Racket Boys: Episode 11
Rumors surrounding their head coach and an injured ace put our badminton team at a disadvantage as they prepare for their upcoming match against their rival school. To make matters worse, the new coach for the other team shows serious signs of trouble, and friendships are tested. Meanwhile in the village, the city couple makes plans, but life keeps throwing hurdles in their path, forcing them to reevaluate what they truly want.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
The rumors surrounding the White Wolf dampen the boys’ moods, and they can barely concentrate during practice. They share their concerns with Hyun-jong, and he advises them to focus on the upcoming draft matches instead of false stories about their head coach.
While driving in their car, the city husband tells his wife that Big Gran owns the majority of the village’s houses and land. He finds her life amazing, but his wife scolds him for thinking about foolish things and forgetting about the true nature of humans.
Back in their old lives, the city husband was a well-respected researcher who recently won a large investment. Though he tried to share the credit with a junior researcher, the other staff members ignored the younger man. The constant mistreatment from his colleagues left the junior researcher depressed, and only the city husband noticed his struggles and acknowledged his work.
As the city couple drives down the road, they spot Grandma walking by herself, and the city wife stops to pick her up. Since they are busy, the city husband says that they can only take her to the bus stop, but the wife offers to drive her to her destination.
The city wife gets lost in thought, remembering her past as an artist who painted for other artists. One day her patron told her to submit a piece under her own name, and it seemed as if her dreams were finally coming true.
Still lazing around in bed, the badminton boys worry about Hwasun’s new coach, but Hae-kang throws out his signature catchphrase and tells them not to fret. They chuckle at his comment and remind each other to keep Hae-kang’s injury a secret.
Hae-in walks into their room with a request since her homework assignment has stumped her. She needs to portray love, and the boys call it an easy task. They take the typical route of finger hearts (including a wink), and Hae-in rolls her eyes at them. Heh.
A car pulls up to the house, and Hyun-jong yells at the driver for parking on private property. His attitude changes when In-sol and his dad step out, and Hyun-jong yells at the kids to come greet the councilman.
In-sol shows them an old Olympic badminton match and asks if they notice anything about the athlete’s play style. Hae-kang astutely notes the player’s techniques, and In-sol explains the importance: the athlete was blind in his right eye during this game.
At Hwasun Middle School, Coach Chun lays out his new training regime for his team. Meanwhile, Hyun-jong returns to the restaurant with Mr. Hong in order to investigate the White Wolf rumors. He wonders if the owner’s son might be willing to talk to him about it, but the owner tells him not to get his hopes up.
The city couple resumes their drive, and the husband reminisces about the first time they arrived at the village. His wife asks if he regrets their decision, and he shakes his head, telling her that they should keep going. Right then, the city husband receives a call from Mr. Hong, and he glances over at his wife before ignoring it. When his phone rings again, she tells him to answer it.
Over the phone, Mr. Hong asks if the city husband can help move fertilizer bags since he bought some for them, but the city husband tells him that they are out. Hearing the conversation, the wife wordlessly turns their car around.
Coach Chun divides up his players into two groups with one team (which includes his top players) doing floor exercises while the others swing rackets while wearing ankle weights. As for our badminton boys, everyone helps Hae-kang practice his new strategy, and the boys praise In-sol for coming up with a great plan. In-sol denies it, saying that he only wanted to help the team, but the others call him a liar. Heh.
After practice, Coach Chun takes second-year Eun-ho aside and asks if his mom will be coming tomorrow as he requested. Eun-ho tells him that she is busy with work, and Coach Chun sighs since this means Eun-ho might not get a spot on the team for Nationals. He says that his mind could change if something different happens, and then he asks Eun-ho to clean the gym every day. Ugh, he’s so terrible!
Looking haggard and dirty, the city couple gets back on the road after moving five hundred bags of fertilizers. The city husband suggests pushing back their plans to tomorrow, and the wife croaks in agreement.
Young-ja makes dinner for two since only Hae-kang is home early from practice on account of his injury. When Hae-kang comments on the empty table, Young-ja acknowledges the fact that he must feel awkward around her since Hyun-jong took on all the parental duties while she was busy.
Trying to make up for lost time, she asks Hae-kang about his upcoming draft matches, and he tells her that it feels the same. He wonders about her best moment as an athlete, and she ponders his question since she was always good. Ha!
If Young-ja has to choose one, though, winning the gold medal at the Asian Games was her career highlight. Hae-kang asks about her worst then, and she replies, “They’re the same. It was my best moment as well as my worst.”
