Pachinko star Lee Minho on Hansu's tragic backstory and anti-hero status
Pachinko (TV series)
Warning: This post contains spoilers for season 1, episode 7 of Pachinko.
The South Korean actor plays Hansu, the enigmatic wealthy fish broker in the aching Apple TV+ series based on Min Jin Lee's novel of the same name. An older, married man with ties to the yakuza, Hansu shapes the life of central protagonist Sunja (played by newcomer Minha Kim and Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn during two stages of her life) in formative ways, beginning an all-consuming love affair and later fathering her firstborn son.
Pachinko spans time and place, jumping between Korea, Japan, and America to paint a searing portrait of intergenerational trauma rooted in Japan's colonization of Korea in 1910. Episode 7 travels from the series' present year, 1989, back to 1923, illuminating Hansu's teenage years and seminal life events. "As if putting puzzle pieces together, it felt like the character of grown-up Hansu was coming together to completion," Lee tells EW of the script. "I was able to resonate with him about why he was being so realistic and living a life without looking back."
Hansu comes of age against the backdrop of one particular catastrophic moment in history: the 7.9-magnitude Great Kantō earthquake that struck the Kantō Plain on Honshu island, claiming over 100,000 lives, including Hansu's father. The tragic backstory helped Lee "add more dimensions" to his anti-hero character, he says, observing that his father's death in many ways shapes the person he becomes.
"His father was everything to him," Lee says. "He was able to stay positive even in harsh reality because there was love within him and with his dad's relationship. But the moment his only love was gone from his life, I think he decided to remove his values and inner self [and] become a new person by re-establishing himself."
With the region blanketed in ash, a tsunami engulfs the island not too long after. ("We used something like potato starch," Lee notes of the makeshift ash. "Obviously it wasn't toxic, but my throat was itchy afterwards.") The episode also fictionalizes the Kantō Massacre, the murder of Korean immigrants committed by Japanese police and vigilantes, which stemmed from panicked rumors that Koreans were planning violent attacks in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
In one scene, a teenage Hansu, hidden in a horse carriage, watches in terror as a group of vigilantes set a barn housing Koreans ablaze. "Whenever we are filming emotional scenes, everyone stays silent," Lee says of the scene. "I remember the atmosphere… Everyone silently focused on their roles when we were filming." Such events change a person and who they become, yes, but Lee maintains Hansu simply "cannot be regarded as just a villain."
"Depending on each individual's viewpoint, he could be perceived as a villain to some and a good person to others," he says. "Some things happen in life. However, I do consider Hansu as a villain in his developing stages; the surrounding and environment affect our values." Lee notes, "Hansu is definitely a dark person on his inner side."
Hansu's backstory serves as the penultimate episode to the April 29 finale. With the New York Times-bestselling source material, however, there's still so much more story to tell — namely, the whereabouts of Hansu and Sunja's son, Noa, in his adult life. If the series were to return for a second season, Lee says he'd be excited to explore more facets of Hansu.
"While season 1 serves as the beginning of Sunja and everyone else's stories, I think season 2 [would] dive into how each character managed to survive and [continued to] live their lives," Lee surmises. "I expect more desperate and intense stories that were not previously unveiled in season 1." Hopefully, Lee says, the audience "will be able to witness the different sides and colors of Hansu more clearly."
So far, creator and showrunner Soo Hugh's masterful adaptation has garnered glowing reviews. In her A grade review of the series, EW's Kristen Baldwin queried, "Is it too soon to crown the best show of 2022?" Lee is grateful for the reception. "So much work and passion from a lot of people have been put into this," he says. "I'm happy to see that it's been recognized and rewarded. I am grateful to be able to share my feelings with the audience through this work. Thank you to my fans and all the supporters."
The season 1 finale of Pachinko premieres April 29 on Apple TV+.
This multigenerational family saga begins with a forbidden love and crescendos into a moving saga that jumps between time and place, spanning across Korea, Japan, and America.