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On March 18, Apple TV+’s upcoming drama “Pachinko” held an online press conference with cast members Youn Yuh Jung, Kim Min Ha, Lee Min Ho, and Jin Ha, director Kogonada, series creator Soo Hugh, and executive producers Michael Ellenberg and Theresa Kang-Lowe.
Based on Min Jin Lee’s best-selling book of the same name, “Pachinko” is a multi-generational chronicle of war and peace, love and separation, and victory and judgment that spans Korea, Japan, and the United States. Youn Yuh Jung plays Sunja when she is older, Kim Min Ha plays Sunja in her teens, Lee Min Ho plays Hansu, and Jin Ha plays Solomon.
Although “Pachinko” is about Korean history and Korean immigrants, the producers and director emphasized that it was a story that the whole world could relate to. Kogonada said, “It’s about Korean history, but anyone can relate to it. Even now, in order to survive, immigrant families must make difficult decisions. It’s about history, but it’s also happening now.”
Soo Hugh said, “We talked about this often during filming, but we really wanted to share the emotions and not just the cold hard facts. If the viewers can feel the love and family love in the story, then we’ve achieved our goal.”
Youn Yuh Jung previously starred as Soon-ja in the film “Minari” about Korean-American immigrants, but said that Sunja in “Pachinko,” who is a Korean immigrant in Japan, was a very different character. “I would like people to clearly see the differences between them,” she said. “Actors normally do a lot of research, but I don’t really do that much more research. When someone falls into adversity, they don’t know that it’s a historical moment. I focused more on how the character tries to escape their situation. Soon-ja and Sunja’s stories are completely different. Their backgrounds are different and their situations are different.
Lee Min Ho said, “It’s strange to greet people in Los Angeles. Hansu uses clothes to protect himself and also to express himself. I tried on a lot of different clothes. Through his clothes, Hansu changes his feelings and hides his identity.”
Kim Min Ha talked about the challenging audition process for “Pachinko,” saying, “I poured my entire soul into auditions for three months. In playing Sunja, I got the chance to reflect on myself. I learned a lot more than just acting. I learned how to vocalize and I also learned about who I was.”
Jin Ha plays Solomon Baek, who is fluent in English, Korean, and Japanese. He said, “Filming was both valuable and difficult. It was key to immerse myself in such a complex character like Solomon. Language is a key part of his character, so it was very necessary for me to do well. Even if it was difficult, I really wanted to pull this character off.”
The story in “Pachinko” spans several decades in the 20th century. Soo Hugh said, “Including Solomon’s story in 1989 made it a chronicle of almost 80 years. That’s why I had to work hard at researching historical documents. I learned a lot for the first time about Zainichi Koreans [ethnic Koreans who immigrated to Japan before World War II and the descendants of those immigrants]. When I wrote the script, I got really immersed into it. I thought about what Sunja’s life would have been like, what it would have been like to go to Japan at the time. There are many screenwriters who work with me. We got help from historical scholars and worked hard to make a perfect script.”
Youn Yuh Jung said, “At first, I was worried because there were so many flashbacks. I was concerned about how it would look onscreen. But when I saw the first episode, I was shocked. Since we were filming during the pandemic, there were many uncomfortable situations. They told me that it was different because it was Apple, but it felt the same to me. But when I saw the first episode, I realized that Apple really is different. The quality was different. I was worried about me because I was old, but also worried about Kim Min Ha because she’s still a new actor. But she was really good.”
She added later, “We move back and forth between 1919, 1939, and 1989. I was worried about whether the viewers would really understand it at all. But just like director Bong Joon Ho said, if you can overcome the one-inch barrier of subtitles, then there’s a lot of interesting stories out there. I didn’t know the proper story of Zainichi Koreans. I thought that it was a bad thing to be called ‘Zainichi.’ If it wasn’t for Apple, we wouldn’t have been able to tell this kind of story. After Liberation [of Korea from Japanese colonial occupation], due to the war [Korean War], Zainichi Koreans did not receive protection from their homeland. I wanted to portray these people’s history and difficulties well. I learned a lot about history, so I hope that Korean viewers do too.”
Lee Min Ho said, “I’m proud that we got such good review from critics. But now we have the most important feedback of all, the reaction of the public. I think that good reviews means that we’re acknowledged as a good production. It has nothing to do with becoming a hit, but it gives me a sense of pride.”
At the end, Lee Min Ho said, “It’s a story that you can relate to regardless of nationality or language. I hope it will become a drama that moves the hearts of many.” Youn Yuh Jung said, “I hope people have fun watching it. I don’t actually know how to watch Apple TV+ in Korea. Please subscribe,” she added with a laugh.
“Pachinko” airs the first of eight episodes on March 25 on Apple TV+ worldwide. It will air one episode every Friday until April 29. Check out a trailer here!
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