After winning the gold medal, Young-ja returned to Korea where a crowd of reporters waited for her at the airport. Shielding her from the flashing cameras, Coach Paeng grumbled about the public’s fickle interest, but Young-ja took it as a sign to do better and promote their sport. She told Coach Paeng to accept all the interview requests and went out to face the reporters.
A call from Hyun-jong interrupts her story, and Young-ja looks unsettled by her ringing phone. Hae-kang asks why she looks so surprised, but Young-ja brushes it aside as nothing.
As Hae-kang eats the food she prepared, Young-ja tells him that she used to make him sujebi all the time. It was a dish her own mom made as well, and now when she sees it, the soup automatically reminds her of Hae-kang.
While heartwarming music plays in the background, Young-ja asks how the food tastes. A moment passes between mother and son before Hae-kang ruins the mood: it is very salty. Guess we know where Hae-kang gets his cooking skills from!
The rest of the kids arrive at the warehouse to get in some late-night practice, but the lights are on. They open the door expecting someone from their neighborhood, but the unexpected guest is Park Chan. He tells them that he was in the area to visit his grandma, and Han-sol teases him for coming all this way to see Se-yoon.
Embarrassed, Se-yoon chides her friend for saying something silly, but Park Chan says that Han-sol is correct—he is here to see her. All their jaws drop at his confession, and they marvel at his boldness.
After practice, Yong-tae asks Se-yoon if training with boys is helpful, and she says that boys tend to be faster. Park Chan chimes in, mentioning how Se-yoon is sometimes faster than he is, and the others tease them again.
Yong-tae points out the friendly atmosphere between Yoon-dam and Han-sol; and he jokes about the two of them dating. Yoon-dam decides to reveal the truth, but Yong-tae beats him to the punch: there is no way the two of them are dating. He takes pride in his impeccable deduction skills, and the others shake their heads at him. Pfft.
They head out to dinner at the best restaurant in town (aka, Grandma’s house), and she serves them a modest spread of over twenty dishes. Grandma calls it a light snack, and the kids happily dig in. Seconds after she leaves, Hae-kang arrives, and the kids give him the briefest glance before eating again.
Spotting the interloper, Hae-kang motions at him to leave, but his taunts barely faze Park Chan. Se-yoon criticizes him for being rude, but he dismisses her comment and asks his rival why he is here. Talkative Yong-tae cuts in and answers all of Hae-kang’s question instead.
Park Chan places some food in Se-yoon’s bowl and tells her to be careful about her injury. Hae-kang scowls at him, but Park Chan fails to register his hostility. Checking the time, he gets up to leave since his grandma actually lives five hours away from here.
Hyun-jong moisturizes his skin—a little reversal on the usual makeup PPL—and gets under the covers with the rest of his family. Before they go to sleep, Hae-in poses her homework question to her parents as well, and Hyun-jong comes up with the same answer as the boys. She stops him from even completing his hearts, and Young-ja calls his choices predictable. She shows Hae-in what love truly means… and does more hearts. Ha!
After Hae-in goes to bed, Hyun-jong asks his wife if the rumors about Head Coach Bae could be true. She wonders why he changed his mind, but Hyun-jong takes back his comment since he knows the head coach would never hit his players. She asks how the kids feel about the rumors, and he tells her that they seem fine now. However, he still plans to figure out the truth since he is curious, too.
Hyun-jong wonders if he should ask the head coach directly, but Young-ja tells him that there might be a reason for his silence. They both know that it could be a painful memory for him, which is why they cannot bring it up.
Determined to see their plans through today, the city couple gets in their car and vows to ignore any distractions. As soon as they say that, though, they pass by Grandma and Grandpa fighting outside their house and stop to check on them.
Grandma explains to the city couple that Grandpa is a terrible photographer, and one look at the photos shows that she is not exaggerating. The city wife teaches them how to focus the camera, and the couple turns to go, thinking they solved the issue.
Grabbing their attention, Grandpa shares his frustrations this time and complains about Grandma disrespecting him. He asks if the city couple looks down on him, too, but the reason for his anger is something else: Why did they only draw Grandma’s face on the mural? Bwahahaha!
With their plans thwarted once more, the city couple stays behind to paint Grandpa on the mural, and Big Gran drops by to ask for their help. At her house, they fix the light as well as the floor, and one word of thanks from Big Gran’s notebook puts a smile on the city wife’s face.
