Basketball: Episode 7
Our hero is having to learn the hard way that acting like an overbearing father to the love of his life (who’s already fresh out of overbearingly militant dads, no thanks to him) only drives her into the arms of his most-recently-hated-rival—a character who continues to steal all the righteous thunder this show has. It must be part of the plan to have San fall so low so fast, even if his success is inextricably tied to everyone hating him for daring to dream in the first place. It wasn’t enough for him to be poor and miserable, now he’s got to be successful and miserable to maintain the order of the universe.
In short, his life sucks.
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EPISODE 7 RECAP
The crowd outside the prison is swept up in cheers for both Korea and Chi-ho until shots are fired out of nowhere. Everyone scatters except for Shin-young who watches helplessly as Chi-ho is dragged into the prison, calling Shin-young’s name until he’s locked inside.
Meanwhile, San’s team wins the basketball game (mostly thanks to him), and he’s all happy until he remembers that Shin-young isn’t watching because she left to see Chi-ho.
San is interviewed right after the game thanks to his popularity. But before he can even get a word in, Bookie Gong arrives and forcefully introduces himself as San’s manager. Uh oh.
He tells the press that he’s the one who discovered San, and there’s the looming threat that Bookie Gong might just spill everything right then and there. Instead he keeps with San’s student lie but adds something the media didn’t know before: that San came from the slums.
Gong sells San as an underdog story and the media buys it, but he makes sure that they know his name. Now San is stuck with him.
Takeshi, who looks like he had a little too much fun in the Frilly Shirts Store, has nothing to do but listen to the game on the radio now that Chi-ho suspended his team.
And who should be the maid of his household but Mom (which means the evil wench of a mistress is Takeshi’s mother, go figure), who murmurs “Baby” when she hears San’s name on the radio. Takeshi catches onto this like a predator because it’s something only a mother would say of her son.
Even though Mom scampers off, Takeshi is still suspicious and angry once he remembers that San was the one who stopped him from hitting Shin-young. How dare he stop him from beating women! The nerve!
San has an angry confrontation with Bookie Gong over his managerial rights, but Gong is unintimidated. “Did you consider my feelings when you put me in jail?” Gong asks defensively, and it’s clear that no, San didn’t.
And even though no apologies are shared, San is stuck with Bookie Gong if he wants his secrets kept.
When San goes searching for Shin-young outside the prison, all he finds is bedlam as officers beat any crowd member who expressed a dissenting opinion.
Meanwhile (or should I say later because it’s suddenly night), Shin-young and Bong-soon are led through some shady alleyways by BAE SUNG-WON (Jung Seung-kyo), one of the pro-Chi-ho supporters we saw earlier. In order to shush Bong-soon, the mysterious man covers her mouth with his hand, resulting in her having nervous hiccups. Ha.
He takes them to a sort of underground bar to hide from the police, and seems well acquainted with one of Shin-young’s old colleagues, Reporter Kang. Of course, when Shin-young sees him gambling she has to express her moral disapproval of his actions. Who invited Buzz Killington to this party?
Reporter Kang probes Shin-young about her ties to Chi-ho—does she like him or not? She’s adamant that she doesn’t, but gets all tongue-tied when she tries to explain herself. Again, the lady doth protest too much.
She’s ready to leave this den of sin, but Sung-won forms a human wall that leaves Bong-soon hiccuping again. Reporter Kang gives Shin-young his card and tells her to come see him when she’s ready to write real articles, especially now that all major Korean newspapers have been shut down.
In-soo and Byeo-ri watch helplessly as police officers tear Chi-ho’s house apart looking for who-knows-what. Byeo-ri spies Chi-ho’s copy of Hamlet on the floor and manages to hide it unnoticed.
Bong-soon rejoices now that her hiccups have stopped, probably because she’s out of Sung-won’s presence. (I must’ve missed the part when they were formally introduced, because Bong-soon and Shin-young already know him by name.) Even though she calls Sung-won unattractive, methinks Bong-soon has a hiccup-induced crush.
