Sports and nationalism have long been wary bedfellows, as the makers of Racket Boys , the popular SBS badminton drama currently airing globally on Netflix, learned last month when scenes set in Indonesia riled viewers. In episode five, star player Han Se-yoon (Lee Jae-in) travels to the Southeast Asian country for a tournament. The show didn’t spend much time there, but over the course of just a couple of scenes, comments made by her coaches about the poor accommodation and training facilities provided, as well as the disrespectful attitude of the local fans, were enough to enrage Indonesian viewers. SBS issued an apology, but not before a targeted campaign left the series with a paltry 1.0 out of 10 score on the major online film and television database IMDb. The intention of the sequence was to show how unflappable Se-yoon is in the face of competition and tournament pressure, while the negative depiction of the home side is a classic sports drama gambit to turn a character we’re supposed to root for into an underdog. But there’s no doubt that in this instance it was poorly handled. Four episodes later, members of the South Korean national team, including Se-yoon, Yoon Hae-kang (Tang Joon-sang) and Bang Yoon-dam (Son Sang-yeon), participate in a joint training camp with visiting members of the Japanese national team. The Korean players win their friendly matches and are praised by their coaches, including head coach Fang (Ahn Nae-sang), the same coach who made the disparaging comments in Indonesia. The coaches seem to think that the players’ desire to beat Japan was their motivation, going so far as to mention that it’s OK for them to say that they hate their rivals. Answering on behalf of her teammates, Se-yoon coolly states that they don’t hate the Japanese players, and are in fact very friendly with them. Racket Boys: Netflix K-drama serves up diverting family fun Se-yoon’s dressing down of the coaches is an overtly moralistic statement, set up by exaggerated xenophobic comments, but even in a show as melodramatic as Racket Boys , it came off as disingenuous. Furthermore, given their earlier unforced error in Indonesia, it had the reverse effect of leaving the show runners with a little egg on their faces. It’s a little unfortunate that Se-yoon has found herself at the centre of the show’s most culturally precarious moments, since in point of fact she truly is the ace of the show. Lee Jae-in, a distinguished child actress, is currently in the midst of a very compelling transition into an adult actress. Whereas the four main members of the “racket boys” and coach Yoon Hyeon-jong (Kim Sang-kyung), the ostensible leads of the show, are prone to caricature, Lee’s performance is an expressive one. Early on, her stoic exterior gives little away, but little by little her eyes and subtle gestures have afforded us a window into the show’s most complex character. Following scene-stealing turns in films such as the occult horror Svaha: The Sixth Finger , Lee keeps going from strength to strength, and frequently upstages her older co-stars. She’s also terrific in the current number one film at the Korean box office, the action thriller Hard Hit . Racket Boys continues to offer a frothy mixture of sports drama and family comedy that makes for effortless viewing. It seldom offers more than diverting entertainment, yet remains in a comfortable gear that has kept most of its fans happy and its ratings steady. 6 new Korean dramas to look out for in July 2021 In South Korea, where the vast majority of the population lives in high-rise buildings around urban centres, the easy-going life in the countryside presented in Racket Boys is compelling, and the show leans pretty heavily into urban-rural observations. Aside from a repetitive side plot involving city hikers vandalising the area around Grandma Oh Mae’s (Cha Mi-kyung) home, the observations have mostly been tongue-in-cheek. Among these is that local boy Lee Yong-tae (Kim Kang-hoon), the youngest of the racket boys, is an expert forager, able to identify plants with special health properties. He finds an expensive root in the forest and marks it with his scarf to find later on. Later, he is thrilled when his father sends him a new phone, but then bereft when he receives his scarf along with it – the roots were worth five times more than the phone. We get another rustic moment later on, as the villagers gather for a neighbour’s 90th birthday, with fresh local food spread out on an outdoor table. Yong-tae then sticks on a film to remind the woman of her Busan hometown, but horrifies the gathered party when that film turns out to be Train to Busan . From a narrative standpoint there isn’t too much forward momentum in the series, as the racket boys (and girls) go about their training and attend their tournaments, but this works in the series’ favour, and makes it in easy programme to dip in and out of for viewers unable to commit to the full 16 episodes. As the show enters its final few weeks, the biggest question hanging in the air is if, or rather when, Hae-kang and Se-yoon will become an item. Racket Boys is streaming on Netflix.