Hyun-jong meets with the restaurant owner’s son who is a badminton coach, too. He brings up White Wolf, and the son averts his gaze. He refuses to talk about what happened and tells Hyun-jong that he needs to keep this job.
Though Hyun-jong finds another alumnus, no one is willing to tell him about the past. He mentions his team, explaining how the boys heard about the rumors, but the alumnus believes ignorance is bliss.
In the gym, Hyun-jong gives a pep talk to his players, and afterwards, he keeps In-sol back for a quick word. He asks how badminton is going for him, and In-sol tells him that he is having fun playing the sport and hanging out with his teammates. Aw, he’s so earnest and adorable!
While Hyun-jong struggles to find the right words, In-sol comes to his rescue and says that he understands. He knows that he cannot compete in the draft matches tomorrow and tells his coach not to feel sorry since he will do his best in the individual tryouts.
Hyun-jong stares at the long list of alumni he contacted and sighs over his fruitless search. Just when all hope seems lost, he receives a call from one of the former students who had a change of heart. He tells Hyun-jong to find Coach Noh, the current sports store owner.
When Ms. Shin comes home, she notices the repairs around the house and assumes her brother came by. Big Gran informs her that the city couple fixed everything and spent two hours changing the lights—nearly getting electrocuted in the process.
The kids try helping Hae-in again and join forces to create a huge heart. She frowns at their constant heart motif, and they fall to the ground in frustration. Moving on, they play a balancing game to determine who makes dinner, and the boys talk about their upcoming matches.
They find it odd that the Hwasun players have recently ignored their texts, and Yong-tae berates his friend, Eun-ho, for not contacting him. Woo-chan asks how they became friends, and Yong-tae tells them that he peed his pants once during a competition. While all the other kids made fun of him, Eun-ho came to his defense and beat them up. They also bonded over the fact that their parents were divorced.
Hae-in announces the time, and only Hae-kang fails to balance the shuttlecock. This means he has to make dinner, and he chooses curry. Oh no.
Back in their car, the city husband says that he really is bad with his hands, but his wife points out that he has a lot of other strengths. Tearing up, he asks if others will think the same, and she tells him that they do. She asks where they should go: home or their original destination?
Thinking back on his past, the city husband came to work one day and asked the others about the junior researcher. While fending off angry calls, his colleagues told him that the junior researcher committed suicide and sold their data to another company. They blamed the city husband for this predicament, but the city husband was more stunned by their cold response to their colleague’s death.
Things also took a turn for the worse in the city wife’s life when she found her piece displayed in a gallery under a different name. It even won the grand prize, but all the glory and praise went to her patron’s son. She overheard her acquaintances talking behind her back, mocking her for being gloomy and infertile. Once everyone left, the city wife grabbed her painting to destroy it, but could not bring herself to ruin her own work.
After the junior’s death, everyone’s hatred fell on the city husband as they scolded him for minor mistakes and called him useless. The city husband endured it all, but one day, he found a note from the junior researcher addressed to him: “I am no longer useful in this world. I am leaving first to a place where I no longer have to give or receive help.”
In the present, the city couple writes a similar note, though in theirs, they call themselves useful people. However, the resolution remains the same—they intend to leave. Sitting in their empty living room, the city wife comments on how she lacked the courage to die when they came here, and now, she does not have the courage to go.
The city husband wonders if they made the right decision in coming back, but his wife cannot answer him. However, she does know that being here made her want to live, and her husband says that they should aim to live good lives now. The city wife agrees since this village has plenty of wonderful things like their neighbors.
Someone knocks on the city couple’s door, and they find Hae-kang and Hae-in standing outside with a pot of curry just like that fateful night so many moons ago. Hae-kang hands them the food since they enjoyed it before, and tells them that he is grateful to have them around.
They find his statement abrupt, so Hae-kang explains how the city couple has helped everyone in the village, including them. Hae-in also adds that they are the only ones who eat her brother’s poop-flavored curry. Ha!
The city husband breaks down into tears, and he thanks them for coming to see him, making him into a useful person, and saving his life. As he crumples up and sobs, Hae-in wraps her tiny arms around him.
Hyun-jong drops by the sports store and asks Mr. Noh about White Wolf. He tells him that he already met all the previous students except Kang Tae-sun, but Mr. Noh says that there is a reason why everyone keeps silent. He asks Hyun-jong to bury the past, claiming that Head Coach Bae would want the same.
