Racket Boys: Episode 8
Our Haenam badminton team seems poised for a big change. Though victory is within reach, and their team is growing tighter by the day, they are faced with a looming problem: they may end up losing their friend and team ace.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Woo-chan sits with Hyun-jong and gives notice that he’s quitting badminton for good. It’s not that he doesn’t like badminton, but Woo-chan feels he’s reached the limit of his potential and he’s sure that quitting is what his father wants for him as well.
Hyun-jong reassures Woo-chan that there’s no parent in the world who doesn’t want their child to pursue what they enjoy doing. He also has a little story for Woo-chan about his own sporting past. He didn’t stop playing badminton because of a career-ending injury or lack of passion; opportunities to play just dried up as he got older.
He asks Woo-chan to stay on the team a little longer, after all, once Woo-chan is older he won’t have the opportunity to play even if he wants to. Woo-chan agrees, but tells Hyun-jong he’s wrong about something. Some parents don’t want their children to do what they enjoy.
There’s a crisis in the village, and Mr. Hong arrives at Grandma’s house to see her beautiful mural has been defaced and trash spread all over the property. The words “Mind your own business” are in big red letters.
The boys huddle and think over strategy for the summer competition while Hae-kang focuses on winning games on his phone. In-sol’s prepared with videos and perceptive comments on each boy’s form and technique.
Using one of the videos he shot, In-sol points out an issue with Woo-chan’s technique. Woo-chan takes that in and with a serious face he asks In-sol for all the videos he has.
In a departure from his normal attire, Hyun-jong is dressed to the nines in a suit and nice dress shoes. It’s such a change that even Hae-kang has trouble registering who the man by their car is.
The country folk are busy cleaning up the mural just as the pair of city hikers mosey by. They’re their typical rude (and bold) selves and take a moment to act oh-so-shocked at the state of Grandma’s mural. The rudest one makes sure to blow cigarette smoke in Ms. Shin’s face and hawk a loogie before walking away.
Just like before, Mr. Hong remains quiet and accommodating, simply sighing when Ms. Shin berates him for not speaking up. Driving away, Head Hiker smokes yet another cigarette as he says he’s determined to take Ms. Shin down a notch. He flicks the cigarette out the car window and it lands on some dry grass.
Hyun-jong goes to a cafe to buy some coffee for Coach Paeng, just like the other coaches have been during the competition.
Back in the village, Ms. Shin’s mother notices dark plumes of smoke in the distance and the villagers run to put out the fire. They manage to avert major damage and Ms. Shin insists on calling the police this time and Mr. Hong agrees.
An array of fancy coffees and sweets are laid out before Coach Paeng and two junior coaches. Hyun-jong enters bearing coffee… sugary, cheap, canned coffee. Coach Paeng is surprised to see him, and the two junior coaches are straight up dismissive, making fun of his suit and the fact that he brought cheap canned coffee instead of the “real” stuff from a cafe.
Coach Paeng asks if Hyun-jong stopped by because he has something to say, but before Hyun-jong can speak, the junior coaches chime in to say that “even” Hyun-jong would know better than to drop by after so long with such a crappy gift, all to ask for favorable treatment.
The Busan Jeil boys and the Haenam boys have a showdown, with the Busan kids looking down on the “country” boys and Seoulite Hae-kang annoying everyone by looking down on the whole lot of them lol.
Hyun-jong finds his nerve and says he came to put in a word for his kids, and Coach Paeng brushes him off impatiently. Hyun-jong clarifies that he’s not asking for favoritism but for Coach Paeng to judge the kids as they are, and for their talent. Hyun-jong politely says goodbye and leaves.
Strangely, Woo-chan is missing, even though the competition is about to get underway. The Haenam team are anxious about the team lineup and they want a matchup between Hae-kang and Busan Jeil’s Seung-hun as they see that as their best path to victory and qualification to the final rounds.
Hae-kang is busy warming up–and rolls his ankle. Seung-hun watches with interest as Hae-kang limps off the court with help. In a quiet corner, Hyun-jong checks on Hae-kang’s ankle as Seung-hun quietly lurks and observes them.
On the girls’ side, Coach Lee and Na-ra are in high spirits as they greet Se-yoon and Young-ja right before their match. It puts Young-ja on guard, but Se-yoon is as calm and collected as ever.
Busan Jeil’s coach worries about their lineup and Seung-hun volunteers the information about Hae-kang’s injury and offers to go head to head with him.
Na-ra and her coach walk out looking utterly drained and Reporter Kim asks why they’re coming out so soon. Is there something wrong with the court? He gets no answer and a figurative light bulb turns on over his head. He rushes in and sees the scoreboard: Se-yoon scrubbed the floor with Na-ra.
