Racket Boys: Episode 2
With the first national competition right around the corner, our badminton players get ready to win some games and serve some revenge. Despite his initial grumblings, our Seoul transplant slowly adjusts to his new environment, though the occasional culture clash still catches him off-guard. As more people start joining this provincial town at the edge of the land, things are getting a bit livelier around this small corner of the globe.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Birdies litter the living room floor as the kids try hitting one into a cup. The winning side (boys vs. girls) gets to use the indoor bathroom, and though Hyun-jong thinks the boys should be chivalrous and take the outside one, Young-ja tells him to keep things fair. Waking up late, Se-yoon puts an end to their game by getting it in on her first try.
It’s their first day of school, and Hae-kang ambles along the sidewalk while the rest of his teammates zoom past him. He yells at them to take things easy, but Woo-chan informs him that the next bus is in an hour. That puts a fire under his butt, and Hae-kang runs like the rest of them.
On the bus, Hae-kang takes an open seat and wonders why the others are standing in the aisle. Moments later, his answer arrives as a crowd of elderly people stroll onto the bus and take their usual spots. When the boys finally get to sit down, they find themselves carrying the other passengers’ items, which include dried fish and live chickens. Pfft.
Hae-kang asks the others about their classes and scoffs at Yong-tae when he tells him that the third years are all in one room. The others stare back at him in silence, and Hae-kang realizes that they are not joking.
At school, Hae-kang immediately falls asleep at his desk and tells his teacher that he is in athletics. While that excuse might have worked in Seoul, it does not fly here, and Hae-kang lifts his head in embarrassment.
Class President Jung In-sol glowers at Hae-kang, and during their break, the other third years fill Hae-kang in on In-sol’s background: he is the top student in the province, his dad is a councilman, and his uncle is the superintendent. In other words, not even the principal can touch him.
After practice, the boys continue training at home, but Hae-kang refuses to work after hours. His only goals are winning one round in order to get Wi-Fi installed and destroying his arch nemesis, the yellow-hair kid. He asks the others if they are working extra hard because of Jae-suk (their former teammate), but the mere mention of his name causes the others to trudge back inside.
Head Coach Bae goes over the budget for the upcoming spring competition and reminds Hyun-jong to keep a low profile. Distracted by the news of a famous coach moving teams, Hyun-jong worries about losing his job, but Head Coach Bae assures him that no one is coming to replace him.
Having noticed his team’s change in attitude, Hyun-jong asks the head coach about Jae-suk. He tells Hyun-jong that the badminton team practiced a BTS performance for the school festival last year, but Jae-suk suddenly transferred schools to Seoul without telling anyone.
Later that day, Hyun-jong gets the principal’s approval for their trip and promises to return the school to its former glory. His words make the principal feel nostalgic, and he reminisces about the days of “White Wolf,” the legendary coach who led their team to eight consecutive years of wins.
While the other kids enjoy pizza thanks to Yoon-dam’s parents, Se-yoon nibbles on a salad. Hae-kang teases her for dieting, and she storms back to her room. Han-sol calls him for not apologizing for his previous actions and getting on Se-yoon’s nerves, but he just taunts her, too. Stooping down to his level, she replies, “You’re so ugly.” Pfft.
Everyone thanks Yoon-dam for the food including Han-sol who shyly covers her mouth when addressing him. Seeing his chance for revenge, Hae-kang calls her ugly. Hahaha, they’re so childish!
At the girls’ practice the next day, Se-yoon leads the team around for fifty laps, and Han-sol grumbles at her when they learn that their coach only asked for thirty. Things get worse when they start their first activity as Se-yoon leads the pack and causes a huge gap to form between her and last place.
Young-ja yells at the girls for not keeping up and tells the whole team to rest for five minutes and start over. Once they are alone, Han-sol criticizes Se-yoon for getting ahead of herself, but Se-yoon refuses to be embarrassed in the upcoming competition by coming in second place. She keeps running around the gym, and her other teammates fawn over her.
