The penultimate episode of Apple TV+’s “Pachinko” steps away from central character Sunja’s narrative to give a glimpse into Hansu’s past. Episode 7, directed by Kogonada and written by Ethan Kuperberg and Soo Hugh, delves deeper into the narrative of Hansu (Lee Min-ho), and TheWrap spoke with the filmmakers and Lee Min-ho about bringing the episode (which invents a new storyline not found in Min Jin Lee’s source material) to life.
“It was such a challenge because we were already dealing with literally two casts [and] two timelines, and we were all shooting this at the same time. Then we had this other story that was in its own timeline,” Kogonada said. “It was always also a breath of fresh air because you’re in the trenches doing the primary work and then you have this other work with a a whole different set of actors except Minho, who had to really change his trajectory as well. It was a real pivot. We all had to kind of shift and focus on in this sort of new space.”
Episode 7 stands alone for many reasons, including the historical events that fill out Hansu’s background, namely a catastrophic earthquake in the Kanto Region of Japan, which he survived.
“It was very technically difficult to envision how to tell its story [and] how to recreate the earthquake. I think we really pulled that off,” said director of photography Florian Hoffmeister. “It was always clear that it would stand out because it’s almost a departure that Soo did as a writer, because that backstory’s never really explored in the novel.”
Hugh was inspired to create this backstory for Hansu while doing research for the season.
“When I was doing research on Season 1, I came across the Kanto earthquake, and it was from a history that I never knew about and discovered most of the world doesn’t know about even in Japan and Korea, and especially what happened to some of the Koreans afterword,” showrunner Soo Hugh told TheWrap. “And as I was reading about just the devastation, Hansu’s face popped into my head, and his storyline popped into my head, and it felt like ‘Ah, this is where he was.’”
The upbeat introduction that precedes all the previous episodes — which involves a montage of the cast members dancing in a pachinko parlor cut with other artistic reminders of history and culture — does not open Episode 7.
“There is no title sequence, and that was because it was a statement for that episode, because we knew that this episode follows [the Kanto earthquake] and it was just so devastating for Japanese people and for the Koreans who are in Japan about time,” said Hugh. “To put a title sequence in, it just felt in poor taste, and I’m so happy that people have embraced the title sequence, but think there’s a time and place for all title sequences.”
In the TV show’s first season, viewers are introduced to Hansu at the end of the pilot episode. Hoffmeister detailed what went behind the opening shot of Hansu, who stands surveying the market that Sunja frequents.
“Of course when you set up such a character, we wanted to do that in the most iconic way because you really have to have the feeling at the end of episode one that there’s something going on. It’s almost like a cliffhanger,” Hoffmeister said. “Everything is quite iconographic, his costume, the way he wears the hat, and then him as a performer. He’s almost an icon in himself, and we wanted to really depict that. Hence, we came up with this shot from behind. That positions him as a lonely figure beacuse he’s really lonely in terms of his cultural set-up.”
In Episode 7, a younger Hansu has a job tutoring a young American man who is going to college in the states next year. The man’s parents offer Hansu the opportunity to go to America with them, and Hansu’s father sees this as the best chance possible for his son. Before this deep dive into Hansu’s past, viewers only know him as the man who got Sunja pregnant and then wouldn’t marry her.
“In the book, he talks about his father, and it’s done beautifully sparely,” Hugh said. “We wanted to figure out what that relationship was especially when you think about Hansu and Noa. In order to understand Hansu as a father, I think it’s helpful to think about Hansu as a son as well, and that kind of call and response relationship and the kind of father that he wants to be.”
Hansu’s father dies during the earthquake, which severely impacts the trajectory of Hansu’s life in other ways as well. The American family with which he was supposed to leave Japan also perishes in the earthquake, and when Hansu comes across their dead bodies, the only form of closure seems to be the wife’s watch, which he takes with him and eventually gives to Sunja.
“When Hansu gave Sunja the watch, we saw it before we saw the origin story of the watch so we think ‘Ah, it’s just some watch,” Hugh said. “And then when you see where the watch came from in [Episode 7] we realize ‘No, when he gave Sunja that watch, it now reads completely differently.’ He was giving her the promise of a new life, because it was the watch that to him meant the end of a life. when he found a watch on [his employer’s wife], his dreams of America died, but by giving it to Sunja, it’s almost as if the watch has a second life.”
For Lee Minho, the mental immersion into Hansu was an extensive process.
“I tried to understand the vibes and the feelings of people that were actually present at the time, and I asked myself a lot of ‘what if I were Hansu’ questions,” Minho told TheWrap. “So after reading the script for the first time, the second time I was reading it, I would keep asking myself why he would speak this way and why he wouldn’t directly involve himself, but indirectly do things.”
Hansu’s shadowy figure gets the most exposure from his time with Sunja, until this standalone episode in which he stars. As he and Sunja fall in love, he doesn’t share too much detail about his past.
“Depending on your perspective, Hansu could actually come off as oppressive or sometimes even evil. It was the same thing for me before filming the seventh episode,” Minho said. “I was kind of curious about why he became so ruthless and what happened to him that made him this way. And while I was filming the seventh episode, I could really understand why he had to become that ruthless person when he was young. He was a very good hearted person, so I could really understand how he became that character. So it was actually a very heartbreaking episode for me.”
Hugh echoed Minho’s perspective about Hansu in articulating what she hopes viewers get out of this episode.
“I hope an audience will believe that this is not a show that believes in heroes and villains, that anyone is born good or bad, that we are formed very much by historical forces and what’s happened to us,” she said. “And by doing this episode of this show, this is someone who could have had a very different life. If Hansu had gone to America, then that changes the course of everything, to show just how much of our life, of all of our lives is pulled on by one single string, and if that string snaps we have a different life altogether. It’s a really interesting and powerful concept to ponder.”
New episodes of “Pachinko” stream on Apple TV+ every Friday.