On their walk home, Hae-in points out to Hae-kang that the city couple’s house was bare as if they were preparing to leave. Meanwhile, the city couple pour themselves a bowl of curry, excited to eat the amazing food again. However, as soon as the husband takes a bite, he spits it out. The wife eats a spoonful next and has the same response: why does it taste like poop? Hahaha!
The city husband wonders if Hae-kang meant the curry was literally the same, as in months old, and his wife smiles at his joke. He says that she has been looking happy lately and tells her that she smiled while painting the mural and helping Hae-in with her homework. Speaking of the assignment, the city husband thinks like everyone else and makes a convoluted heart with his arms to depict love.
Hae-in and Hae-kang look over the city wife’s drawing of love, and she asks her brother if the city wife understood the homework. It is a comic of Hae-kang giving the city husband a pot of curry, and Hae-kang tells his sister that she misunderstood the directions. As they go home, they pass the mural which now has Grandpa’s face on it, and back at the city couple’s house, they find a container of kimchi at their door.
Acting as a guru, Young-ja listens to her husband’s problems, and he takes their little skit seriously, presenting her with two questions. The first one is about In-sol, and Hyun-jong chides himself for not finding a way to let him play in the draft matches as well. He thinks Young-ja would have found a solution, but she tells him that she would have made the same decision because skills should determine who gets to play.
The next one is about Head Coach Bae, and Hyun-jong is starting to doubt his previous conviction about the head coach’s innocence. Young-ja asks if he contacted him, and Hyun-jong tells her that the head coach has not called him back yet.
While Head Coach Bae drinks with the other coaches, one of the younger members gets a little drunk and asks him about the White Wolf rumors. The other coach drags the drunk one away, and Head Coach Bae remains silent the entire time.
Hyun-jong helps his players stretch as the Hwasun team arrives for the draft matches. The badminton boys playfully taunt them about losing, but none of the other players look in their direction. Coach Chun tells his boys to greet Hyun-jong, and they finally acknowledge their opponents.
Before the games begin, Coach Chun makes it clear to Hyun-jong that the winning school gets full control over coaching methods. This means no interfering in any way, including being present during practices.
Yoon-dam defeats Eun-ho in the first game, but when he reaches over the net to high-five his opponent, he walks off the court. The second match is Yong-tae and Hwasun’s third-year captain, and the other team wins this one. However, the opponent refuses to high-five once again.
The doubles match with Hae-kang and Yoon-dam are next, and Haenam Seo takes the win, making the score two to one. Like before, the Hwasun players walk away, and the badminton boys look around confused by their cold attitude.
Hyun-jong checks on Hae-kang’s condition and reminds his players to keep his injury a secret. While their side celebrates taking the momentum, the other team’s mood turns even more dour as Coach Chun scolds the boys for losing.
The city couple gives the villagers a ride, and they thank Grandma for the kimchi. She tells them that it was not her, which means the most likely suspect is Ms. Shin—it was her favorite type of kimchi after all. Avoiding their questioning looks, Ms. Shin notices a hiker drop his trash on the ground and spews curses at him for littering.
Hwasun ties up the score by winning the second doubles match, and again, they walk away from their opponents without giving them a high-five. Despite the win, Coach Chun ridicules his players and blames Eun-ho for this situation. The badminton boys wonder what is going on with their opponents, and Yong-tae notes how their coach seems to be picking on his friend.
Yong-tae finds Eun-ho sulking outside and hands him a drink. Eun-ho tells him to leave since he will not be able to play at Nationals if he hangs out with him, but Yong-tae calls that absurd. Despite his fears, Eun-ho tells him about his troubles with his coach, and Yong-tae offers him some advice: prove to Coach Chun that he deserves a spot on the team.
The last match is between Hae-kang and the yellow-haired kid, and Hae-kang takes the first set. They continue with the same plan, but on the other side, Coach Chun whispers something in his player’s ear.
When the second set begins, the opponent’s strategy changes, preventing Hae-kang from playing close to the net. As the rally drags on, the boys wonder if the other team figured out his weakness, and Yong-tae’s lip quivers as he recalls his meeting with Eun-ho.
In an attempt to cheer up his friend, he mentioned Hae-kang overcoming his injury. Unfortunately, the temptation to curry favor with his coach was too high for Eun-ho, and he betrayed Yong-tae’s trust. Realizing his mistake, Yong-tae stifles his sobs as he watches Hae-kang struggling on the court.
