Pachinko Review: A “Dazzling and Heartfelt Korean Epic”

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The entire cast is gorgeous and natural. Lee Min-ho, a major pop star in South Korea, is the charismatic Hansu, a Korean who works for a Japanese company and returns home as a fish market broker near the village of Sunya. Dressed in a white suit and fedora, he is attracted to Sunya, a modest and confident teenager, who is dazzled by him despite rumors of his ties to organized crime. His life and hers intersect over the years.

Jin Ha, an American actor (Devs and Love Life), brings complicated layers to Solomon, who travels to Tokyo to try to convince an elderly Korean woman there to sell her house to make way for her business construction project. His character is greatly enhanced and sometimes altered from that of the novel, allowing the screen version to highlight the family’s generational differences and giving Solomon more difficult ethical choices. A scene in which he brings his grandmother, Sunya, to visit the older Korean woman is among the most moving.

Kogonada and Chon (Blue Bayou) are directing four episodes each. Throughout, the cameras capture panoramas that create an epic sensation, overlooking the vast, shimmering sea separating Korea and Japan, or the skyscrapers of Tokyo. These views flow in and out easily, leading to close-ups that intimately immerse us in the lives of the characters. Pachinko is the latest in Kogonada’s series of breathtaking works, including the Columbus films (2017) and the current After Yang, each made with intelligence and incredible visual style.

Of Pachinko’s many clever choices, one of the best is its dynamic and cheerful opening credit sequence. Each of the main cast dances down the aisle of the pachinko parlor to the bouncy 1967 song Let’s Live for Today. They’re in costume but not in character as Hansu/Lee twirls around and holds little Sunya/Yu-na in his arms, Solomon/Ha throws his suit jacket in the air, and a smiling Mozasu/Soji raises his arms in motion disco. Seeing the actors highlights the fictional quality of the story, but the sheer bliss of the scene being watched over and over again signals the resilience of the family they play.

In the first episode, when Sunya is very young, her father tells her about the promise he made when she was only a week old, that “I would do anything to stop the ugliness of the world from touch you”. Pachinko captures both the ugliness of a world meant to hurt her and the profound beauty of her father’s love, which endures through generations and trumps all else.

★★★★★

Pachinko will air on AppleTV+ on March 25.

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