Note: this article is based on Pachinko episodes 1-3, which are available to stream now.


In Pachinko, an Apple TV+ drama based on Min Jin Lee's critically-acclaimed novel of the same name, Sunja's choices are limited. As a Korean living under the thumb of Japanese occupation and a woman, she is subject to both the cruel directives of her country's oppressor and rigid gender roles that pre-date Japan's annexing of Korea in 1910.

And yet, those constraints do not deter Sunja from rejecting the life that Hansu maps out for her when she informs him that she's pregnant.

The district fish broker refuses to marry her, initially citing his wife and three children, who are based in Osaka, as the driving force behind his opposition to taking her hand. His marriage is a business arrangement, rather than a happy union borne out of love, which cannot be jeopardised.

Instead, he declares that Sunja will raise their child with her mother's help in a big house in Yeongdo that he will pay for. That will be her future, and it's a good, stable compromise, according to Hansu, as he waits for her to say yes without hesitation. But she has no intention of following him blindly.

Hansu's offer does not stem from concern for Sunja's welfare – to be an unmarried, pregnant woman threatens ruin for both herself and her family. It is a decision taken with his reputation in mind, designed purely to keep their shameful secret squirrelled away from prying eyes and loose tongues.

Hansu is a business man and this is simply another transaction. He has analysed the cost-benefit with a steely conviction, as he does when doing the rounds at the local market, and arrives at a decision that is, first and foremost, about protecting his name.

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Had Sunja accepted Hansu's proposal, expressing her deepest gratitude when considering what life without his grand gesture would look like, we as viewers would have nodded sagely, understanding it to be the least risky option at her disposal. What else is a girl to do?

But she does not accept because for her, it is not enough. Remaining confined to four walls, with the little freedom she had left swallowed up by yet another external force, is not a concession she is willing to make, and she remains wedded to her choice, even when showered with his threats and jibes.

Sunja knows her worth, which is all the more remarkable when you consider the time and place in which she exists. In a world which has repeatedly taken steps to smother her spirit, trying – but failing – to extinguish her voice, she will not yield.

Sunja is not thankful for Hansu's scraps and she uses what little autonomy she has to untether herself. He will not be her salvation, with Sunja choosing herself and her unborn child, leaving Hansu to seethe in the rain, his eyes ablaze with rage.

Hansu holding Sunja's face in a moment of passion in Pachinko
Sunja (Kim Min-ha) and Hansu (Lee Min-ho). Apple TV+

To have Sunja respond as she does, in full knowledge of what likely awaits her following her refusal to do as Hansu asks, and expects – what woman would dare question a man, certainly one of his standing? – is a celebration of her strength and courage.

We see those parts of her not because of him, but in spite of him. The intrinsic human will to survive is the beating heart of Pachinko and it is Sunja, who we follow during her youth and twilight years, in which it burns brightest.

That also speaks to the hope that is inherent throughout Pachinko. Its characters endure myriad hardships, both emotional and physical, over the course of their lives. Sunja witnesses the premature death of her father, his passing as brutal as the lashings inflicted on those who refuse to submit to the Japanese state.

But even so, she doesn't allow fear or sorrow to dictate this decision. Even though her future is now more precarious than ever, she soldiers on. Even when the darkness descends, Sunja's indomitable spirit shines.

The first 3 episodes of Pachinko are available to stream now on Apple TV Plus. Visit our Drama hub for more news, interviews and features, or find something to watch now with our TV Guide.


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