Meanwhile, Hae-kang learns about the Jae-suk incident and finds it silly that they are bitter over a dance performance. Woo-chan tells him that it was actually because of the spring competition, and Yong-tae adds that Yoon-dam used to be best friends and doubles partner with him.
Hae-kang assures them that he will take care of everything now, but his boasting gets interrupted by Head Coach Bae. He scolds the boys for wearing slippers in the gym, but when Yoon-dam walks in wearing the same slippers, his attitude changes completely.
Despite the clear favoritism, the others do not hold it against Yoon-dam for long as they walk to an internet café after practice. On their way, Hae-kang notices two bullies harassing a student, and the others tell him that they are known as the “tollgate” bullies.
Yoon-dam suggests taking a different route, but Hae-kang keeps walking and bumps into the bullies on purpose. Staring them down, he tells the bullies to scram, and his haughty attitude causes them to scamper away. Though Yoon-dam shakes his head in disapproval, the others give him a thumbs up, and Hae-kang basks in their praise.
Hyun-jong helps Mr. Hong move bags of fertilizers and uses this chance to ask about White Wolf. Mr. Hong has only heard rumors about him as well, and he tells Hyun-jong that the school started losing after he left ten years ago.
At the internet café, Yong-tae begs the others to play one more round and even promises to do the dishes for a whole month. His offer entices them, but Hae-kang points out that they ran out of money. As they leave, someone bumps into Hae-kang and gives him a cursory apology. The boys warn Hae-kang to leave this guy alone since he boxes, and Hae-kang needs no further explanation.
While Grandma walks along the sidewalk, a city couple pulls up next to her in their car and asks about Mr. Hong’s place. She glares at them, and they drive away, peeved at her lack of response.
Still on his White Wolf hunt, Hyun-jong asks Head Coach Bae about it, but he is even more clueless than him. They join the boys in the gym for food, and Head Coach Bae asks what they want, making it clear that he is in the mood for jjamppong.
The boys turn to their youngest to speak up, but Yong-tae agrees with Head Coach Bae’s selection. Everyone but Yoon-dam chooses the same dish, but to Hyun-jong’s surprise, Head Coach Bae changes the menu to their ace’s pick.
The city couple parks on the side of the road, and Grandma walks by and smacks the hood of their car. The husband thinks she is mad about them not offering her a ride, but Grandma points to her spring cabbages, which they ran over.
She asks why they moved to their town, assuming the worst, and the wife interprets her response as a request for monetary compensation. Grandma shouts at the city folks for solving everything with money, but before their fight escalates, Mr. Hong appears.
He asks why Grandma is all dressed up, and she tells him that she is going to her sister’s grandchild’s birthday party in another city. He offers to drive her to the bus terminal, and Grandma turns down his offer. They go back and forth for a while until Grandma deadpans, “Go get the car already.” Pfft.
Yong-tae plays games alone at the internet café, and the boxer sits next to him, asking for some help. With his voice shaking, Yong-tae tells him that he is in a middle of a game, but the boxer pours soda on his head and orders him to come out. He drags him to an alley, and the tollgate bullies step out from the shadows.
Mr. Hong welcomes the city couple to their small town, and the husband asks about the materials they need for farming. Mr. Hong gives them extra supplies that he has lying around, and they thank him for the stuff.
The wife asks if Grandma got to the terminal safely, and Mr. Hong chuckles, explaining how old people here tend to talk backwards. He wonders what brought the couple to the countryside, and an awkward silence falls over them.
The badminton boys huddle around Yong-tae and ask why his face is all beat up. He admits to being hit by the boxer and tollgate bullies, but assures them that he is fine. Yoon-dam says that they should wait until after the competition to get revenge, but Hae-kang is already out the door.