Woo-chan’s been missing during both Yoon-dam’s match and Yong-tae’s match. He finally arrives right before his doubles match is due to start, looking like a boy on a mission. Head Coach Bae seems worried and asks what’s up with him and the boys say it’s because Woo-chan’s discovered his weakness.
The match starts and Woo-chan is on fire. He dives to hit a spike and lands hard on the floor. Hyun-jong runs over to him, full of concern, and says Woo-chan needs to go to the hospital, but Woochan pleads to continue–he has something he needs to prove.
Hyun-jong pauses and checks out Woo-chan’s shoulder again–and calls for a withdrawal. They lose by forfeit and it brings Haenam Seo’s tally at 1 victory, 2 losses. Woo-chan walks off the court, and he continues out of the building, ignoring his friends.
Woo-chan runs out and stops when he sees who he was looking for: his dad attempting to hurry away un-noticed. Dad stops when Woo-chan calls out to him. He’s a terrible liar and he tries to pretend that he just happened to be in town for a training. He also says it’s his first time in a badminton stadium.
We see what’s been motivating Woo-chan. His dad had attended an earlier match, and today’s as well. When Woo-chan had seen In-sol’s video, he’d spotted his father in the stands and it was that, not identifying his weakness, that lit a fire under him.
Dad’s clearly moved by the team’s friendship and their affection for his son. “I could see why you like badminton and why it had to be [Haenam],” he says. Woo-chan gets teary and Dad leaves, but not before telling him to, “Give your best to your passion.” Woo-chan can’t hold back his tears once his Dad’s turned away.
Coach Paeng takes in Yoon-dam and Yong-tae’s doubles victory, which brings them closer to qualifying. Hyun-jong gives the team (minus Hae-kang who’s already getting ready for his match) a pep talk. He’s happy about their performance, but more than that, he’s pleased that Yoon-dam’s relaxed his swing and that Yong-tae is over his jinx.
When they worry about Hae-kang’s ankle, Hyun-jong cryptically tells them to just trust Hae-kang.
Right outside their court, Seung-hun slowly unwraps his “injured” wrist. He brags to Hae-kang that using tricks like fake injuries and having a powerful dad are all a sort of talent. He holds up six fingers, including his middle finger, saying Hae-kang will only be able to score six points today and leaves Hae-kang fuming.
When the match begins, Hae-kang looks heavy on his feet and his ankle looks like it’s troubling him. The other Haenam boys console themselves with the knowledge they made it much further than anyone thought they would and worry about Hae-kang’s injury while Head Coach Bae chows down on snacks. Lots of snacks.
Out of nowhere, Hae-kang begins to dominate the game and looks like he’s in top form. We see the tail end of Hae-kang’s hallway convo with his dad. After Seung-hun had slipped away, Hae-kang had stopped Hyun-jong from inspecting his ankle and told him that he felt fine, his ankle only felt a little off.
Hae-kang tells him that they have to win, all the more when people are looking down on them. Hae-kang continues that Seung-hun will play the last match and they have to trust that the others will win and pull Haenam Seo into the finals. It’s a fierce match, but Hae-kang pulls through and the Haenam Seo team moves onto the next round.
The junior coaches come bearing even more coffee, but Coach Paeng just seems irritated and tells them to tell the other coaches to stop buying stuff. A hoobae stops by to inform Coach Paeng that the cleanup is done, but despite Coach Paeng being satisfied, the junior coaches take it upon themselves to berate the hoobae for his lack of respect.
They tsk-tsks that kids today are a mess. Coach Paeng agrees, and they look smug for a second, until he explodes at them, telling them that they’re the mess. He tells them off for being awful and disrespectful of their sunbae, Hyun-jong.
Coach Paeng catches up with Hyun-jong and offers him a can of coffee. We see that Hyun-jong had opted for sweet canned coffee because he knew that’s what Coach Paeng liked. Sensing an opportunity, Hyun-jong attempts to talk up Yoon-dam’s talent again, but there’s no need–Coach Paeng is there to tell him Yoon-dam’s been selected as a national athlete. He tells Hyun-jong that the sport has changed, and it’s not like the old days. Hyun-jong buying coffee or stopping by to pay his respects make no difference, truly. Rules and skill rule the day.
The real reason Yoon-dam had been looked over until now was due to his stiff arm when he’s nervous. It had been an issue for years, but during the summer competition, the issue was gone. Heh, Hyun-jong’s giant grin creeps Coach Paeng out.
At the hospital, Hyun-jong checks in on Woo-chan, and Woo-chan’s first words are to apologize for walking off the court the way he did. But Hyun-jong’s not bothered about that–he just wants to know how Woo-chan is doing and he’s okay overall. He just has a minor muscle sprain and some rest is all he needs.
