Netflix K-drama Racket Boys: rural sports comedy serves up diverting family fun

Move to Heaven, Memories of Murder, K-pop act BTS

Part youth drama, part sports saga and part countryside comedy, Racket Boys, currently streaming worldwide on Netflix, is the latest show from Korean broadcaster SBS.

Hot on the heels of his appearance in Move to Heaven, young actor Tang Joon-sang plays the young sports prodigy who moves with his badminton coach father, played by Memories of Murder actor Kim Sang-kyung, to the countryside.

The action begins in the South Korean capital, Seoul, where Yoon Hyeon-jong (Kim) is coaching amateur badminton players but struggling to pay rent and medical bills and fund a special baseball camp for his son Hae-kang (Tang), who is on track to become a national star, which he is unable to afford.

When a better paid opportunity arises, Hyeon-jong accepts a post in the countryside and moves there with his son and younger daughter Hae-in (Ahn Se-bin). Hae-kang is livid that he can’t play baseball any more, and their humble new rural home and its lack of Wi-fi only make things worse.

Meanwhile, Hyeon-jong assumes his post as a coach at the Haenam Seo Middle School, but discovers that a formerly great team has been on life support for years and now has only three members. Without a fourth, they won’t be able to compete.

Hyeon-jong tries to persuade Hae-kang to join but he won’t entertain the idea, until a budget problem forces Hyeon-jong to welcome his three young badminton wards, Bang Yoon-dam (Son Sang-yeon), Na Woo-chan (Choi Hyun-wook) and Lee Yong-tae (Kim Kang-hoon), to come and stay with them.

The three boys, who call themselves the “Racket Boys” – which in Korean is a play on the uber popular K-pop act BTS – are desperate for Hae-kang to join them and before long they trick him into playing their ace Yoon-dam. However, after a slow start, and to their very great surprise, Hae-kang proves to be a more than competent player, and Yoon-dam barely ekes out a win. 

In exchange for a Wi-fi router, Hae-kang is soon convinced to join the team, and soon after that his new teammates discover that Hae-kang used to be a badminton prodigy before taking up baseball.

At their first competition, the Racket Boys meet the former star badminton player Ra Yeong-ja (Oh Na-ra), who now coaches a top girls’ badminton team which includes national athlete Han Se-yoon (Lee Jae-in).

Move to Heaven, Memories of Murder, K-pop act BTS

Oh Na-ra in a still from Racket Boys.

Back at Hyeon-jong’s home that evening, the boys get some more surprises as Yeong-ja and two of her players, Se-yoon and Lee Han-sol (Lee Ji-won), also come to stay with them. What’s more, they learn that Yeong-ja is none other than Hae-kang and Hae-in’s mother.

Also in the orbit of the Racket Boys are the school’s head coach, Bae (Shin Jung-keun), who has a secret up his sleeve; their nerdy classmate Jung In-sol (Kim Min-ki), who wants to play badminton against his father’s wishes; and the dotty neighbour Grandma One (Cha Mi-kyung), who loves to dote on the children.

Suitable for all ages, Racket Boys explores several family themes; no matter the tribulation the characters are confronted with, the solution is invariably that they need to stick together to move forward.

Move to Heaven, Memories of Murder, K-pop act BTS

A scene from Netflix K-drama Racket Boys.

This is well illustrated when Yoon-dam, as punishment for the Racket Boys getting involved in a fight, is forced by Bae to complete an impossible number of exercises, until his teammates realise the point – he’ll only complete the tasks if they all do them together.

Yet in this show, it isn’t just the young players who need to grow up, as Hyeon-jong also has plenty of room to grow. He’s trying his best to make ends meet and do the best for his children, but his pecuniary drive is often at odds with his duties as a coach.

What’s more, when it counts the most, Hyeon-jong can prove to be highly irresponsible, such as when a late night of drinking costs his team a chance to compete in an event the next morning.

Move to Heaven, Memories of Murder, K-pop act BTS

Lee Jae-in prepares to play a shot in Racket Boys.

Beyond these weightier thematic digressions, which include a very awkward misstep involving a suicidal couple who relocate to the village, the show is most comfortable as an easy-going, feel-good comedy.

Goofy dances crop up regularly, as do silly picture poses and pleasing but facile comparisons between city and country life. The comedy is for the most part family-friendly, but the show occasionally throws a bone just to the adults, such as when the team stays in a love motel and the boys are confused by the sounds of “pain” coming from neighbouring rooms.

Though a touch long-winded and simplistic, the first few games of Racket Boys have for the most part been digestible and diverting.

Move to Heaven, Memories of Murder, K-pop act BTS

A still from Racket Boys.

Racket Boys is streaming on Netflix.

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