Though Grandma arrives at the city safely, she arrived too late, and the rest of the party had to depart without her. The only way for her to make it on time is to take the subway, and Grandma tells her skeptical sister that she can do it by herself.
However, Grandma is already stumped at the ticket booth, unable to make sense of anything. Luckily, a nice student notices her panicking and helps her buy a senior ticket.
Hae-kang goes to the internet café to challenge the bullies, and they step outside to fight. The boxer tells the “tennis” club that their youngest has a face asking for a beating, and Hae-kang’s lid pops. He tells the boxer everything he did wrong—picking on the weak, running his mouth, and calling them the tennis club—and he throws the first punch.
Grandma successfully rides the subway but lands in the middle of the bustling city with nowhere to go. As she looks around frantically, a nice young man (cameo by Kim Min-seok) helps her out. He gives her directions to the restaurant, but realizing that it all means gibberish to her, he guides her there himself.
Hyun-jong eats out with Mr. Hong, and the restaurant owner correctly guesses that he is a badminton coach. He tells him that his son used to play for their middle school during the White Wolf era but eventually quit as a player because of the coach’s strictness.
Hyun-jong asks if the parents did not complain, and the owner tells him that no one could deny his skills. He points to a photo he has from when his son played, and Hyun-jong whips out a magnifying glass to get a better look.
Grandma makes it to the restaurant with the nice man’s help, but realizes once they get there that she got the name wrong. He offers to help her find the real one, and they walk around town, checking all the restaurants in their vicinity.
They finally reach it in the end, and Grandma thanks the nice man for all his help. They tell him to come eat since he probably has a lot of time on his hands, but the nice man admits to being late for his previous engagements. Nevertheless, he says that he is glad that Grandma came in time for the party.
Sporting new scratches, Woo-chan and Yong-tae praise Hae-kang for standing up to those bullies, and he turns around to smile at his fan club. The others gasp, though, when Hae-kang’s nose bleeds, but he pretends to be fine before succumbing to the pain.
Now that the adrenaline has worn off, they start worrying about the coach’s reaction, and Hae-kang assures his teammates that he can take care of his dad. Woo-chan corrects him since they are worried about Head Coach Bae and his inevitable disappointment.
Hyun-jong informs Young-ja about Hae-kang’s fight but neither parent seems too worried since their son was the aggrieved party for a change. More than that, Hyun-jong is concerned about the rumors surrounding White Wolf’s return, but Young-ja tells him not to worry. He asks how the coach got his nickname, and she says that it should be obvious. Connecting the dots, Hyun-jong realizes that White Wolf is the coach on the news since his last name is “white.”
Noticing the eerie air coming from the gym, Hyun-jong runs inside. He acts as the scary coach in order to shield the kids from the head coach’s fury, but his plan fails. Head Coach Bae shouts at his team to get down, and everyone besides Yoon-dam drops to the floor.
Turning to Yoon-dam, Head Coach Bae says that he was talking to him, and he scolds the captain for abandoning his teammates and ignoring their youngest’s injuries. He asks why they even play, and Yoon-dam begs him for another chance.
Head Coach Bae gives Yoon-dam a long list of tasks and says that they can attend the spring competition if he completes them all in three hours. He makes Yong-tae count and stalks out of the gym. As he passes, Hyun-jong notices a patch of white hair in Head Coach Bae’s head, and a message from Young-ja confirms his suspicions: White Wolf is the head coach.
The city couple unpacks their stuff at their new house, and the husband comments on how nice Mr. Hong is. His wife points out that people are only nice for their own profit, and they agree not to be tricked again.
Three hours pass, and Head Coach Bae returns as promised. Yong-tae tells him that Yoon-dam still has a lot left, and the head coach cancels their upcoming competition. With tears streaming down his face, Yong-tae takes responsibility for everything, and the others join in as well. Hyun-jong asks the head coach for some leniency, but none of their pleas work.
