Media Res, 2022
📷 : Pixabay
Thought-provoking movies and TV shows
For most fictional television shows, it can be a challenge to span multiple time periods without some elements of fantasy. We see programs like Westworld and Doctor Who incorporate time travel, but rarely do dramas that exist in a more realistic universe risk pulling the viewer out of the established temporal setting. Much of a show’s appeal to its audience is giving them a sense of comfort with the setting and familiarity with the characters. Therefore, covering multiple generations across an entire century, sink or swim, is quite the experiment. Enter Pachinko, a historical drama focused on how a major world event influenced the life paths of many citizens and their offspring.
Created by Soo Hugh and adapted from a 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee, Pachinko chronicles a Korean family through multiple generations that leaves their native land for Japan in order to survive. The trilingual story (unfolding in Japanese, Korean and English dialogue) weaves between separate timelines, highlighting characters in a different culture than their predecessors as well as the same characters in different stages of their lives.
Despite its drastic timespan, Pachinko remains a story driven more by character than setting. Solomon (Jin Ha, Devs) seeks a promotion at his sales associate job but he is wrongfully denied. In order to receive his bump, he vows to close an account back in his native land that he has personal ties to. In doing so, he must travel back and convince the current landowner to sell her property, despite her emotional attachment to the real estate. Meanwhile, in Sunja’s youth, she enters a romance with a prominent married businessman, Hansu (Lee Minho, Heirs), who impregnates her but will not raise the child. A nomad, Isak (Steve Sang-Hyun Noh, Sense8), who Sunja’s family nurses back to health, vows to step in and act as a surrogate father.
In adept fashion, Pachinko highlights class and generational differences. Solomon, of a younger generation and Western cultural influence, embodies individualist ideals. He wants to close a deal to progress his own career and is not concerned with the sentimental value of the property he is trying to acquire. Sunja, on the other hand, values family and community over personal gain, as articulated in her very first onscreen exchange with Solomon. Despite being each other’s flesh and blood, their priorities and mindsets diverge in a drastic manner. Though Solomon remains defensive about having different cultural influences, he opens his eyes to different perspectives as the series progresses.
While displaying the macro-level influences of age, class and culture, Pachinko also shows how individual experiences manipulate the way its characters see the world. For instance, part of Sunja’s devotion to family stems from the pain she feels at Hansu’s rejection of her after she discloses her pregnancy to him. Just the same, an episode late in the first season reveals the origin of Hansu’s pain where he experiences the crushing and sudden loss of a close family member during his adolescence.
Pachinko brings to mind another critically acclaimed period drama that highlighted classism and cultural differences, Downton Abbey. Family and loyalty are major themes of both series, and they astutely display the clash between those seeking social mobility and those always willing to sacrifice for others. Interestingly enough, the series is executive produced and directed by the creator of another project about family and loyalty, Justin Chon and his film, Blue Bayou. We will be looking forward to more projects to come from the talented Chon and hope to see more AAPI creatives welcomed into the producer space.