And it is here in ‘Chapter Four’ that the drama of Pachinko picks up a bit. Following the end of the last episode, ‘Chapter Four’ opens with the two men in Sunja’s (Minha Kim), Isak (Steve Sang-Hyun Noh), and Hansu (Lee Min-Ho) crossing paths (not by chance?) in a tailor shop. It is a tense scene where the two men verbally spar while trying to subliminally prove their worth and manhood. It isn’t clear whether Isak knows who Hansu is, but it’s evident that he has a sneaking suspicion by the end of the interaction. Hansu, knowing full well who Isak is, doesn’t think he’s strong enough for Sunja and believes that the preacher is a pauper. The soft-spoken, mild-mannered Isak stands up for himself and proves that he is not a pushover, nor is he too poor to pay for his own wedding suit. After this exchange, Hansu summons Sunja to his office to tell her that she’s making a mistake by throwing away the possibilities he’s offering her — her exchange sums it up pretty well, “you offered me shame, nothing more…” But that scene was shot and acted beautifully with so much intensity and artful sexual tension.
Meanwhile, Sunja’s mother is trying her best to prepare to lose the only family she has left — outside of two orphan girls, Bonkhee and Donghee, who work at the boarding house. There is a very emotional and tearful scene in which Sunja’s mother prepares dinner for the engaged couple that includes rice, a staple that is hard to come by for the Koreans under Japanese rule. This scene was filled so beautifully with the intricacies and delicateness of cooking, and the rice itself was highlighted.
There is also an unfortunate and disheartening scene in which the couple and Sunja’s mother make their plea for the paster to marry the two. The pastor stresses that they are making a terrible decision that will tarnish Isak’s reputation and that Sunja has already tarnished her family’s reputation. And it doesn’t help that Sunja’s family is not Christian. But this fateful decision will have a ripple effect on this family for generations to come — not only will Sunja have to leave her mother and the only home she’s ever known, but it will also send all of their lives on a trajectory into the unknown as Sunja and Isak take the treacherous journey to their new homeland.
Fast forward to 1989 when Solomon (Jin Ha) thinks that his promotion is in the bag as the elderly homeowner (Hye-jin Park) is in the office to make the deal official. But as the formality, rife with cultural and gender tensions, slowly goes off the rails, Solomon has an epiphany that will send his life in a new direction of discovery and self-awareness. The scene in which Solomon lets it all loose and losses himself at the moment was filled with so much joy, emotion, and freedom — it was very impactful — dancing wildly in the rain, not caring who sees or how you look, is always cathartic. ‘Chapter Four’ leaves us curious about how the rest of this story will play out for Solomon now that he is now on this journey of self-discovery.
This episode touched on many themes that draw the viewers in and makes you really contemplate and question things. Pachinko is a history lesson that really opens your eyes to the plight of Koreans living under Japanese colonialism, and the series masterfully threads the consequences and after-effects of that period in history through to the present day (or the 1980s rather). It begs the question of whether we ever forget the past — at least without confronting it — this is something that we Americans are still grappling with today.
This episode also shows us more of the class divide during this time and really gives a Titanic feel when Sunja and Isak are relegated to the cramped and dirty lower decks of the ship while the Japanese and more wealthy patrons are sailing in lavish excess — before it takes a tragic turn — unaware and unconcerned with the conditions below. But we continue to see the little acts of defiance and rebellion during this time. The episode also touches on Japan’s corporate culture and demands on its employees and how the company is your family — sometimes more than your own blood.
Solomon and his co-worker Naomi (Anna Sawai) continue to point out this society’s gender roles and expectations. We are also shown the generational differences in thinking — not only in terms of what matters and what’s important but also in terms of “home” and heritage. Solomon and his grandmother both have to contemplate the effects of having to disown your heritage and culture to get by — but at what cost? There’s always a breaking point. But this episode reminds us that there is freedom in letting it all go.
‘Chapter Four,’ just like the previous three episodes, was craftily shot — the attention to detail and scenery that transports you to a different time — and when you mix that with the skillful acting and nuanced storyline and character journeys, it just makes you want to keep coming back for more Pachinko. Like the game itself, you don’t know how it will play out because one decision, one action, can ripple out or shoot you off in a new direction. It was a nice full-circle moment with its show split-screen, young Sunja leaving her homeland in squalor conditions, not knowing if she’ll ever return, and the elderly Sunja returning decades later in First Class. Pachinko is a slow burn, but it’s starting to heat up, and you crave more.