Pachinko May Have Been Seen as a Gamble to Some, but Not Creator Soo Hugh

Hugh had initially hoped to film in both Korea and Japan (along with Vancouver) but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to do cut out filming in Japan (other than some exterior shots) and mostly use Korea for both countries. Hugh says the initial speed bumps of filming in a foreign country made her very nervous that the series wouldn’t ever come to fruition. “I remember those first few weeks and just thinking, This is all going to fall apart. It’s just gonna be terrible,” she says. “There were so many misunderstandings that kept happening in the beginning, and it really hurt me because I was making a show that celebrates my homeland, and there were just so many arguments. I didn’t know if it was worth it.”

Eventually, Hugh and her team had to accept they couldn’t make a show abroad as they would have in the U.S., and had to come up with a new way of producing a show internationally. “If you’ve ever said to me that I was going to have to reinvent filmmaking, I would have said, ‘What are you talking about?’” says Hugh, “but I think as we do more and more of these global shows, these are the conversations we’ll have to have.”

Once past those production hiccups, Hugh and her team were able to create a show that captures a specific time in Korea and Japan, and putting a spotlight on many traditional aspects of these cultures that don’t often make their way to the big screen in a Hollywood production. Episode four, which Hugh says is her favorite, has a gorgeous sequence capturing Sunja’s mother making her daughter and her new husband a serving of white rice, which was an expensive delicacy at the time. She says director Justin Chon and D.P. Ante Cheng took the words on the script and created an emotional, visually stunning piece. “They could have just filmed it with a neutral eye, but I think, for Justin and Ante, because rice is part of their family history, you can really feel that is a personal statement for them as well,” she says.

With its almost all Asian cast, a mix of new faces like Kim and well known international talent like Oscar-winner Youn Yuh-jung and Korean star Lee Min-ho, some in Hollywood could have seen this series as a gamble, but it is has already become a part of the growing content boom of global stories that put Asian faces front and center in a way that Hollywood hasn’t before. It’s a responsibility Hugh, who is Korean American, couldn’t think about too much while she was making the show, but has never been far from her mind. She says, “What I do hope is that if Pachinko succeeds, that people see that we’re not a risk, these stories are not a risk. To me, that would be amazing.”


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