Racket Boys: Episode 9
The national youth athletes are off to camp, and it is an intense affair filled with petty rivalries and long-lasting friendships. In between all their training, romance blossoms in the air as the kids slowly but surely take a few steps forward in their relationships. Capturing the bright-eyed youthfulness of its characters, Racket Boys continues to deliver another strong episode week after week.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
The national youth athletes gather in Busan to train, and the coaches use various methods from black screens to rotations. The intense atmosphere intimidates Yoon-dam, so Hae-kang advises him to play like usual and forget about impressing the coaches. However, when Coach Paeng looks in their direction, Hae-kang screams loudly and acts overeager.
As a newcomer, Hyun-jong excitedly lists all the things he wants to do during the training camp from barbeque to games. Young-ja smacks him for being clueless and tells him that all the coaches are here to scout out the players before the National Junior Athletic Competition.
While they head to the gym, Yoo-ri sneaks up behind them, linking arms with both, but Young-ja pulls away and huffs at the others to hurry up. Hyun-jong assures his wife that no one can boss him around… except for Coach Paeng. One word from the coach puts Hyun-jong in his place, and he scurries inside.
Training continues with various doubles teams, and Hae-kang plays while connected to Park Chan. Though they both hold their ground in the beginning, Hae-kang eventually loses strength and falls in his rival’s direction. Hiding his embarrassment, he glowers at Park Chan before returning to his spot.
During their break, Reporter Kim takes photos of the top-ranking players, and from the sidelines, Na-ra grumbles about Se-yoon. Hae-kang joins her to complain about Park Chan, and the two of them fist-bump in solidarity. Ha!
With everyone gathered, Young-ja announces their practice matches against the Japanese youth team tomorrow. Coach Paeng tells them that the last activity for today is hiking up a mountain and appoints Hyun-jong to chaperone. Though Hyun-jong fakes a cough, Coach Paeng encourages him to give it his all, and one by one, the coaches walk away.
Before they head out, they take a group photo, and Hae-kang strikes a pose in the middle. Reporter Kim instructs him to switch spots with Park Chan, and he complies through gritted teeth. Right as the picture is taken, Hyun-jong yells at them to wait for him and jumps in at the last second.
Another resident leaves the village, making it the second one in two weeks. Though their dwindling population is a problem, the thing that discourages the village head the most is seeing everyone leave with nothing in their hands.
Mr. Hong wonders if his residents want to forget everything from their time here, but the city husband disagrees. He suggests holding a community meeting to look for solutions to their retention issue, but Mr. Hong calls it a crazy idea. As soon as the city husband leaves, though, Mr. Hong’s expression says otherwise.
While the athletes run up the mountain, Hae-kang pulls Han-sol aside and gets her to ditch with him. She gladly joins him, but as they turn around, Coach Paeng appears behind them. The kids slap on a smile and pretend like nothing ever happened. Pfft.
Our two slackers refuse to give up that easily and find a hiding spot outside the trail to rest. They give each other a thumbs up for their brilliant plan, but the wind blows ominously around them. Coach Paeng pops up behind a tree, waving at his players, and they chuckle back at him. Hahaha, I can’t with these two!
During a past national training camp, the adults went through the same exercise, and Hyun-jong arrived last, dropping to the ground once he reached the peak. With Yoo-ri leading the pack, everyone assumed she won, but Young-ja was already at the top, waiting for them to catch up.
In the present, Hae-kang and Han-sol gasp for air as they finally reunite with the group, but by then, Hyun-jong finished his speech and tells the stragglers to go back down. On their way, Hyun-jong gets lost and decides to pair up the players—in case the girls need to protect the boys. Heh.
The kids don’t seem to mind, and Han-sol winks at Se-yoon to match her up with Yoon-dam. Se-yoon picks Hae-kang as her partner because he is the least reliable, and he grumps at her reasoning though he does not protest. As they leave, Park Chan hands Se-yoon a water bottle, and Hae-kang calls him annoying.
Back in the past, the male athletes hung out together and talked about the pretty female athletes. One of the seniors asked Hyun-jong to introduce him to his friend, and Hyun-jong assumed it was about Yoo-ri. The others corrected him since everyone was interested in Young-ja, and Hyun-jong’s face fell.
Se-yoon and Hae-kang lose the group while walking down the mountain, but Hae-kang tells her not to worry. He brags about his survival skills, which he learned from watching TV. She stops to take a swig of Park Chan’s water and offers some to Hae-kang. He scowls at the bottle and says that he hates it.
