Racket Boys: Episode 4
The badminton team faces their biggest threat yet as outside forces cut funds and put their small club at risk for disbandment. While our young players do their best to save their team, our new coach still has a long way to go in order to match his students’ passion and drive. A little setback, though, will not crush our Racket Boys’ spirits nor their infectious kindness as they continue to pursue badminton as a team.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
At the 2016 summer training camp, a larger senior beat Hae-kang in a match and scoffed at the prodigy for losing. Gritting his teeth, Hae-kang kept silent since his teammate begged him to keep the senior in a good mood for the rest of their sakes.
However, when Hae-kang spotted the senior threatening to hit Se-yoon, his attitude changed, and in their next game, he crushed the senior in front of the whole camp. In the crowd, Se-yoon watched Hae-kang in awe.
Despite winning their competition and even getting MVP, Hae-kang’s classmates barely batted an eye when the badminton team returned to school. On the other hand, the baseball team entered to a thunderous applause, and Hae-kang frowned in the hallway as his teammates assured him that he was still the best.
Head Coach Bae advises the team to be careful before the upcoming competition, but the boys are worried about the funding cuts. He tells them to concentrate on their games, but when he turns to Hyun-jong for support, he simply sighs and rattles off all the terrible things that are destined to happen once they run out of money.
Though the head coach promises everything will be fine, the boys still wonder what will happen to them. Yong-tae tells them about his friend in an archery club who also lost funding, and the third years suggest scouting new players. As usual, Hae-kang refuses to participate and walks away.
During PE, Yoon-dam and Woo-chan demonstrate for the class, and Head Coach Bae instructs the students to practice for their performance assessment. While the girls circle Yoon-dam and the boys crowd Woo-chan, the only people left are Hae-kang and In-sol. Head Coach Bae orders them to partner up, but In-sol says that he does not need Hae-kang’s help.
Most of the students miss their swings during the assessment except for one student who smashes the shuttlecock over consistently. The badminton boys assume someone on the team is hitting it, but all three of them are sitting outside the court. They turn around in confusion and find the class president playing badminton.
Hyun-jong scowls at a driver for parking in front of their gym and grumbles when he finds a man standing inside with his shoes on. The principal introduces the guest as In-sol’s father and a councilman, and Hyun-jong folds over in half.
In-sol’s dad asks Hyun-jong for a favor pertaining to his son and promises to fund their team if he fulfills his request. The principal also supports the councilman’s wishes, and due to budget cuts, he suggests the badminton team withdraw from the upcoming competition.
Yoon-dam and Woo-chan play rock-paper-scissors and reach a tie with fifty wins each. The loser has to invite In-sol to the team, but Hae-kang calls it pointless since In-sol would never join them. However, Woo-chan heard from a classmate that In-sol learned badminton after coming second in PE class once and believes he has the skill and tenacity to play.
After winning the last round, Woo-chan pushes Yoon-dam over, and the latter asks In-sol to be the newest member of the Racket Boys. When In-sol pauses for an answer, Hae-kang interjects and pulls his teammates away. He thinks In-sol will say no, but inside the class president’s notebook is a drawing of a shuttlecock.
Hyun-jong tells the team that they will skip the upcoming competition in order to focus on the summer one, and he holds conferences with the players to talk about their futures. Unfortunately, his advice is antithetical to what the kids want, and he fails to understand the team dynamic. All the while, the head coach frowns as he listens from the back.
Head Coach Bae meets with the administrative chief about the budget, and she offers to look even though she doubts anything will change. Having heard the rumors about In-sol’s dad, she asks about the badminton team tryouts and wonders why his dad would ask for their help but cut funds.
In the gym, In-sol runs a countless number of laps for his tryouts, and Hyun-jong tells him to clean up afterwards. The head coach suggests talking it out with the student first, but Hyun-jong tells him that this is his dad’s wish. In truth, the request from In-sol’s dad was not to watch over his son but to make him quit badminton for good.
Head Coach Bae receives a call from the administrative office and shares the good news with the team: they can participate in the upcoming competition. Hyun-jong worries about the repercussions, but the head coach assures him that this is an advance on next year’s budget and has no bearing on the favor from In-sol’s dad.
That night, the kids excitedly talk about the competition, still holding onto their school’s once renowned name. Hae-kang scoffs at them for being delusional since their reality is closer to disbandment, but his negative attitude does little to dampen their mood as they get up to cheer without him.