Shin-young thinks about Reporter Kang’s question (“Do you like Min Chi-ho?”) and her flustered reaction, which means she’s still unsure of what her honest answer would be.
San greets Shin-young outside her home with a hug and a good “I was worried about you.” Aww, that’s fair.
What’s not as fair is how possessive he gets around her, because he instantly launches into the “You’re dating me, so do what I say!” spiel we’ve heard before. I get that he’s jealous, but boy needs to cool his heels just a bit.
Daddy Choi tells his daughter to go with him to Pyongyang tomorrow since Chi-ho’s future depends on it. At least Shin-young’s over the honeymoon phase with San, since she associates Dad’s “Do as I say!” with San’s very similar “Do as I say!” and doesn’t seem to like either.
Bookie Gong returns home to Ajumma and her daughter now that he’s out of jail, claiming that he’s put his gambling life behind him. He wins Ajumma’s heart back by calling her “noona” and apologizing profusely, and the deal is sealed with some post-fighting sexy time which we blessedly don’t have to see.
After San and his teammates get their hard-earned pay, his previously-snooty Coach changes his tune as he tells San that where he comes from doesn’t matter as long as he’s a good basketball player.
Bookie Gong waits outside for San in a snazzy new suit and eyes his pay, claiming that even if he doesn’t get an apology from San, he’ll make sure to collect the debt he owes.
When Secretary Kim arrives, Bookie Gong asks if he remembers hiring him to take care of that shantytown problem before introducing himself as San’s manager. “I’m always going to be right by San’s side from now on,” he says with a smile.
So San finally pulls him aside to settle on a deal: they’ll split his earnings fifty-fifty and call it even. Though Bookie Gong wants more, they eventually settle on the split with the promise that San will now have Gong’s protection in keeping his identity a secret—after all, it’d only hurt their earnings if the truth came out.
San’s Mom cries to see her son gracing advertisement posters everywhere, and San catches her in time to take her to a boutique. He’s so proud of his paycheck that he wants to buy her new clothes, even though he’s temporarily confused when Mom just starts crying at the sight of the uniform he shows her. “You’re not happy? You’re not… going to compliment me?”
“I’m so proud of you,” Mom says through her tears. Even though the clothes are expensive, San still buys her the new outfit—and however insistent Mom was not to get it, she’s clearly happy with the present.
Once they’re outside Takeshi’s house, San tells his Mom, “I’ll earn a lot of money so that you can live in a palatial house. So, only wear pretty clothes like this from now on, and don’t get a drop of water on your hands. Live happily with me for a long, long time.”
But when Takeshi drives up, San instantly distances himself from his mom so as to look like he was just helping her carry things as a good samaritan—a university student like he’s supposed to be wouldn’t have a maid for a mother.
It’s too late for San’s blood ties to escape Takeshi’s notice, since he remembers Mom calling San fondly when she heard his name on the radio. Not good.
Daddy Choi takes his daughter to Chi-ho’s father in order to make a case for Mr. Min to use his power to get his son out of prison. Mr. Min, being the principled man that he is, says that he’s respecting the beliefs Chi-ho stood up for by not interfering. Whatever punishment is meted out to his son, he plans not to fight it.
This doesn’t quite work for Daddy Choi, so he tries using Shin-young as incentive by claiming that she hasn’t been eating or sleeping since Chi-ho’s been in prison. Isn’t it only right to free her future husband?
The answer Shin-young gives Mr. Min probably isn’t what Daddy was hoping for. She supports Chi-ho just like her future father-in-law, but she corrects him in saying that it’s not a belief Chi-ho was protecting, but a person—Byeo-ri.
