Racket Boys is a 2021 South Korean television drama. The series, directed by Cho Young-kwang and written by Jung Bo-hun, stars Kim Sang-kyung, Oh Na-ra, Tang Jun-sang, Son Sang-yeon, Choi Hyun-wook, Kim Kang-hoon, Lee Jae-in, and Lee Ji-won. The series follows the growth of sixteen-year-old boys and girls and the challenges faced by badminton club at their school. It was premiered on SBS TV on May 31, 2021 and aired every Monday and Tuesday at 22:00 (KST). The series is available worldwide on Netflix for streaming.
A city kid is brought to the countryside by his father’s new coaching gig: reviving a ragtag middle school badminton team on the brink of extinction. A story of a boys’ badminton team at a middle school in Haenam as they grow, both as people and as players.
Yoon Hyun Jong was once a very good badminton player, but now he struggles to make ends meet for his family. Therefore, he jumps at a chance to coach a middle school team, only to find a team on the verge of disbandment with only three players: Bang Yoon Dam, Na Woo Chan, and Lee Yong Tae. The three boys struggle along, improving as Yoon Hae Kang, Yoon Hyun Jong’s son, joins the team along with Jung In Sol. Now having enough players to enter competitions, they try to soar to new heights.
Meanwhile, Ra Young Ja, former top badminton player and Yoon Hyun Jong’s wife, is the coach of the girls’ badminton team at a girl’s middle school in Haenam. On her team are Han Se Yoon, the #1 ranked junior female player in Korea and Lee Han Sol, Se Yoon’s best friend, allowing them to be one of the best teams among their peers.
Review : by a_foolish_heart (Link)
I just finished this drama and it’s so nice to see Jung Bo-Hoon, the writer of Prison Playbook, come back with another drama. It really captivated me with nostalgia and left me wanting to play badminton again. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s lovable and nostalgic.
Racket Boys’ writing is excellent in creating realistic badminton scenarios. While my experience in American high school badminton may be different, there were several unexpectedly relatable scenarios like changing players in the match order in order to get an advantage. The detail that really caught me off guard was when one of the coaches mentioned how the rules were different in the past so their matches lasted much longer. My high school’s league came up with a point system where you could only score points during your serve so there might be long periods of time during the matches where no points were scored. The main characters also didn’t win all the time which made it more believable whenever the coaches/players dealt with strengths/weaknesses. The strategy to beat Park Chan in doubles by taking advantage of his weakness was relatable to me because I am literally so bad at singles that I lost the only official singles game I played while being undefeated in doubles and mixed doubles.
Something I would criticize is how many of the characters were “national” level. I understand that South Korea is a smaller population than where I’m from, but it felt off to have 4 of the main characters be on the national youth team. In my experience, I only ever saw one national youth player in my state’s league who went on to play with Lee Yong Dae (Yong Tae’s favorite player). It felt weird how even the national level players were deemed to have unreasonable skill gaps. For example, the main cast doubted Han Sol’s ability to compete against Nara even though both were on the national team.
The bigger thing I would critique is the writers’ use of easter eggs and cameos. This is the same writer from Prison Playbook, but it felt like the Prison Playbook writing was being “redeemed” through the easter egg/cameos. For example, we have Jung Min Sung once again playing a character being screwed over by a corporate past. However, unlike in Prison Playbook, his character now has a happy ending. We then have Lee Kyu Hyung making a cameo that directly references being imprisoned and now also going towards a happier ending. Let’s not overlook that this cameo implies that his character is also in a relationship with a man. I think it’s fine to reference your past successful work, but I also think it takes away from that past work’s writing if your references are geared towards giving an alternative ending for the past characters.
This is the first drama I watched where the featured sport was the primary focus (I previously only watched Prison Playbook with its baseball and 18 Again with basketball and baseball). As a former player, I would say the cinematography did well to capture the sport. We got to see very specific details like how the players would record each others’ matches for later feedback and analysis. We also got a decent amount of wide shots showcasing that the actors were mainly using proper forms. The slow motion shots were rightfully used to express the intensity of the rallies/point scoring. Also glad we saw some genuine training concepts like conditioning and specific exercises. My favorites were seeing the doubles matches’ rotations.
From a production design standpoint, I liked how the players were showed being really sweaty as the games progressed so props to hair and makeup. I also liked how any badminton product placement wasn’t overly done. I don’t ever recall seeing a specific brand dominating the screen time and I’m used to seeing the yonex logo on various players’ gear. The only thing I would criticize is the shuttlecocks. There was never any point in the drama where damaging the feathers was noticeable. It’s definitely easy to damage the feathers at the level these characters played and it most definitely matters within a rally due to the damage changing the trajectory. It’s a minor detail that the general audience won’t miss so it’s okay.
I’m proud of seeing the next generation of actors and actresses stepping up. The characters had believable dynamics and chemistry with each other. The awkwardness of teenage romance was executed well. Since many of the main cast are still early in their career, I’m looking forward to their improvements and what they do next.
I like the nonlinear editing choices like the beginning of the episode having a teaser from a future part of the episode like when we saw the city couple cooking in a kitchen at the beginning of an episode only to find out later that they were preparing for a funeral all day. Most of these choices don’t give enough context so they could generally be concurrent with what happens at the beginning of the episode, but make us go “oh that makes sense” once context is provided at the end of the episode.
Many of the badminton sounds were quite nostalgic. I am a fan of the foley artists and sound recordists who captured those sounds. It truly immersed me into the match and practice scenes. Also happy it wasn’t a drama with too many soundtracks. From my experience, a soundtrack would not help me feel nostalgic at all since my experience was a bunch of teenage kpop fans blasting kpop during our badminton practices.
Overall, I loved the drama from a nostalgia standpoint. I believe it did enough to make the general audience curious about badminton and potentially want to play. I can see the amount of effort that went into creating an authentic expression of badminton and I want to say it paid off for them. Definitely recommend watching!