Returning to the past, Hyun-jong told his senior that he couldn’t introduce him to Young-ja. They asked if he planned on confessing first, and Hyun-jong answered, “I already did.” When they questioned his sudden interest, he told them that he liked her for a long time.
Se-yoon and Hae-kang find a picturesque creek and sit down together on a rock. Taking off her shoes, Se-yoon dunks her feet and tells Hae-kang to do the same. He says that he hates the cold, but when Se-yoon loses her shoe in the creek, he jumps in without a second thought to retrieve it. (Hae-kang, why are you so cute!?)
Hae-kang asks Se-yoon if she met Park Chan yet and wonders if he confessed to her. She tells him that they plan to talk tomorrow night, and he asks what she will do if he does confess. Before she can answer, Han-sol finds them, and they get up, leaving the question hanging in between them.
At dinner, the girls gawk at the boys’ trays piled with meat, and Hae-kang invites the others out to karaoke. Yoon-dam declines since they could get in trouble for sneaking out, and Han-sol decides not to go either. Hae-kang wonders if they are dating, and Yoon-dam silently smiles at Han-sol. Shaking his head, Hae-kang calls it a romantic outing, and Se-yoon sighs at his foolishness.
Meanwhile, the villagers all gather for a meeting to discuss revitalization efforts, and Grandpa raises his hand first. He asks where the snacks are, and Grandma tells her husband to stop saying silly things. She goes next, but her question is for their elderly neighbor and her upcoming birthday party.
Mr. Hong orders the group to get back on topic, so Yong-tae joins the conversation. His friends beg him to keep quiet, but Mr. Hong tells him to speak up since all opinions are valuable. Yong-tae suggests building a department store and subway like big cities, and even Hae-in gives him the side-eye. Heh.
When no one offers a rebuttal, Yong-tae also adds an airport to his list, and Mr. Hong snaps. He lunges from his seat and tackles Yong-tae to the floor. Bwahahaha!
With his hair sticking all over the place, Yong-tae glares at the village head who scowls back at him. Grandma asks for Mr. Hong’s plan, then, so he proposes handing out free items to every household—hundred bags of rice, ten cows, and three tractors. Seeing his chance for revenge, Yong-tae dives head first at Mr. Hong.
The third-year girls gather in a room to eat snacks, and Na-ra grumbles about Se-yoon going to bed early because of their game tomorrow. She asks Han-sol for any weaknesses, and Han-sol tells her that Se-yoon has none. However, Se-yoon does listen to everything Young-ja says, and Na-ra decides to use this fact to win at least once.
Sporting matching hairstyles with Yong-tae, Mr. Hong concludes the meeting, but the city husband interjects with his own proposal. Mr. Hong and Yong-tae crouch on top of the tables, getting ready to attack, but the city husband’s idea is actually reasonable: rent out empty houses to farmers and cultivate regional crops.
He suggests promoting their goods online, and the kids support his plan. The city husband says that they are emphasizing the benefits of traditional things using present-day methods, and Mr. Hong calls for a round of applause. Right then, someone swings open the door, and a silence falls over the room.
At the karaoke place, Hae-kang’s singing echoes down the hall, drowning out everyone else’s noise. Even by himself, he has a blast screaming into the microphone, but at the end of the day, he only earns thirty points. Next door, Park Chan sings a ballad, and Hae-kang grumbles about him again. He inputs a new song and makes up his own lyrics (“Park Chan is so annoying!”).
The boys return using the hole in the gate, and Hae-kang crawls in last. He whispers at the others, asking if any adults are here, and familiar voice answers, “There is! That jerk, Coach Paeng!”
Hae-kang frantically looks around, and out of nowhere, Coach Paeng stands right next to him. Hae-kang greets him and courteously calls over the rest of the group. Pfft.
With all four rulebreakers caught, Coach Paeng asks if they came to play. He plans to follow the rules and disqualifies them from the national youth team. Park Chan begs for another chance, and Coach Paeng offers to reconsider after watching their match against the Japanese team tomorrow.
At the village meeting, Ms. Shin tells the others to continue their discussion, but everyone denies talking at all. She scoffs at their blatant lies since she heard everything from the beginning, and Hae-in sweetly fills her in on all the details. Everyone shakes uncontrollably under her steely gaze, and only the sound of rattling tables can be heard.
Na-ra drops by Se-yoon’s room, and after winking at her roommate, she tells Se-yoon that Young-ja told them to come out at eight for practice tomorrow. Without the slightest hint of doubt, Se-yoon thanks her for the message. Meanwhile, in his room, Hae-kang does push-ups before bed.