Hyun-jong is in high spirits when he meets with the doctor, but the doctor is as grim as Hyun-jong is cheerful. The doctor asks how his athlete could even play with his injury, and that he’ll need more than a week to heal.
Hyun-jong’s confused to see an x-ray of an ankle and not a shoulder. The doctor clarifies that it’s Hyun-jong’s other athlete, Hae-kang. The doctor is amazed that he played at all, as it would have been impossible to run in his condition, and even walking would be extremely painful.
The boys are in a funk again, but not about Hae-kang’s injury (he’ll be fine in a few weeks with rest and a soft cast). Instead, they’re upset about his looming exit. After all, he only started badminton to get WiFi, he got his revenge against the yellow-haired kid, and his baseball coach even personally came down to recruit him back. Woo-chan wonders if they should ask Hae-kang to stay on the team, but In-sol thinks it’s a lost cause. Hae-kang doesn’t even listen to his dad, why would he listen to them?
Seeing their long faces, Hyun-jong assumes that it’s because they can’t continue in the competition, and the boys shush Yong-tae when he tries to say what’s actually bothering them.
Hae-kang, oblivious to it all, just calls himself their ace and assures them he’ll be fine.
The villagers and the city hikers have another showdown, this time with Head Hiker jeering that the villagers have no evidence to show who’s behind the littering and the recent fire.
But Grandma is armed with some evidence, and she shows her cellphone with clear footage of the hikers littering. At that, Head Hiker starts screaming patronizingly and says he’ll pre-pay his littering fine. He throws some cash on the ground and asks where the evidence is for the fire and graffiti.
Mr. Hong steps in and tells them to go while he’s still being nice. He picks up a cigarette Head Hiker had just thrown out, and pulls out a plastic baggie with two more of the same type of cigarette. Mr. Hong says he picked one up next to the wall, and one at the scene of the fire.
He quietly says to keep in mind that this sort of incident could happen anywhere, even where Head Hiker’s parents and kids live. The hiking duo beat a quick retreat and Head Hiker just says the real crazy was Mr. Hong.
Yoon-dam, Woo-chan, and Yong-tae are still in a funk, but they understand baseball’s allure: it’s fun, there are genuine spectators, and it pays much better than badminton. Above all, it’s something Hae-kang likes.
After spending the weekend at their own homes, the three of them join up with In-sol so that they can all attend a barbecue at Hae-kang’s house. Yong-tae is the only one who’s feeling better. He tells the others they don’t need Hae-kang and that he didn’t even like Hae-kang much.
Yoon-dam says they shouldn’t bicker or let on that something is wrong–just focus on the barbecue and why they’re celebrating (Se-yoon, Han-sol, and Yoon-dam made it onto the national youth badminton team). Yong-tae’s glum expression as he hangs back tells a different story.
Of course, Young-ja and the girls catch on right away that something’s up. Hae-kang’s not there, and when they ask where he is, Young-ja just says with a serious expression that he’ll be out with the meat. And at that, music starts from inside the house. The door opens and Hae-kang hops out wearing his official team jersey for the national youth team.
The boys are dumbstruck and Hae-kang is loving it, introducing himself like its their first meeting. From the looks on Young-ja, Se-yoon, and Han-sol’s face, Hae-kang has been hamming it up for a while, ha. Se-yoon tells him not to hurry up and start grilling, and he stops Seyoon to say he’d prefer to be addressed properly as National Youth Athlete Yoon Hae-kang from now on.
We return to the tail end of the conversation Coach Paeng had with Hyun-jong. In addition to Yoon-dam, Coach Paeng had his eye on one more athlete with a lot of potential: Hae-kang.
Hyun-jong and Hae-in also come out, this time waving Korean flags, but they’re a beat too late and Young-ja orders him to hurry up and grill. Hyun-jong gets to it, and asks what’s up with Yong-tae… who’s sobbing and picking lettuce.
Hae-kang tells Yong-tae to hurry up, otherwise there’ll be no meat left to eat. We finally see how Yong-tae’s really been feeling, and as he sobs, he says, “Leave some of the meat for me. And Hae-kang, don’t leave. No one should leave!”
There’s even more good news: the house now has WiFi. To celebrate, Hyun-jong says they should make a group chat, but that just prompts the boys to run away. When Hyun-jong turns to the girls expectantly, they skedaddle too, and not even Young-ja and Hae-in want to have a group chat.
As they lay in bed, Young-ja and Hyun-jong talk about the fact that they now have six former and current national athletes all under one roof. They’re both amazed that Hae-kang agreed to join the badminton team, since they just figured he’d go back to baseball.
Young-ja asks if Hyun-jong talked to Hae-kang’s baseball coach. It turns out Coach never even spoke to Hae-kang. He’d seen Hae-kang right after his loss to Park Chan, and saw how furious he was. The baseball coach turned back around and returned to Seoul, realizing that Hae-kang had a new goal.