On their way to the competition, the boys tell their coach that they will pass the preliminaries this time, but Hyun-jong informs them that he only booked their rooms for two days. In the back seat, Hae-kang asks the girls how long they are staying, and Han-sol says that they always stay for the whole week.
Woo-chan wonders where they will sleep once they win, and Se-yoon points out that it will be hard to find available rooms because all the badminton competitions happen in succession. Han-sol assures the others not to worry because they will lose, but quickly adds that Yoon-dam will probably win his match.
Hae-kang asks where his mom is, and Se-yoon balks at him for addressing their coach so informally. As they bicker, Han-sol tells him that she goes down earlier than the team.
They arrive at their lodgings, and Hyun-jong frowns at the other motel’s inappropriate name (“Come as Two, Leave as Three”). While Head Coach Bae collects all the boys’ phones, Hyun-jong asks why the girls get to keep theirs, and the head coach tells him to ask his wife.
All the adults from the coaches to the motel owner distrust the boys’ judgement unlike the girls, but the contrasts only get worse from here. Even their rooms differ as the girls stay in a clean space with hot water while the boys are stuck in a drab one filled with condoms and lewd business cards.
When Hyun-jong checks on them, innocent Yong-tae complains about the weird noises coming from the other room, and the others look away, unwilling to explain the truth to their youngest. Hyun-jong takes away the extra toilet paper, tissues, and condoms before leaving, and only Yong-tae is left clueless as to why.
At the restaurant, the food varies as well, and the boys wonder why the girls only have vegetables at their table. Hae-kang thinks they got the better deal, but the girls tell him that Young-ja comes down early to check the room conditions and menu to ensure they stay in top condition. While the boys slurp on their seaweed soup, they remember the old superstition (eating seaweed will make you slip/fail), and they immediately ask the owner for replacements. Heh.
After stuffing their faces, Hae-kang suggests playing some games, and everyone but Yoon-dam agrees to join him. Meanwhile, Hyun-jong and Young-ja have dinner with some old colleagues, and once the women leave, the men clink glasses and start drinking in earnest.
Hae-kang grabs some snacks from the convenience store, but when he returns to the room, he finds a note telling him to head towards the roof. When he reaches the top, Hae-kang finds everyone practicing their swings, and they invite him to join their late-night training.
While they take a break, Hae-kang asks why they suddenly changed plans, and his teammates tell him that they really want to win some games and secure funding for their club. He throws the same question at the girls, wondering why they are training instead of playing on their phones.
Han-sol agrees that using her phone is more fun, but they endure those boring practices every day in order to play at competitions. Se-yoon tells Hae-kang that they learned to take responsibility for their choices, and as players, that means trying their best. He asks who taught them that, and the scene cuts to their coach.
Young-ja sits with her team, acknowledging their hard work and giving them advice on tomorrow’s court conditions. She checks on all her girls and makes sure they understand that they should always come to her for help if they get sick or have their period.
On the other hand, Hyun-jong gets drunk with his coaching buddies and insists on grabbing another bottle. The others warn him about his competitors since they are one of Coach Paeng’s (the head coach of the national youth team) top picks, but Hyun-jong brags about being the better player back in the day.
In their room, the boys discuss their opponents, and Yong-tae gets excited since they might actually win with Hae-kang on their team. Yoon-dam tells him not to pressure Hae-kang, and the others agree since he already saved their club by joining in the first place.
Yoon-dam thinks they might have a chance in doubles, though he jokes about Yong-tae being shorter and less handsome than the other school’s youngest. Yong-tae scowls at him, and the three of them tussle on the bed. While his teammates laugh and take pictures together, Hae-kang lies wide awake in the back, pretending to be asleep.
The boys bang on their coaches’ room and tell Hyun-jong that they only have an hour before their game. Hyun-jong promises to be down in ten minutes, but thirty minutes pass by the time he gets to the car. He assures them that they will arrive with time to spare, but as they drive, the scenery looks odd.
Though cutting it close, they find a sign pointing towards the gym, and Hyun-jong tells the head coach that he will bring the boys in time for their match. As they zoom into the parking lot, the boys rush out of the van—already ten minutes late for their game—but when they open the curtains, they enter an empty gym.
Head Coach Bae apologizes to their opponents for missing their match and takes responsibility for this mistake. He asks for another chance, and the other coach begrudgingly agrees to make a one-time exception for the students.
Right when things seem well, Coach Paeng appears and barks at them for setting a bad example. He says that they need to adhere to the rules in order to be fair, and since he is the head coach, no one disagrees.