The next morning, Han-sol finds Na-ra training in the gym, and she proudly tells Han-sol that she beat Se-yoon to practice. Still sleeping, Se-yoon bolts up when her roommate jokes about Young-ja dropping by, and her roommate tells her that Na-ra was lying about the time change in order to be the first one in the gym.
Na-ra teases Se-yoon for coming later than usual, but Se-yoon just smirks in response. She turns her attention to Hae-kang and Park Chan who are training furiously in the back, and her roommate tells her about the events from last night.
Once the Japanese team arrives, the coaches gather their third-years, and they each give them a piece of advice, reflecting their character. Coach Paeng says to prove themselves with results, Young-ja tells them to be careful, Yoo-ri tells them to crush their opponents, and Hyun-jong mentions free time afterwards.
The boys and girls play single matches on two courts, and the first ones up are Hae-kang and Han-sol. While Han-sol has trouble setting the pace, Hae-kang takes the lead in his game. During a rally, his opponent does a push shot, hitting him in the eye, but Hae-kang tells Hyun-jong that he is fine.
During doubles, Se-yoon and Na-ra destroy their opponents, and afterwards, they bump fists and let their teammates hug them. On the boys’ court, Hae-kang plays with Park Chan, and their teamwork helps them take the lead. They even high-five in the heat of the moment, but Hae-kang returns to his senses and wipes his hand. Heh.
After their matches, the coaches congratulate them on winning, and credit the longstanding rivalry between the two countries as their motivation to play well today. Se-yoon speaks up to correct them, and explains how they actually like the Japanese players and hang out with them during international competitions.
Yoo-ri wonders why they tried so hard then, and Se-yoon tells her that they give it their all in every game because badminton is badminton no matter the opponent. Coach Paeng marvels at their maturity, but when they ask the boys if they thought the same, Hae-kang says that he did his best in order to avoid being scolded. The others nod in agreement, and the coaches chuckle at their honesty.
As Coach Paeng dismisses them, the security guard comes by to ask for the key. Looking confused, Na-ra tells the others that the gym was already open in the morning, but the guard points to Se-yoon since she grabbed it at dawn to train.
Han-sol gets dressed for their free time, and Se-yoon picks her up wearing her usual comfy clothes. Dragging her friend to her closet, Han-sol makes her change immediately.
Yong-tae calls his seniors, giving them a long list of chores, and though they complain, they agree to do it. Hae-kang suddenly stops grumbling when the girls come outside, and his heart beats in his ears as Se-yoon approaches them wearing a pretty dress.
Yoon-dam explains Yong-tae’s missions to them and suggests splitting up to finish it all. Hae-kang disagrees, but the girls think differently and pair up like before. Hae-kang changes his mind after that, and he nervously wipes his hands on his pants.
Han-sol and Yoon-dam pick out keychains, and when she asks for his opinion, he says that her choice is the prettiest. After they order some, she looks at a teddy bear keychain next. He suggests buying those as well, but Han-sol puts it down since they should conserve their coaches’ money.
At the beach, Hae-kang takes a video of the ocean, but instead of his phone, he keeps staring at Se-yoon who talks with some of the Japanese players who hand her a present. After they leave, he asks if he has any, and she scoffs at his silly question.
Hae-kang wonders why she isn’t using her accent and makes the mistake of calling all their regional dialects the same. Se-yoon dares him to say that to any Busan ajusshi nearby since he will promptly dunk him in the water. While they are here, she offers to take photos of him, and Hae-kang asks if she means by himself. She wonders who else he would take it with, and he agrees to pose by the ocean.
Han-sol and Yoon-dam pick up the keychains for their friends, but before they checkout, Yoon-dam asks for the teddy bear keychain Han-sol wanted. He gets two teddy bear ones and lets the owner choose for the rest. Pulling out his card, Yoon-dam tells him that this order will be on a separate bill.
While Hae-kang helplessly stares at the beachgoers around him, Se-yoon tells him that they need to leave. Running out of time, he gathers his courage and stops the next passerby (cameo by Lee Shi-un). After asking for a photo, Hae-kang waves at Se-yoon to stand next to him.
The two of them pose awkwardly together, and the passerby asks if they fought. He tells them to act friendly, so Hae-kang leans in closer and smiles. Afterwards, the passerby asks Hae-kang if he has a crush on Se-yoon, and offers him some advice: express your feelings honestly.