Hae-kang suddenly offers to finish the tasks, and he repeats Head Coach Bae’s mantra (“win together, lose together”). The rest of the team help Yoon-dam finish the remaining push-ups and practice swings, and their actions convince the head coach. He tells Hyun-jong to count and then whispers to him to take care of the kids. As Hyun-jong watches him leave, he sees a white wolf standing in his place.
The boys take the bus home, completely exhausted from today’s activities. Hae-kang tells the others that his family is out so they have to decide on the menu and cook themselves. Noticing Yoon-dam staring out the window, he pulls their captain into the conversation and tells him to come up with a game to play.
At home, Hae-kang explains to the group that the first person to turn off the lights by hitting a birdie at the switch gets to choose tonight’s dinner and cook. As soon as the game starts, Se-yoon wins, and she chooses Hae-kang to make curry. Everyone disperses, and they ignore his empty claims about succeeding, too.
At first glance, Hae-kang’s curry looks normal, but Se-yoon barely takes a bite before running away from the table. The others try as well, and end up fighting for the water jug. Only Yoon-dam lies about it tasting fine, though he pales when Hae-kang tells him to eat some more.
Han-sol suggests throwing it all away, but Hae-kang refuses to waste his precious cooking. He thinks they should share it with the new neighbors, and Yong-tae balks at his idea. He calls it a declaration of war, and the others nod in agreement. Pfft.
In their new house, the city couple sits in the dark and comforts each other. They jump when the doorbell rings, and the husband finds Hae-kang standing outside their door. He hands them a pot of curry, and setting aside his misgivings, the husband thanks him for the food.
The wife cries after taking a bite and says that it is the best meal she has ever had. The husband tries as well and agrees. The wife suddenly bursts into tears, admitting to her husband that she is scared, and he asks, “Of living or dying?” He tells her not to cry, and the camera pans away, revealing two nooses hanging from the ceiling.
Mr. Hong digs a hole in the middle of the night, but the ominous music cuts out as we see him bury Hae-kang’s curry in his yard. The other neighbors received some as well, but they all agree that it tastes like crap. Ha!
The city couple eat Hae-kang’s food and chuckle over the fact that they want kimchi with it. The husband comments on how this is the first time she laughed after they moved here and smiles back at her. The doorbell rings again, and the husband finds a package outside—a container of spring cabbage kimchi from Grandma.
Back when Grandma went to the party, her sister asked the nice man why he went out of his way to help Grandma. He told her that he did it because it was her first time in the city. Moved by his kindness, Grandma passes it along to the city couple, and they cry at the sight of her kimchi.
Hyun-jong visits his friend at a fancy restaurant and asks about his business. He thanks Hyun-jong for co-signing his loan, and Hyun-jong takes it as a sign that he is doing well now. He decides to ask for some money but stops when he notices his friend’s holey sock.
At home, he tells Young-ja about his friend and wonders if Hae-kang might know the truth about him co-signing a bad loan. She thinks he probably only knows that they are really poor, and Hyun-jong sighs. Changing topics, he asks her why White Wolf left, and she tells him to pay more attention to their son.
Hyun-jong claims that Hae-kang is the same but gets excited as he retells the moment their son said “one team.” Not convinced, Young-ja recounts the time in elementary school when Hae-kang fought his entire class because of a bullying incident as well as all the fights he picked while playing baseball. She explains to her clueless husband that their son merely has a bad temper. Heh.
While Yoon-dam treats Yong-tae’s wounds, their conversation turns to the upcoming competition, and Yoon-dam calls their ex-teammate a jerk for leaving without a word. They worry about the matches as well as Hae-kang, which makes Woo-chan wonder where he disappears to every night.
Unbeknownst to the others, Hae-kang is living his best life at Grandma’s house with Wi-Fi and yummy food. He asks if they ate the curry, and she lies that they did. In reality, Grandpa fed it to Flex, but even he refused to eat it.
