Racket Boys review: An authentic badminton drama that needs more training

Half Malaysian and Korean actor Tang Jun Sang is a badminton prodigy with a temper in Racket Boys
Half-Malaysian and half-Korean actor Tang Jun Sang is a badminton prodigy with a temper in Racket Boys

This review covers the first two episodes of Racket Boys, streaming currently on Netflix; new episodes drop every Monday and Tuesday.

When it comes to sports-related K-dramas, it can be hard to take them seriously.

After all, most of the actors and actresses are usually not trained in the prerequisite sport, and to portray sports seriously and authentically, lots of practice would be involved.

Actor Park Seo Joon actually flew to the US to train in order to portray a champion fighter, developing delicious muscles and all, for his drama The Divine Fury.

But if you look at other dramas like Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, it is painfully obvious that Lee Sung Kyung has neither the form nor the musculature to be a weightlifter, using hideous baggy track suits to obscure her thin frame.

Along comes Racket Boys, a brand new K-drama starring 17-year-old half-Malaysian, half-Korean Tang Jun Sang as a fiery tempered, middle school baseball player, Yoon Hae Kang, who unwittingly becomes a school team badminton player for a sleepy, rural middle school in a backwater province called Haenam.

This is a completely different role for the young up and coming actor, who comes fresh out of his last series Move To Heaven, where he plays an autistic 'trauma cleaner' who cleans up after the deceased and uncovers their stories.

Suffice to say, the boys in Racket Boys have been trained somewhat in badminton. I'm an intermediate amateur badminton player who has been trained by a coach and plays badminton 2-3 times a week (pre-Covid, of course), and to my eyes, the footwork and training the boys display in the series has been authentic so far.

Director Jo Young Gwang has also done his homework. When Hae Kang was being recommended a badminton racket by a shop owner, terms like '4U' (to indicate racket weight) and string tension of 26 pounds (which is an ideal tension for beginners of badminton) did colour me impressed.

Less impressive is the camera work and lack of the usage of badminton shot positions by Hae Kang's father Yoo Hyeon Jong (Kim Sang Kyung), a disgraced badminton coach with a mountain of debts.

I watched eagerly to see if he would teach his young charges to tighten their hairpin net play, sharpen their dropshots or jump when smashing, but none were forthcoming. I would imagine that going for competitions would require them to train for skill as well, but all Racket Boys does is to drill Hae Kang and his three teammates at stamina and very basic footwork.

The plot has proved to be rather thin as well. There does not seem to be a very strong overarching goal for the boys, other than to win competitions and teach Hae Kang some lessons in anger management. Hae Kang moves to rural Haenam because of his father's debts and discovers the 'unique' personalities of the countryfolk living there, which proves hilarious and does present a silver lining.

He makes friends and starts to forge bonds with his father's badminton team, captain Bang Yoon Dam (Son Sang Yeon), hipster wannabe Na Woo Chan (Choi Hyun Wook) and maknae Lee Yong Tae (Kim Kang Hoon).

Two episodes into the show, there is some hope that the plot will strengthen as the series progresses, more badminton terms will be introduced, and that the series will showcase more sides to the adorable Tang Jun Sang!

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