In the hall, Coach Paeng confronts Hyun-jong and asks if he thinks competitions are a joke. Knocking him on the head, he tells him to get his act together, and Hyun-jong has nothing to say.
On the car ride back, Hyun-jong apologizes for making them miss their game, and the kids forgive him right away. They ask if they can still compete in the summer competition, and Hyun-jong assures them that they still have funds.
As an apology, he offers to buy them snacks at the next rest stop, and while they eat, Hyun-jong tells the head coach that maybe things turned out for the better since they were going to lose anyways. Though he agrees with the fact that all teams want to win, Head Coach Bae points out that their players lost without even getting to try. He says that the boys need a goal to follow, but Hyun-jong doubts the team is that serious.
At night, Yong-tae receives a text from his mom, telling him that she sent him money. Still groggy, he sighs at the message and goes back to sleep.
The next morning, the boys run onto the bus, and though they make space for Hae-kang in the back, he chooses his regular single seat. Since today’s practice will be recreational, they make plans to play games after school and eat out.
While In-sol runs laps in the gym, his dad arrives, asking to talk. He tells his son to play golf or horseback riding if he just wants to de-stress, but In-sol tells him that he has a different reason for wanting to join the badminton team.
Hyun-jong asks Young-ja for advice on how to make In-sol quit, but everything she suggests has already failed. The more Hyun-jong describes In-sol, the more he sounds like the perfect athlete to Young-ja, but Hyun-jong shakes his head since it would cause a mess.
Back in the gym, In-sol tells his dad that he wants to be a part of the badminton boys. He knows about his dad trying to help him make friends, but for once, he wants to accomplish something on his own. He says that he can succeed, and his dad leaves without another word.
As In-sol resumes his run, he spots a pair of feet in the distance, and Hae-kang pops out from his hiding spot. In-sol threatens to kill him if he tells the others what he heard, and Hae-kang promises to keep his secret—not because he cares about In-sol but because he could not care less.
In-sol’s dad meets with the principal in private, and Head Coach Bae overhears a bit of their conversation. He tells Hyun-jong about the possibility of disbandment and orders him to keep this a secret from the kids. Right then, a bottle falls to the floor, and Yong-tae stares up at them in shock.
Though the coaches try their best to lessen the blow, Yong-tae looks dazed as he asks if their club will be disbanded. The coaches tell him that nothing has been decided, but Yong-tae interprets their words as meaning that they might.
The boys play games at the internet café, and Hae-kang gets ready for another round since Head Coach Bae gave Yong-tae some money. However, the others feel dispirited by the recent news, and even Yong-tae wants to quit.
At home, they fret over their club and ask Hae-kang if he heard anything about In-sol’s dad cutting their funds. Keeping his promise, Hae-kang says that he has no idea. As they go to bed, the boys keep wondering about their future, and Yong-tae gets an update from his archery club friend: their team just disbanded. In the midst of their worries, Hae-kang snores peacefully next to them. Heh.
While the team practices in the gym, Woo-chan suddenly clasps his chest and faints. Yong-tae rushes to his side, bawling his eyes out, and Hyun-jong runs back to the office to call for an ambulance. He jumps in fright when he sees Hae-kang preparing a birthday cake, and his son tells him that they are pranking Yong-tae for his birthday.
Joining in on the fun, Hyun-jong skips back to the gym but stops in his tracks when he finds Yong-tae begging Woo-chan to wake up. Yoon-dam tries consoling him, but Yong-tae tells him that Woo-chan was the first person to prepare him a birthday meal after his parents’ divorce. He calls the team his only family, and Woo-chan cries as he hears his youngest’s pleas.
Woo-chan first moved to the school in the sixth grade because of his dad’s deployment, and then in his second year of middle school, his dad announced another transfer. For the first time in his life, Woo-chan disobeyed and told his parents that he wanted to play badminton with his team.
Hae-kang walks into the gym with the birthday cake, but the birthday boy is too busy crying his heart out. With tears streaming down his face, Woo-chan hugs Yong-tae and apologizes for the prank.
Hyun-jong visits the principal to thank him for the advance, but the principal tells him that Head Coach Bae paid for the competition fees out of his own pocket. As for the In-sol situation, the councilman will leave the decision up to Hyun-jong, but nevertheless, the principal thinks In-sol should quit.
Expecting a call from In-sol’s dad, Hyun-jong answers his phone, but it’s the owner of “Come as Two, Leave as Three” Motel. The owner asks about their reservation, explaining how the boys begged him for a room since they swore to pass the first round.
