL engaged? As Charlie Brown would say, auuuuuuuuuuuuugh. I was at least hoping they’d get married and be done with this engaged/not engaged/just kidding, we’re engaged nonsense. But I guess that would just be too convenient.
Water is splashed on San and Byeo-ri’s Dad when they pass out from being beaten, with Muttonchops Hee-bong demanding to know who planned the escape. In order to save Byeo-ri’s Dad, San tells the truth and claims responsibility.
But when Muttonchops Hee-bong plans to make an example of San by executing him for trying to escape, Byeo-ri’s Dad lies that he’s the one responsible so that they can kill him instead. Both of them end up being taken away.
Bookie Gong makes it to the camp with a menacing look and a gun in his pocket. Wait, did Daddy Choi send him to kill San?
Byeo-ri’s Dad explains his decision to be executed instead of San due to his busted leg and how he’d only be a burden to Byeo-ri with it, while San’s still young and has his whole life ahead of him.
He gives San his picture of Byeo-ri and tells him that if he ever gets a chance to meet her, to tell her that her father is sorry and that everything is his fault. Then he falls unconscious (dead?) and San is dragged out. He doesn’t even get to keep the picture.
Shin-young’s Oppa had the option to pick any place for them to hang out before he goes back to the front line, and she’s a little shocked that Oppa picked their father’s company. He’s greeted there by a balding Jo Hee-bong, who gifts him with postal stamps, considered to be like an amulet since government offices were held in such high regard then.
Strangely though, Oppa isn’t able to answer when asked why he’s choosing to return to active duty. He’s cryptic when he tells his sister that he wouldn’t be able to protect the company if he worked under their father, and claims that he’ll run the company in his own way.
“I’m not like Father,” he says. “When I come back from the war, I’ll tell you everything.” Ack, don’t say that! Whenever someone says they’ll explain later they never do because they always die.
It gets worse—when Bong-soon delivers the news that In-soo’s been released, Oppa encourages Shin-young to go without worrying about him. “It’s not like we’ll never see each other again,” he says. (If we run that through the Dramaland Translator, we get: We’ll never see each other again.)
Chi-ho is outraged when In-soo is delivered to them half-dead and rushes him to the hospital. In-soo starts apologizing to both his father and Chi-ho… ohhhhh no. No no no no. You are NOT going to kill him off, Basketball. You made the Hamlet allegory, and in case you already forgot, Horatio lives!
“I at least protected you… right?” In-soo ekes out to Chi-ho. A flashback to In-soo’s time in prison reveals the truly harrowing electroshock torture he underwent. And when he’d pass out, they’d wake him up again for more brutal torture.
Apparently they found evidence of communism on In-soo (the chyron tells us that communism spread among those people who were against Japanese imperialism), even though In-soo claims he was just learning about communism as a university student. It’s not like he believed in it.
But the police wanted to spin things another way—they wanted to make Chi-ho out to be a communist, so that through torture they could get In-soo to “confess” that such was the truth. But because In-soo was so loyal, he refused and was tortured for it.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the hospital where everyone’s decided to give the Indifferent Opera Treatment to a dying man (seriously, why isn’t anyone even trying to treat him), In-soo tells Chi-ho that even though he hated calling him “young master” when they were little, he’s very proud of him now.
When Byeo-ri arrives, In-soo chokes out that he’d wanted to find her a good husband, but now… “Do you remember when I read Hamlet to you?” he asks her. “You may need to be my Horatio.”
She starts crying, because she knows what that means—Horatio is the one who lives on, which means her Hamlet will die. In-soo: “You’ll remember me, won’t you?”
Then he starts convulsing and is finally attended to by the medical staff.
San regains consciousness aboard a train to Korea, with Bookie Gong sitting next to him. Even though he’s been saved, San’s first question is about the fate of Byeo-ri’s Dad—but Bookie Gong doesn’t know anything about that.
He urges San to go back to sleep, but he looks like he’s got something much more sinister in store.