She mentions how Chi-ho promised to right the wrong he had unwittingly committed against Byeo-ri, and that this stand was his way of doing so. Shin-young: “If I had the power, I thought to myself that I’d like to protect Chi-ho for his beliefs and conviction—not because I’m his fiancée, but because I also believe that protecting people is our most important duty.”
Meanwhile, San and his teammates are drafted to endorse the Neighborhood Patriotic Associations to poor people living in the exact kind of neighborhood San came from. The patriotic associations were sold as something good, but had a sinister purpose—by organizing the Korean people into ten-family units, the colonial state was able to get the people to spy on each other and police themselves as a way of achieving total dominance.
The people are ready to hang on San’s every word because he’s their new basketball star, which only seems to trouble San for a few moments. The official propaganda he reads to them is too full of words they don’t understand, so San ditches the paper and speaks from the heart… which is actually worse, if that was even possible.
He gets on the people’s level by telling them that he grew up in a slum just like them, but lies(?) that he was able to rise up and get sent to school because of the generosity of the kind of patriotic association he’s selling to them. If it weren’t for the patriotic association, he says, “The basketball player known as Kang San would never have existed.” Yiiikes. Thin ice.
Chi-ho’s mom gives Shin-young food to take to her son when she visits him in prison, expressing her joy that Chi-ho’s future wife is such a nice, well-bred girl.
Her words and generosity cause Shin-young’s feelings to waver, because she instantly recalls San angrily asking who she was really dating—him or Chi-ho? By the look of it, even she’s not sure.
The people believe every word San says and plan to do whatever it is he endorses, which includes (but isn’t limited to) joining neighborhood patriotic associations and signing up for postal savings accounts.
(Interesting historical factoid on those: It was only recently discovered that Japan had tens of thousands of dormant accounts filled with wages from Korean wartime laborers. Due to the confusion at the end of the war, the money was never returned to its owners and even today actually can’t be returned to the owners’ descendants due to a 1965 bilateral agreement Japan signed which renounced its responsibility to, y’know, give that money back.)
The party is broken up when San’s old friend Bok-joo arrives with some of his previous village elders, now displaced because San and Bookie Gong’s gang destroyed their village. At least San does feel bad, especially since a little kid told him he wanted to grow up to be just like him—and that’s exactly how he was about growing up like Chi-ho.
They denounce San for what he’s become and almost out his secret, but Bookie Gong gets his men to drag them away. One of the elders cries out to San, “What you’re doing isn’t right! You should be ashamed of yourself!” Bok-joo just seethes with rage.
When San goes to visit Shin-young’s house that night, Bong-soon feels bad to tell him that Shin-young’s on a trip—and yes, it’s Chi-ho related.
Daddy Choi’s tactic on Mr. Min works, since he betrays his principles to get his son out of prison. In the meantime, Byeo-ri helps Chi-ho’s mom pick up the house after the police ransacking.
Chi-ho is changed out of his dirty and bloody prison clothes before he’s released, since the press and public are waiting outside. His mother greets him with sobs while Byeo-ri greets him with one of his trophies she spent all night piecing back together after it had been broken. Staaahp, Basketball! I already love these two way too much.
The vice chairman of Jungchuwon (otherwise known as Jo Hee-bong) has died, leaving Daddy Choi and Councilman Yoon to attend his funeral. The two discuss booking a luxury event hall for what’s sure to be Yoon’s prompt promotion to the recently vacated position.
Count Byun is also in attendance, and orders his men to keep a close eye on Daddy Choi and everyone he associates with. Daddy Choi, as we see, is nearing his breaking point when it comes to tolerating Yoon and his kind, promising that he’ll get his when he becomes senator for the Japanese empire.
Shin-young tries to have A Talk with San about him being in the wrong by telling her what to do, though she backs down when San brings up her trip to Pyongyang only after she throws her purse at him to grab his attention.