In the morning, Grandma walks down the road, and the city couple drives past her. They offer her a ride, but as usual, Grandma refuses. When they actually start leaving, her eyes widen in shock, but the couple was only teasing and stops their car.
They give her a lift and ask if she gave them kimchi. She says that she heard their house was empty, and Mr. Hong assured her that they were not the type of people to commit suicide. Her astute comment causes the wife to hit the brakes, and Grandma starts on another rant about how men should know how to drive like the old days.
Mr. Hong eats at the restaurant and tells the owner about Hyun-jong’s misunderstanding of the famous coach. The owner praises White Wolf again, mentioning how he never took bribes, and sighs over the incident that happened ten years ago. They stare at the old photo, and standing in the back is Head Coach Bae.
At the competition hall, Hyun-jong watches in admiration as other coaches come to greet the head coach. With sparkling eyes, he turns to him for some advice with the order, and the head coach claps him on the shoulder: “The coach is the lighthouse.” However, his awe of White Wolf disappears a second later as Head Coach Bae nags him for going over their budget. Pfft.
The building is filled with players, coaches, and parents getting ready for the competition, and Se-yoon practices in a hallway, amassing a small crowd of adoring fans. The second ranked player, Lee Na-ra, drops by to chat, and Se-yoon teases her for dying her hair instead of practicing. A reporter comes by for an interview with Se-yoon, but Young-ja steps in and sends him away.
Meanwhile, Woo-chan greets familiar faces with special handshakes, and Yoon-dam hangs out with the cool kids. Yong-tae describes all the top players to Hae-kang, but before he can get to Jae-suk, Hae-kang sees his rival and attacks him. Yoon-dam has to carry him away, and the other players wonder who the crazy kid is.
Yong-tae uses the bathroom before the matches and runs into Jae-suk. He beams at his old senior, but when the rest of the team comes in, Yoon-dam frowns at their ex-teammate. Jae-suk tries striking a conversation, but Yoon-dam wonders why a dog is barking and glares at him.
While Hyun-jong decides the order, he takes his players’ inputs into consideration and puts Yoon-dam as the last single in hopes of a matchup against Jae-suk. When Yong-tae returns with the final order, all their guesses were wrong—the other team’s ace is going second. Hae-kang smirks since he will play Jae-suk and gives his characteristic smirk. Heh.
Woo-chan plays the first match, but his opponent quickly dominates the game. The rest of the team watches from the stands, and Yoon-dam’s dad joins them with bags of bread. Hae-kang asks about Woo-chan’s parents, and Yong-tae tells him that they are in the military and against him playing. A sudden ruckus in the stands causes the games to pause, and an umpire tells the arguing parents to stop.
Head Coach Bae instructs Hae-kang to warm up, and the others watch him in the hall as he practices. Woo-chan joins them after losing his match, and they all grab Hae-kang’s hand, giving him their energy to win against Jae-suk. Hae-kang pulls away, explaining how he wants to win for Wi-Fi and not their revenge, but they do not care what his reason are.
Watching Hae-kang closely, Head Coach Bae tells Yoon-dam’s dad that their new player will be his son’s rival and partner. As the game begins, the tide quickly turns to Hae-kang’s favor as he widens the gap with a nicely placed smash to the side. Woo-chan calls him handsome while Yoon-dam refuses to go that far for him. Heh.
Their match garners the crowd’s attention, and even a line judge gets distracted by their playing. Soon, the crowd gathered around the top players’ match switch sides and come to watch Hae-kang, the genius badminton player. All the while, the boys cheer for their teammate and post his best shots on social media.
Hae-kang reaches the 11-point mark first, and as he grabs some water, his attention turns to the other court. He stares at the top players, and they look over at him as well. Resuming his match, Hae-kang gets ready and smirks.