Every time Kim Kang-hoon cries, I can’t help but tear up with him. Despite his young age, he knows how to emote with tears, and he conveys so much through his expressive eyes. While nothing “sad” happened in that last scene, I felt so bad for Yong-tae at the end because he might be a motormouth but he is still a kind kid with a big heart. He never meant to betray his teammates, and only told Eun-ho about Hae-kang’s injury to cheer him up. It probably never occurred to Yong-tae that his friend would tell his coach because that isn’t something Yong-tae would do. While it was thoughtless of him to share the secret after all those warnings, it makes sense for naïve and bubbly Yong-tae to mess up this way. Hopefully, this becomes a lesson for him to watch what he says in the future, but I hope Yong-tae will remain his talkative self even after this because losing that side of him would feel like a part of his innocence breaking away.
Though both second-years made a mistake, I don’t blame them for what happened. The real problem is Coach Chun who created this mess by teaching his players to think that they should win at all cost. I knew he gave off red flags right from his introduction, but I wasn’t prepared for the show to paint him so overtly as the villain. In a show usually filled with a lot of nuances, it’s been a while since a character with a bit of screen time has been painted with such broad strokes (the latest ones that come to mind are the hikers, and I despised them just as much). While there have definitely been minor characters who add conflict to a scene like the jerk coaches who looked down on Hyun-jong, most of the story does not revolve around these villains, so the current plotline does feel a bit different from the usual setup. However, the core message of the show remains the same, and I suspect Coach Chun’s story will be like the bully episode from before—tackling another recent, real-world issue and criticizing the larger sports community for allowing nepotism and abuse to run rampant in their midst.
Concurrent with the Coach Chun story is the plotline surrounding the head coach’s rumors. The show suggests the possibility of Head Coach Bae using corporal punishment on his players, and Young-ja’s comment that you cannot trust appearances does make me slightly nervous. There is a small possibility of the show using the head coach as a twist, but I really hope this isn’t the case. Out of all the adults, Head Coach Bae is my favorite, and I don’t know how the show could reconcile all the previous things we know about him with this damning fact. For the most part, I doubt the head coach would have hit the students because he clearly loves badminton, coaching, and kids. He might look stern, but he rarely (if ever) yells at the boys or even at other coaches. Like the other main cast of adults, Head Coach Bae is caring with a strong moral compass, so I suspect the rumors about the White Wolf’s disappearance must be about something else since everyone is so afraid of speaking out.
The other main focus of this episode was the city couple, and we finally learn what made them run away from their old lives. In a way, their reasons were mundane, but it was the ordinary nature of their setbacks that made me relate to their struggles and understand their disappointment in society. It wasn’t one big event that caused them to contemplate suicide but a buildup of letdowns and deceptions that disillusioned them to the point of giving up on life. The people around them no longer cared about each other, and everyone was too busy cutting others down to succeed. The city couple found themselves as part of the problem, stuck in a toxic cycle that allowed others to exploit them and devalue their worth. The final events that occurred—the junior’s suicide and the patron’s lie—were just the tipping point, not the catalyst. However, just as the shortcomings of people led to the couple’s cynicism, it was also the kindness of their neighbors that brought them hope.
Mirroring their first encounter, Hae-kang saved their lives again with his curry. The first time, he stopped them from committing suicide, and in the second, he helped them realize that they should truly continue living. They weren’t being cowardly for not going through with their plans, and his words of thanks assured the struggling couple that their lives had value. It was a gradual process, but over the course of months, the city couple has learned that they can start over and move on from their past. The city husband’s words broke my heart because all he needed were such simple things, yet he never once found them in his old life. Ultimately, the city couple wanted to be seen not as things to be used but as people who can be of use.
One of the lovely things about this scene was the kids’ confusion, illustrating again how the simple things in life profoundly impact us. Hae-kang’s words were not meant to be grand, but it was exactly what the city husband needed to hear. It also emphasizes the fact that Hae-kang truly meant what he said and didn’t give the couple empty compliments in an attempt to “save” them. Hae-in’s reaction was adorable as well, and I loved how she hugs the city husband to comfort him even though she has no idea why he is sad. Unlike the terrible adults in the city couple’s previous life, Hae-in understands that people and their feelings matter, which is why she shows him sympathy and wants him to feel loved in his moment of sadness. It was all the villagers’ compassion that saved the couple, and their story captures one of the many reasons why I love this show so much—it’s a tale about average people who make the ordinary things in life feel extraordinary.