“Why does everything you do involve Min Chi-ho?” he finally asks, and Shin-young apologizes for not telling him before she left. However, she chastises him for talking so harshly about Chi-ho the same way she used to get Chi-ho for talking about San: “That man sacrificed himself to protect something precious to him. I don’t think it’s right for a third party to speak so carelessly about it.” Ouch.
“You can sacrifice something only when you have something,” San fires back. “To someone who has nothing, a sacrifice is a luxury. Not everyone can become Min Chi-ho. He’s able to do it because he’s Min Chi-ho. Please don’t force me to become him. I’m not him.”
Shin-young asks if a person raised in the slums can’t help or sacrifice for others, emphasizing how San’s poor background never bothered her at all. After all, he pulled himself up enough to graduate from Kyungsung University despite being poor: “But, I can’t bear the thought that the heart of the man I like is poor.”
San starts to ask what would happen if he weren’t a student of Kyungsung… but stops when he sees her expression.
Bok-joo catches him outside the court and pulls him aside to ask for money, since it’s the only payment he can get for the injustice of San killing his grandmother.
When San tells him that grandma’s death wasn’t his fault, Bok-joo starts punching him in a rage. San fights back only with words and tries to convince Bok-joo: “I want to succeed. Is that so wrong?” He means it, and that’s what stays Bok-joo’s hand.
But Bok-joo is incredulous about what success means to San—if that success comes without caring who gets hurt on the way, is that success? San doesn’t know how to respond, because he doesn’t know himself.
While Bookie Gong obsesses over San’s bruised face, Bong-soon lets Shin-young know that she disapproves of her choices, seeing as how she’s going straight to Chi-ho after fighting with San.
Shin-young doesn’t feel all that bad since she couldn’t get San to hold a decent conversation: “He interpreted my words as he pleased and left after saying what he had to say.” Bong-soon: “He sounds just like someone else I know.” Ha.
Okay, time out—are we stuck in some sort of time warp? In the time it takes Chi-ho to get home from prison, newspapers have already been printed with a picture from his release and a headline claiming he’ll change his name to a Japanese one, Jo Hee-bong had time to die and have a full funeral, Shin-young had time to visit San, and San had enough time to fight with Bok-joo. Yet Shin-young makes it to Chi-ho’s house just as he’s getting there, and in that time everyone has had time to read said Instant Newspaper and collect eggs to chuck at Chi-ho for his name-change betrayal. (Confused? Me too.)
Either way, everyone goes from calling Chi-ho a hero to calling him a traitor, because public opinion is a fickle creature. Chi-ho had no idea about the name change and has to find out from his mother that his father made that decision in order to get him out of jail.
Chi-ho is incensed, because his father singlehandedly undid the work he was trying to do. “This isn’t right. I can’t do this to all those people who believed in me!” he cries, before he storms out to find his father.
But his prison stay has robbed him of his strength, and Chi-ho faints. Shin-young is there to catch him.
Bookie Gong has San fitted for a brand new suit so he can attend the inauguration event for the newly appointed Vice Chairman Yoon, as thrown by Daddy Choi. When Yoon lavishes praise on San’s basketball skills, he can’t help smiling just a little, even if he feels guilty for having fun after his confrontation with Bok-joo.
Shin-young brings Chi-ho some herbal medicine after he’s woken up, and he thanks her for everything even as he admits that he came to some realizations while in jail—the biggest one being that he’s not the great man he thought he was.
In fact, he learned that all the luxuries he’s come to enjoy weren’t given to him because he’s necessarily greater than others, but because he was luckier than others. “From now on, I’m going to live differently. Since I was lucky enough to have led a good and easy life, it’s time for me to pass that luck to others. That’s why I can’t have my name changed.” Slow clap.
They both look at the stars together, but Shin-young seems taken by Chi-ho’s chiseled profile. Ha, then Chi-ho faints again.
Bok-joo’s little brother is sick with something—his nose is bleeding and his hand is mutilated. When Bookie Gong comes claiming San sent him, he fawns over Bok-joo’s little bro until he sees his hand and loses it: “It’s leprosy!”