As Hyun-jong steps outside and into the rain, Head Coach Bae shields him with an umbrella. Hyun-jong turns to him for direction, and the head coach tells him to consider what the kids need the most right now. Hyun-jong guesses a new teammate and more attention, and while his answers are correct, Head Coach Bae tells him that they need a coach.
Someone snores during class, and the teacher automatically assumes it must be the badminton boys. Hae-kang tells him that he is paying attention (even though he is on the wrong page, heh). The teacher turns around, and to his surprise, In-sol is sleeping.
After class, the teacher asks Hae-kang about his competition, and Hae-kang thanks him for helping him pass so he could play. He says that In-sol’s tutoring really helped, and the teacher tells him that this was the first time In-sol volunteered to teach another student.
Hyun-jong introduces the newest member to the team, and the boys clap for In-sol. After the coaches leave, the others ask In-sol why he joined, and In-sol turns red. As he struggles for an answer, Hae-kang jumps in, lying that he asked In-sol to join and prove that smart people can be athletes, too.
While they grab their bags, Yong-tae comments on how small their room will be with In-sol joining them. In-sol flatly refuses, though, since he still needs to attend private lessons and finds their living arrangements unsanitary. Pfft.
Since Hae-kang’s parents will be out and the girls are still at the competition, the boys are in charge of Hae-in for the night. Before heading home, Hae-kang stops by town to pick up jellies for his sister, but on the way back, he misses the bus.
While he waits for the next one, Mr. Hong pulls up with his car. Hae-kang assumes he is offering him a ride, but Mr. Hong is going to the garden fair with Grandma and Grandpa. The city couple pulls up with their car next, but they have an important meeting to attend and cannot give him a ride, either.
By the time Hae-kang comes home, no one is there except for his sister’s discarded doll. He suddenly gets a call from his dad, and Hae-kang rushes off to the hospital. He passes by his neighbors on his way there, but he barely notices them as he runs to Hae-in’s side. Thankfully, she looks fine, and she tells her brother to be quiet.
Earlier that evening, Hae-in suddenly fainted, so they called Mr. Hong for help. Since the ambulance takes forever to arrive, Grandma and Grandpa told Mr. Hong to cancel their plans and go back. Meanwhile, the boys took turns carry Hae-in on their backs, and they eventually met up with Mr. Hong’s team and the city couple.
Hae-kang watches his teammates sleep in the empty hospital bed, and his parents go outside to thank their neighbors for all their help. After they bring Hae-in back home, Young-ja tends to her and berates herself for not paying closer attention to her children.
She asks Hyun-jong about their son, and he tells her that Hae-kang is attending all the practices. They start wondering why he quit in the first place, and Young-ja points out all the inconsistencies in Hae-kang’s behavior. Their son was super popular back then, and no matter what bribes they offered, he always refused to play again.
Right after the baseball team received a better homecoming than him, Hae-kang complained about his classmates to his dad. However, he said that he was not going to quit badminton over something so trivial and hung up.
Just as he was about to leave the restroom stall, Hae-kang overheard his badminton teammates talk behind his back. They ridiculed Hyun-jong for being poor and laughed about Young-ja never showing up to his games.
Afterwards, Hyun-jong called again to ask if his teammates liked the burgers he bought, and Hae-kang lied to his dad, saying that they loved it. On his way out, though, he found the untouched burgers in the trash.
Hae-kang comes out of the bathroom, and the other boys grumble about him needing chaperones at night. As they sit outside, Hae-kang looks up at the stars and marvels at the fireflies in the yard. The others are used to all of this and leave him behind.
Hyun-jong peels apples for the boys, but when he checks their room, it is empty. Hae-kang brought them over to Grandma’s house, and they call him a jerk for hiding such a great place from them. As they get immersed in their game, Hae-kang tells the others that he will start giving it his all, too. They look at him for a moment and then resume their game. Heh.
Before coming over, Hae-kang dropped by Grandma’s house to thank her for today and wondered if he could bring over a few more guests. She asked who they were, and Hae-kang answered, “My friends.”