In-soo has passed away, and is wheeled back out to his family. His father and Byeo-ri weep while Chi-ho just stands stock still with tears trickling down his face, completely in shock. Shin-young (did I mention she’s here too?) offers him support by taking his hand.
With the train nearly empty, Bookie Gong sets to doing what he came to do… by pointing a gun, not at San’s heart, but at his hand. I’m confused here—he was sent to shoot San’s fingers off? Is that so he can’t play basketball, because life wasn’t already terrible enough for him?
Bookie Gong hesitates, unable to do it at first. Then he presses the muzzle against San’s hand once more, his finger trembling on the trigger.
“This is… our only way to survive,” he says, his voice shaking. San slowly wakes up to see a gun pointed at his hand, and reacts quickly enough to avoid being shot. Bookie Gong claims that he wasn’t trying to kill him, he was trying to save him. What Twilight Zone, effed up universe are all these people living in? I’m done. I’m sooo done. *drops drumsticks*
Luckily, San was on guard because he was suspicious of Bookie Gong. The two men struggle and grapple for the gun, but Bookie Gong gains the upper hand and holds San’s hand down so he can point the gun at it, claiming that this has to be done so they both can live.
I’m not really sure what to put here, because a coherent reaction to this episode flew out the window when a gun was pointed at San’s hand. On a positive note, this episode was much more eventful than its predecessors and moved along briskly, delivering on some of its previous conflicts (Chi-ho’s name, In-soo’s imprisonment, and to a lesser extent the never-ending engagement) while setting up some new ones as we head into the final half.
On the flip side, this show qualifies most “events” and “scenes” as being not worth filming unless they’re so horrifyingly depressing as to make the viewer—and this is just my guess based on these past ten episodes—rethink their stance on life being worth living when it’s all a hopeless sham, a black hole if you will, one which views happiness as a plague which must be brutally tortured before it is obliterated from existence. And when all hope has faded, and San is missing appendages because he has not yet learned the true meaning of suffering, Kwak PD will personally salt the earth these characters ever stood on. If it sounds like I’m being too dramatic, have you watched this show?
Strangely enough I don’t feel desensitized to San’s suffering (which should’ve theoretically happened by this point) inasmuch as I feel fatigued from watching it drag on and on. It just keeps taking on new and worse dimensions than ever before, like the show is dead set on one-upping itself every episode. It’s not enough that he had to give up on love for basketball, or that his option to play basketball was forcefully taken away from him. It’s not enough that he gets sent to a labor camp, he has to almost die in a crumbling mine shaft. It’s not enough that he tried to help the men who left him to die escape from their imprisonment out of the kindness of his heart, he had to be betrayed by those men and then be mercilessly beaten in front of them. And then it wasn’t even enough for Bookie Gong to save him, because now he might have his fingers shot off—and that’s just this episode, without including the possible death of Byeo-ri’s father and the very real death of In-soo.
Chuno flouted expectations when it didn’t give its one true pairing the traditional red carpet treatment most shows are prone to, and I’d be interested to see if that process gets repeated in Basketball. The reason why I felt robbed by the engagement party being just that—an engagement party—is because it feels like Shin-young and Chi-ho have been engaged for eons now, and you can only tease at this conflict for so long before I’m ready to see closure on it one way or the other. Her decision to finally marry Chi-ho didn’t carry the weight I think she wanted it to because we all know that until there’s an actual wedding, there’ll still be a chance for her and San. Which is fine, but I really wish that it won’t be dragged out for the next eight episodes. (It’s so going to be dragged out for the next eight episodes.)
In-soo’s death, though. What a great character to lose, even though he was given a fitting emotional send-off, all the sadder because he protected Chi-ho until the bitter end. Even though Chi-ho made the big sacrifice to save his friend, it’s all the more tragic because he was too late. Now he’s changed his name, his best friend is dead, and he’s about to enter into a partially-loveless marriage. Here’s hoping for a little less torture next week for the sake of everyone’s sanity. Mostly mine.