Hae-kang thanks him for the tip and comments on how his girlfriend must be so happy with him. The passerby gets angry since he’s been single his entire life, and just as Se-yoon predicted, the Busan ahjussi threatens to throw him into the ocean.
The four friends reunite, and Yoon-dam informs the others that the item they went to buy got sold out right in front of them. Se-yoon asks if Yong-tae is going to scold them now, but Han-sol tells her that they ordered delivery instead.
As they reach the building, Park Chan waits outside for Se-yoon with two drinks in his hands. The others go on ahead to give them some privacy, but Hae-kang stays behind near the doors, trying fruitlessly to hear their conversation, before giving up.
The coaches watch videos of today’s matches, and they marvel at Hae-kang’s smash. They find it natural that Young-ja’s son is great, but their only complaint is that he slacks off. Coach Paeng jokes about Hae-kang taking after his dad, and Young-ja scoffs.
The others ask Coach Paeng if he was really going to disqualify the boys if they lost, and he tells them that it was a bluff he uses every year on the third-years. They wonder how he knew about the hole in the gate, and Coach Paeng says that he made it. Pfft.
The coaches assume that this must be the reason for their win, but Coach Paeng points out that this was the first win in ten years. The only thing that changed this year was Hyun-jong, and Coach Paeng brags about raising him. When Hyun-jong finally joins the group after checking on the athletes, Coach Paeng sends him off on another task.
The third-years eat PPL chicken in Han-sol’s room, and once they are done, they sit in a circle and vote on what to do. Yoon-dam and Se-yoon are against the idea, and Park Chan follows Se-yoon’s lead while Hae-kang automatically chooses the opposite of him. Han-sol reveals the item—a bottle of beer—but since none of them have drunk alcohol before, they hide it away and play a game of liar instead.
During their meeting, the coaches ask Young-ja who confessed first, and Coach Paeng laughs at the question since Young-ja was super popular back then. He wonders why she chose Hyun-jong of all people, and Yoo-ri chimes in, saying how she had a crush on him in the past. The coaches wait for Young-ja’s answer, but Hyun-jong returns, causing them to shelve the topic for another day.
The coaches ask if the girls’ team always won, and Coach Paeng tells them that they’ve had a string of good players for years now. One of the coaches wonders if the boys’ team would have a different fate if the legendary player Kang Tae-sun did not retire early. None of the younger coaches know the reason for his sudden disappearance, so they turn to Coach Paeng to fill in the blanks.
The kids play a game—everyone but one person (aka, the liar) knows the code word—and they all say that the “word” is dangerous. Hae-kang disagrees, claiming that the “word’ occasionally seems different, and Se-yoon supports his statement. Park Chan also says that the “word” is cold on the outside but warm on the inside.
Back in their meeting, Coach Paeng shares the story of how Kang Tae-sun hit his senior. While that incident was resolved, Kang Tae-sun kept acting out, and Coach Paeng thinks his decline might be related to Head Coach Bae’s abrupt departure. Hearing the head coach’s name, Hyun-jong asks for more stories, so Coach Paeng obliges.
Back when Head Coach Bae was the coach at Haenam Seo Middle School, he had his students run laps, but two third-years ignored his orders. When Head Coach Bae checked up on them, he cut the third-years from the lineup and chastised them for slacking off. One of the third-years argued that the team would lose without them, but Head Coach Bae pointed out that their school won plenty of times before.
After their meeting, Coach Paeng goes on a final patrol with Yoo-ri, and they hear a mix of voices coming from the hall. The kids are still playing their game, and Hae-kang’s latest comment (this person trusts me) raises the other’s suspicions. Park Chan says that he contacts this person personally, and Hae-kang accuses him of being the liar.
The three minutes are up, but before they can vote, their phones buzz, warning them about the coaches on patrol. Han-sol asks which is worse, getting caught with beer or with boys, and they quickly make a decision: boys.
When the coaches enter the room, they find the beer on the ground, and Han-sol starts tearing up, explaining how she wanted to make memories. Since they didn’t drink it, Coach Paeng lets it slide this once and accepts their apologizes.
Once the coaches leave, the rest of the party exits from their hiding spots, but Coach Paeng comes back and finds all but two of them: Se-yoon and Hae-kang. While watching the kids run laps as punishment, Coach Paeng realizes that someone is missing, and Yoo-ri agrees. In unison, they say Hae-kang’s name, and though his parents defend him, the other coaches disappear in a flash.
