This article contains spoilers. 3/5 stars Born out of the ashes of the Korean war, South Korea experienced a breathless transformation in the second half of the 20th century, as the masses abandoned the countryside in favour of the cities. The country’s evolution has given rise to many stories of tradition versus modernity on screen, and as urban spaces were increasingly coveted, more negative connotations became attached to rural ones. Horror stories like The Wailing and Bedevilled in particular have shown the countryside as a backwater filled with parochial characters and revealed the secrets of a society that did some terrible things in the name of progress. Yet in recent years, with urban malaise on the rise, there’s been a movement to reclaim the countryside and go back to traditional values. Characters have abandoned the Seoul rat race in favour of organic and hardy living in films like Little Forest . The SBS drama Racket Boys is the latest story to milk this trend . Tang Joon-sang stars as Yoon Hae-kang, a talented young baseball player forced to move to the countryside with his father, Yoon Hyeon-jong (Kim Sang-kyung), after the latter takes up a job coaching a small school badminton team. Racket Boys midseason recap: Lee Jae-in shines in Netflix comedy Not only is Hae-kang forced to adjust to the countryside, but he also finds himself picking up a badminton racket again. Despite his initial resistance, he soon embraces the country life and cherishes the friends he makes there, though he would never openly admit it. Hae-kang and his teammates face opponents who are all from bigger urban centres, and in the end, they have to face off against the top-seeded team in Seoul. Despite its title, Racket Boys focuses on quite a few other characters in the village, and they also compete against urban opponents. Ultimately, the racket boys overcome their adversaries, and in defeat, the Seoul players profess their jealousy, not because they lost but because they want the lives the racket boys have. City life is synonymous with success, but also with stress and competition. After beating an older star player in her match in the final episode, Han Se-yoon (Lee Jae-in) is advised by her opponent to remember to enjoy her life with her friends, a life she abandoned in favour of a strict training regimen. Jung In-sol (Kim Min-ki), the studious fifth racket boy, has a similar trajectory, as badminton gives him friends and a new purpose in life beyond hitting his books. Prolific character actor Jo Jae-yun plays the odious antagonist Kim Jun-seok from the big city, who first locks horns with the salt-of-the-earth villagers when he keeps leaving trash on their doorsteps during his hikes. Later he returns as a snake oil salesman trying to buy their land on the cheap to develop a golf course. Even before the arrival of Jun-seok, the villagers were already wary of a couple, played by Jung Min-sung and Park Hyo-joo, who moved into a local house. Six new Korean dramas to look out for in August 2021 Following their bitter disappointments in the city, the pair planned to commit suicide, but staying in the countryside gave them a new perspective, one which came about when they embraced their Confucian roles and began to serve at the beck and call of their senior neighbours. Racket Boys may be a story of young badminton players, but beyond all the Instagram snaps, video games and fried food, the peripheral characters of the show and its values position it as a show for older viewers, even if the series is designed to appeal to a wide demographic. This results in occasional dissonance, as individual sporting achievement and the tight-knit rural community aren’t always comfortable bedfellows. Early on in the show, Hae-kang looks down on badminton in favour of baseball, the most popular spectator sport in the country. Yet while young boys idolise players on the diamond, badminton is far more widely played by the public. Walk around Korea during a summer evening and people of all ages can be seen playing rallies with their rackets. The timing of Racket Boys’ release is no coincidence – this summer Koreans have been glued to their screens watching the progress of the nation’s athletes, including the national badminton team, at the Tokyo Olympics . Yet as a sports show Racket Boys has had its ups and downs. The editing of many matches lacked tension, with most sets being cut down to one or two points and often no indication whether we were watching match point. Although the whole cast deliver engaging, if sometimes caricatured performances, right up until the end it is Lee Jae-in who wins our hearts as ace player Se-yoon. Always cool under pressure and sporting a short haircut, Se-yoon is a terrific role model, not unlike the South Koran archery star An San, who has inspired millions of young women this summer after winning three gold medals at the Olympics in the face of a torrent of misogyny online. It’s just a pity that part of Se-yoon’s role boils down to her being a love interest for Hae-kang. There was an opportunity to do something more, but instead Racket Boys benched its best character. Racket Boys is streaming on Netflix.