Hyun-jong disappointed me this episode, and I found his actions irresponsible. He got drunk the night before the competition, slept in because he was hungover, and then drove to the wrong place because he did not doublecheck the location. All these mistakes are a result of his choices, and Hyun-jong ultimately has no one else to blame but himself. This incident was not even an outcome of bad luck because everything could have been avoided if he was a bit more careful and attentive. However, the real problem with Hyun-jong is his attitude and the way he unconsciously belittles his team and their dreams. He fails to notice how much sweat and time the boys poured into badminton and what it means to them to play together because he only sees the game as win or lose. However, the show’s focus afterwards is not on Hyun-jong’s failures as a coach but on the other characters’ charitability and understanding. None of the boys hold it against Hyun-jong for missing their game, and Head Coach Bae never yells at him for squandering his money. Rather, all the characters look forward, and as a result, they are able to forgive wholeheartedly, which gives Hyun-jong the chance to grow.
While I am mad at Hyun-jong for wasting this opportunity, I do not hate him as a character because this is the start of his arc. It makes sense for Hyun-jong to be a bad coach since he came down to this small school in order to earn some money. The show has reiterated time and time again that Hyun-jong appears to hold no passion towards teaching, and he treats his position as just another job that pays the bills. Thus, the contrast in convictions between the passionate coaches like Young-ja and Head Coach Bae and the apathetic ones like Hyun-jong is stark. Being a good coach requires more than individual skill as demonstrated by Young-ja, and hopefully with two standout examples by his side, Hyun-jong will learn what a coach should be and eventually find his own path. The change is already starting with Hyun-jong adding In-sol to the team, but more than that, I genuinely believe he is a kind man who saw the errors of his way. Cutting some apples will not be enough, but there is still plenty of time for our bumbling new coach to make it up to his boys and actually be the coach that they need.
Overall, I thought this episode was adorable, and my love for these characters grew even more. In-sol’s addition to the story was cute, and his confession to his dad was sweet but heartbreaking because of how vulnerable he was in that moment. He wants to play badminton because he wants to be their friend, and I love how In-sol is the one actively trying to build a relationship with them yet none of the boys (except Hae-kang) realize this. Another adorable yet sad scene this episode was the birthday surprise, and my heart went out to Yong-tae and Woo-chan. I was simultaneous smiling and crying as the birthday prank went awry, and Hae-kang tip-toeing into the gym with the cake and silly glasses was the perfect contrast to the two boys wailing into each other’s arms. Despite his smiling face and carefree attitude, Yong-tae is lonely because of his family situation, and the team has become his second family. The youngest, though, is not the only one who feels this way as the show reveals Woo-chan’s backstory and why he lives in a different city from his parents. What these boys want is to play badminton together, and the birthday scene perfectly captured how much they love and care for each other.
Last week, the episode ended with Hae-kang saying that his badminton teammates were not his friend, but this time, he finally says the words. In a previous episode, Young-ja described her son as hot-tempered and unable to grasp concepts like team and one, but in reality, neither parent seems to understand how much their son loves people. He is a very empathetic person who puts others’ emotions above his own, and underneath all that bravado and inflated ego, he is a sweet and loyal kid. The show finally reveals why Hae-kang abandoned the sport he loved, and it was not because of some trivial reason like popularity. He experienced betrayal from his so-called friends and teammates, and for a kid like Hae-kang who is actually very sensitive to ideas like friendship and team, it was a crushing blow that disillusioned him from the sport. Thus, it’s a beautiful narrative choice to have Hae-kang fully return to badminton for the very same reasons he left: friends. He wants to play for the team, and this time, I truly believe he has found lifelong teammates who will earnestly love and support him.
Hae-kang’s character growth is a gradual process, and there is no one moment that makes him suddenly switch from begrudging teammate to wholehearted friend. Instead, we see flashes of smiles and contemplative looks from Hae-kang as he gets to see his teammates for who they truly are. He watches how much they cherish one another, and in turn, how much they appreciate him. No one pushes Hae-kang to try harder unlike his previous teammates, and they understand how much he has already done for them by even participating in competitions. Hae-kang starts to view the others not as potential backstabbers who just want to use him but as actual friends who want to play with him. As a result, when he sees how hard they try to win, he wants to help them achieve their goals because that is what friends do. The show cements this change in Hae-kang by having him invite the others to his favorite place, which symbolizes him opening up to the others and letting them into his life by choice. While they might have been forced to become roommates, showing them Grandma’s place was completely Hae-kang’s volition. The other great thing about this scene was the boys’ reactions. They recognized the wall Hae-kang was building between them before, and now that he is breaking it down, they accept it without question and move on. To them, Hae-kang was always their friend—they were just waiting for him to catch up—and now that Hae-kang has realized this, too, I cannot for the day he finally sits with them in the back of the bus.