Back in the room, Se-yoon guesses that it might be safe to leave the closet, but Hae-kang worries about being caught. While they wait, he asks if Park Chan confessed, and she tells him that he plans to after winning the National Junior Athletic Competition. Hae-kang says that Park Chan will never get the chance since his team will win, and Se-yoon looks him in the eyes, asking if he can keep that promise.
The relationships between the kids are the highlights of this show, and it’s a combination of writing, directing, and acting that creates these realistic and nuanced portrayals of teenagers. Even though some of them are rivals, their envy coexists in an array of emotions, making all of the characters lovable in their own way. In clumsy hands, Na-ra could easily become a stereotypical, jealous badminton player, and the story would have taken the tired route of girls dragging other girls down. However, Na-ra has never been depicted as spiteful, and despite their rivalry, the two athletes act friendly with each other—their barbs come across as playful ribbing more than outright animosity. The prank Na-ra played on Se-yoon was just so she could arrive at the gym first to earn the coaches’ praises, and in the end, she still lost their silly battle. The other rival in the story is Park Chan, and again, the show subverts the usual tropes. While Hae-kang might find the top player annoying, Park Chan actually admires him and laughs off his taunts. Rather than Park Chan, Hae-kang could be seen as the “mean” one, but his grumblings are so frequent and trivial that it makes him seem childish and petty rather than hurtful. In general, the show makes it clear that the young athletes are friends (both at camp and at competitions), and though most people would assume that the top players would all be rivals and act cautiously with each other, it’s the exact opposite. Because they share badminton as a commonality, it binds them together as athletes, and while they still want to beat each other in games, they will also high-five as partners after matches because outside of the court, they’re all just kids who love playing this sport.
Oftentimes, adults place a frame over younger people and view them through a warped lens. They project their own biases onto them, which then influences how they interpret certain actions. The show touches on this issue with the Japanese matches, and I loved how it handled the message of reproducing hate. While the history between the two countries is filled with strife and unresolved anger, it does not mean that future generations must automatically hate each other. People can still remember history and demand reparations without despising individuals, and the kids showed how the adults’ worldviews aren’t always correct. For the girls, badminton is badminton, and their drive to win remains the same no matter what country their opponent represents. As for the boys, their motivation was to avoid punishment, and I liked the juxtaposition of the kids’ maturity and their innocence. The boys could have easily followed Se-yoon’s example, but they answer the coaches truthfully because they see no need to lie.
Though the kids are the heart of this show, I also love the adults and their character development. Coach Paeng is much more than the rule abiding coach the show made him out to be in the beginning, and he’s actually quite funny in his own way. Contrary to his current image, he seems to have broken the rules back when he was a player, and thus, he knows all the tricks to cutting corners and avoiding practices. His relationship with Hyun-jong is growing, and we see that he genuinely wants his junior to become a better coach; even openly acknowledging his skills in front of others. This episode also had a brief flashback to the parents’ love story, and the similarities between the past and present were cute. Hae-kang clearly takes after both his parents, and it feels like fate that he fell in love with the most amazing player at camp just like his father did in the past.
The two romances were sweet this episode, and while it hasn’t been explicitly stated, it seems that Han-sol and Yoon-dam’s friendship might have developed into something more after the line judge incident. Their shy grins are adorable, and Yoon-dam’s attempt to impress Han-sol made my heart melt (the matching keychains!). Hae-kang and Se-yoon also continue being the absolute best, and I am not ashamed to admit that I squealed when he jumped into the water to get her shoe after telling her that he hates the cold. Both of them clearly like each other, but neither of them is brave enough to cross the line. They’ve had multiple moments to confess, but their feelings are always implied in the hopes that the other will say something first. However, the slow pace is enjoyable because it feels relaxing rather than anxious. It’s not a matter of if but when with these two, so the audience can experience the growth of their relationship alongside them and appreciate the butterflies that come with it.
Besides the romance, I thought the friendship between Hae-kang and Han-sol was delightful this hour. The two of them are similar, and in an amusing twist, their love interests resemble each other as well. The characters know this too, which is why Hae-kang asked Han-sol to skip with him instead of someone else. While they might be at each other’s throats at times, the show reveals that these two troublemakers think on the same wavelength and basically share a single brain cell. The funniest bit about their failed attempt to skip the hike was that they tried two times. When they realized that it wasn’t going to be easy, rather than give up, they try hiding in the woods and then pat each other on the back for the terrific plan. They also react in the same way, and their mirrored expressions are hilarious. The show’s strength is clearly in its relationships, and even the most unlikely friendships turn out to be lovely and memorable.