Pachinko Review

It’s the beginning of the 20th century and the Korean peninsula is under Japanese rule in Apple TV+’s new drama Pachinko. Sunja (Yeon Yu-na), a young girl, although poor, has a decent life. She has a good mother, Yangjin (Jeong In-ji) and a father for whom she is the apple of his eye. After her father’s death, things get complicated, but Sunja’s mother doesn’t give up – she creates a guesthouse out of their family home and thus somehow makes ends meet. 

Years pass by and Sunja (Kim Minha) is now a hardworking and bright teenager, she hopes to live a quiet life with Koh Hansu (Lee Minho), a man who she met at the fish market and who turns out to be a Zainichi Korean man who lives in Osaka. Unexpectedly, the situation changes when Sunja falls pregnant. Hansu’s situation stops him from marrying the girl he already has a family of his own in Japan but Sunja bravely refuses his money and the proposition of being his lover. 

Image © Apple TV+

In the most difficult time of her life, Sunja meets Baek Isak (Steve Sang-hyun Noh), a young pastor who nobly helps her out of a difficult situation. Both decide to leave for Japan and join Isak’s brother, Yoseb (Han Yoon-woo), in Osaka. 

Noa is born, Hansu and Sunja’s child, and later Mozasu is born, Isak’s offspring. Although living in a foreign country is difficult, for Sunja it is the only possibility of a respectful life. However, she does not realise how her decision will leave its mark on future generations. 

Image © Apple TV+

Pachinko, which is created by Soo Hugh and directed by Justin Chon (Blue Bayou, Ms.Purple) and Kogonada (After Yang), is based on the novel of the same name by Lee Min Jin. It depicts human drama and unexpected events that will no doubt trigger viewers’ anxiety and sadness. The series, in a powerful way, illustrates a composition of cultures, traditions, and beliefs. 

The show’s script is written with a pleasant and expressive language of a broad family saga, where love is interwoven with hate, truth with lies, acceptance with intolerance, loyalty with treason, and devotion with indifference. It is also awash with human dilemmas, memories, emotions, survival, and intimacy. 

Image © Apple TV+

Pachinko is a story of a merciless fate which, like in the popular game it’s named after (which is a mixture of slot and pinball machines) allows only a few to win, condemning the masses to failure. This is also how the fate of Sunja’s children is shaped: her sons Noa and Mozasu, and her grandson Solomon (Jin Ha) become Zainichi. Sunja creates the best fate for Noa, wanting to educate him so that he can stand out above mediocrity, but the boy will also be hit by the mercilessness of blind fate.

The creators decided to play with a mixed timeline, where the past is connected to the future and future to the past. Although, at first, it seemed like a risky choice, at the end it turned out to be a smart one because it allowed viewers to get to know the characters better, particularly ones that feature in later periods of Sunja’s life like Solomon. In addition, while many might not know anything, or very little, about Zainichi (a foreign citizen staying in Japan), the show opens a wide door to another part of Korean-Japanese history that is vital to know. 

Image © Apple TV+

Kim Minah shines throughout the show. She was perfectly cast for the role of Sunja. Youn Yuh-jung, who portrayed the older version of the protagonist, does what Youn Yuh-jung does the best, she acts. Although I had reservations when it came to Lee Minho’s casting as Hansu (that’s what happens when you watch too many Korean dramas) he actually delivered. Minho finally proved that there is more to his acting than just K-dramas and Flower Boy-type roles. Steve Noh as Isak and Soji Arai as the older Mozasu were also great in their respectful characters. 

Image © Apple TV+

The score written by Nico Asher (The Reader, Kill Your Darlings) brought more emotions through his music, it has a certain earworm-like quality to it because it has an interesting blend of sounds and textures, a melodic and, perhaps, signature sound to the show. Justin Chon and Kogonada’s camera work goes without saying. Justin for the past few years has not only written some heart-rending scripts but also made good quality films, including Gook, Ms. Purple, and Blue Bayou, and directing Pacinko definitely solidified him as a note-worthy filmmaker. 

Undoubtedly, Pachinko is a story that will touch, surprise, and make viewers contemplate their life. And above all, like Lee Min Jin’s novel, it’s truly memorable. 


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written by Maggie Gogler

Images and trailer © Apple TV+

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Loved this review and can’t wait to see it in Sydney later this week. Really enjoyed the book too but your review makes me want to watch the series even more. I loved Lee Min Ho in Eternal Monarch – like many k drama actors I thought he was excellent in that.

    1. Thank you for reading the review. He did well in Gangnam Blues. Hope you enjoy “Pachinko”.

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