The boys’ room has a new occupant. In-sol is sleeping over tonight, but Hae-kang is nowhere to be found, not even in the living room. In-sol figures Hae-kang just went to the bathroom on his own. That stops the other boys, and they wonder where he could have gone.
He’s over at Grandma’s, hanging out on his own. He gently says the others might not be coming by much anymore. He fibs that it’s because they’ve been sleeping at their own homes. Grandma looks a little crestfallen and Hae-kang says he and Hae-in will still visit all the time.
There’s a sudden knock and Yong-tae comes in with In-sol and Woo-chan. They’re closely followed by Yoon-dam, Se-yoon, and Han-sol. Grandma’s thrilled to have so many visitors, and she gets up to grab more shikhye and corn for everyone. Han-sol and Se-yoon are put out that no one told them about Grandma’s sooner and the boys quickly throw Hae-kang under the bus, saying that Hae-kang swore them to secrecy lol.
In Seoul, Jae-suk and Park Chan hang out at a convenience store and Jae-suk asks how it feels to have beaten his childhood rival.
Park Chan says Hae-kang was never a rival–he was, and still is, a goal. And some day soon when Hae-kang is in top form, Park Chan wants to beat him fair and square. While Park Chan has photos of the two of them at several competitions, Hae-kang hasn’t even recognized him yet.
Yong-tae wonders how Yoon-dam’s managed to go a full day without uploading anything to Instagram, but he does do a little update. Just a heart in his profile, right after Han-sol likes one of his posts. All the while, Hae-kang keeps sneaking glances at Se-yoon.
Se-yoon shows Han-sol a text from Park Chan. Han-sol’s reaction gets everyone’s attention as she lets the room know that Se-yoon just got a confession from Park Chan. Se-yoon says it’s not really a confession, and he just wants to talk. Han-sol says that’s what it means, and asks what she’s going to do. In response, Se-yoon looks straight at Hae-kang.
The show has done a good job of lulling me into a false sense of security in some ways, because of how they set up a certain plot points in order to throw in a reversal. The last time the show caught me off guard was when the team snuck off to Gwangju and ended up meeting two untrustworthy adults. In this episode, there were actually a few surprises (for me at least). The first was Woo-chan’s dad being a big ol’ softie who even made the effort to come to his games. It had always been obvious that he loved his son, but I figured he would want what he thought was best for Woo-chan, rather than letting Woo-chan continue with badminton. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Coach Paeng isn’t as terrible as I thought he was in the earlier episodes. Though I still don’t agree with all of his decisions (like punishing Han-sol and Yoon-dam in the last episode), it’s reassuring to see that he’s not actually swayed by the gifts and sugary words (and treats!) that coaches keep showering on him. The last surprise was Hae-kang’s injury. I thought for sure that Hae-kang was faking in order to get even with Seung-hun, but it’s much more in line with what we know of Hae-kang’s personality that he would fake being fine rather than opt to be devious just because a certain curly-mopped player has no qualms relying on cheap tricks.
The way the Park Chan rivalry is developing is interesting, both on the romance and the sporting fronts, and I have to wonder if Hae-kang truly doesn’t recognize him or if he’s just pretending for some (as yet) unexplained reason. After all, Hae-kang remembered Se-yoon, even though he didn’t let on at first. Although Park Chan is popular, it’s pretty clear that Se-yoon is interested in Hae-kang rather than Park Chan. And even if Hae-kang’s not willing to admit it, he’s drawn to Se-yoon as well. We’re talking middle school here so I don’t need (or want) an epic romance; I’ll be happy if we get more of the same, an understated understanding and bond between two very bright badminton players.
Several adults have noticed and noted the bond between the Haenam Seo boys and it really is lovely to see a group of friends who take each other as they are. In-sol may have been a late addition to the team, but they already see and treat him as one of the group. It was also gratifying to see Woo-chan’s dad witness that bond in action and acknowledge Woo-chan’s wishes.
I really appreciate the consistency in the writing; from the start there’s been a good-natured vibe to the main characters that’s made the show both entertaining to watch and a feel-good drama. That doesn’t mean that characters, both the kids and the adults, have been painted with broad strokes in black and white. We see everyone as they are, sharp edges and all, but it doesn’t make you think worse of them in a way. I like seeing Hae-kang be a little pompous and a bit of a smartass, but also kind and thoughtful beyond his years. So while Hae-kang is quick to brag and a tad immature, that doesn’t stop him from being able to sense that Grandma’s feelings may be hurt that the other kids don’t visit as much since they don’t need her WiFi anymore. Sure, he wasn’t able to foresee the fact that his friends would still flock to Grandma’s house, but it’s the thought that counts. With shikhye, good friends, and a good WiFi connection, the Haenam kids are living the dream.