Bookie Gong’s first thought is to get as far away as he can, but suddenly he smiles mischievously. Leave it to this guy to find a way to exploit some kid’s leprosy.
Jo Hee-bong has risen from the dead to emcee the vice chairman’s inauguration event, and Daddy Choi makes a grand donation of two military planes to the Japanese army.
He also calls San up to make a speech, and San really only has to talk in increasingly pro-Japanese language to gain this particular audience’s adoration. What’s harder to watch is that he clearly enjoys their praise/attention.
Shin-young covers Chi-ho with a blanket while he sleeps against the doorframe, but he wakes up and just gives her this look, with the warmest smile you could imagine.
Then, he slowly leans in and kisses her.
As much as I recognized that there were important character beats this episode and moments I enjoyed watching, I’m beginning to wonder whether this show knows it can have its cake and eat it too in terms of plot and character. It’s possible to have deep, reflective character arcs while moving the plot forward, isn’t it? Because right now it feels like we’re getting tons of the former with almost none of the latter.
That’s not to say there isn’t stuff happening and that it’s all leading nowhere, even if the recent episode cut of the Olympics story arc deals a blow to those of us (namely, me) who were looking past the present out of excitement for the future. If we’re looking at this with the glass half full, then huzzah—we don’t know where the story is going, so that makes whatever’s coming inherently more surprising than it might’ve been before.
Buuut, if we’re looking at this with the glass half empty, then we don’t know where the story is going and aren’t guaranteed anything—and you don’t gain flagging viewer confidence by telling us that you’re cutting the story short six episodes early. A lot of dramas do their part and then some with only sixteen episodes, so it’s more than enough time to tell a complete story, but there’s a difference between planning your run and getting that run cut. Because try as we and the production team might to justify the shortened length, everyone knows that this discussion wouldn’t be happening if the show was a bonafide hit.
Frankly, I’m finding it a teensy bit hard to believe that Basketball—which was in pre-production long before some of the currently-airing dramas were even a twinkle in their writers’ eye (and which supposedly had half its episodes in the can before airing)—realized as of, oh, yesterday that they suddenly didn’t have enough time to tell the story that they created a whole show in order to tell (so sayeth the documentary). Even curiouser is the nineteen episodes they claimed they would have spent on the Occupation years, when up until now I thought the story was meandering on purpose before we got to the hardcore wartime years leading to the Olympics. But it wasn’t. Wamp wamp waaamp.
All those feelings aside, this hour mostly felt like an expansion of the last, which isn’t without its merits. I’m interested to see where the story plans on taking San, who’s changing so much during his success-seeking journey that I have no idea where he’s headed. I wasn’t expecting Shin-young to make the Freudian connection between San’s personality as compared to her father’s, even if I’m glad that she did, since San doesn’t seem to know how to hold onto a woman who’s drifting away and thinks that ordering her not to will work. And when that doesn’t work, he orders her to just obey his orders and is surprised when she gives into that all-too-familiar compulsion to just not do what someone tells you to.
San has his moments of vulnerability (all the little smiles he can’t help when he’s recognized for his actions), but he’s stuck in a vicious circle caused by circumstance and knows it, even if he can’t convince anyone else of it. His point about Chi-ho having the means to make grand sacrifices where someone like him doesn’t was a good one, even if there’s a compelling argument to be made on both sides as to who has more to lose between them. I’d like to think that Chi-ho made his stand knowing that he could lose everything, but it’s interesting to wonder if he would’ve done the same had his background been more like San’s.
Even if this is all leading up to a point where San will have to sacrifice everything he’s so recently gained in order to prove himself, what will be interesting to watch for is whether he does so because he wants to and makes that fundamental change within himself, or because he’ll just have to give in to everyone’s pressure and admit that at least in dramaland, ambition is bad, mmkay.