The revelation about Head Coach Bae was a fun twist this episode, and I liked the multiprong approach the show took to reveal the different facets of this character. Hyun-jong goes on a quest to find the elusive White Wolf, unintentionally informing the audience of past Head Coach Bae, and at the same time, we see present-day Head Coach Bae and his show of favoritism to Yoon-dam. The creators emphasize the contrast in the beginning, but when Yoon-dam fails as the team captain, we see the White Wolf side of the current head coach. He is not just a nagging boss who cares about the budget but a coach who wants the best for his team and help his students grow as people. While Hyun-jong only saw the superficial results of the incident (the boys got hurt in a fight), Head Coach Bae spots the deeper implications of this situation and what it means for the team. What makes the head coach so awesome, though, is that he never curses or even belittles his players. His punishment may come across as harsh, but he uses this as a teaching moment for Yoon-dam to realize his own mistake. Also, he clearly wants them to succeed since he allows them to participate when Hae-kang offers the correct answer to his mission: win together, lose together. In this case, he wanted them to truly understand what losing together means, and he waited patiently for the boys to figure it out for themselves when he could have chosen the easy way and told them outright.
Like the head coach, I was disappointed in Yoon-dam for staying out of the fight, but I also understand why he wanted to avoid conflict. Right now, all he wants is to go to the spring competition and beat Jae-suk. As a result, he made a selfish decision to ignore Yong-tae’s injuries not because he thought fighting was bad but because he did not want to jeopardize their upcoming matches. However, Yoon-dam is still a kid, and like all kids (and people, really), he made a mistake. What defines him is his actions afterwards, I love how we see him repent and make amends. While this was a great moment for Yoon-dam to grow, my favorite thing about this whole situation was the boys’ reactions to their captain. None of them resented him for getting special treatment or for not joining them in their fight against the bullies. They all banded together as one team, and I especially enjoyed the small moment on the bus when Hae-kang naturally pulls Yoon-dam into the conversation. It’s a sweet gesture that shows how thoughtful and observant Hae-kang can be, even if he is a hot-tempered and boastful teen most of the time (though, in all honesty, even his boasting is adorable).
The second episode also introduced some new characters, and this time, it’s a city couple joining the small town. Naturally, Grandma gets off on the wrong foot with them since her brand of speech often invokes misunderstandings, but the show uses these characters to portray how people of all ages can still learn new things and change their ways. While Grandma is caring, she still harbors certain prejudices, especially towards city folks, and her words can sound rude to the unattuned ear. However, when she finds herself in the shoes of a newcomer, Grandma realizes how scary being in a new place can be. Thankfully, she runs across two very helpful people, and their kindness motivates her to pay the favor forward. Thus, she gifts the city couple with some fresh kimchi, and inadvertently, her small gesture saves their lives.
It’s sad to think that people run away to the countryside only to take their own lives, and I think the show depicted what could have been a heavy topic with grace and sensitivity. The show portrays the city couple as hopeless more than anything else, and the idea of suicide is neither glorified nor vilified. It comes across as a sad situation representing how broken people can become without the right support systems, but in the end, the show delivers an uplifting message. Hae-kang drops by to give the new neighbors curry, which prompts them to look for kimchi. Then, in the most unexpected place, they find what they are looking for, and it causes them to weep. People do not always need a grand reason to live, and sometimes the smallest, most mundane things in life like a neighbor’s gift of curry and kimchi are enough to make this miserly world a place worth living. One small act of kindness led to another, and without even meaning to, a person’s life was saved.
Speaking of curry, that entire sequence was brilliant, and I loved how it was used to garner a laugh as well as emphasize the city couple’s situation. It was hilarious to see the villagers throw away Hae-kang’s cooking (what did he put in there?!), and Flex’s angry barks were the cherry on top. In addition, the others’ reactions contrasted well with the city couple, and it highlighted how much the action meant to them than the actual taste. All in all, Racket Boys is off to a strong start, capturing both the hilarious and tenderhearted moments of these wonderful characters.