Soo Hugh interview: ‘Pachinko’ creator
Like many who read “Pachinko,” the sweeping novel by Min Jin Lee that tells the story of a Korean family over the course of the 20th century, Soo Hugh felt a deep resonance. The writer/producer felt compelled to adapt the story to television, with the first season recently ending on Apple TV+. “It was a shock of recognition,” says Hugh in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby, recalling her experience reading the book. “There’s something about the story that felt so familiar to me and it was a really extremely powerful experience and I knew that this was a story worth bringing to the screen.” Watch the full video chat above.
What fans may have been surprised by is Hugh’s approach to adapting the novel. While Lee’s book tells the story chronologically, starting with a young Sunja in the early 20th century and concluding with an older Sunja in 1989, the showrunner decided to crosscut the storylines through each episode. Through this process, she was able to make the show more expansive, she explains, “and not just big for the sake of big, but I felt like it was something that I personally was interested in exploring is, ‘How does one generation either save or burden the next generation?'” Season 1 does not include large sections of the novel but still has plenty of material in both storylines. “You couldn’t tell this book only in one season.”
Hugh feels a special connection to Sunja, not necessarily because she reminds her of herself so much as her grandmother. “When you think about what that generation went through and how they still maintain their dignity through it all, and more important, a sense of hope still,” she observes, “that’s my grandmother’s generation.” She personally relates more to Sunja’s grandson, Solomon, a multilingual businessman who feels conflicted about his sense of place in the world and leads the 1989 storyline. “Not only is there guilt about how easy things have been made for me because of my grandmother’s sacrifice,” she notes, but also dealing with just the micro-aggressions every day of, ‘Am I part of this country or am I not?'”
Despite having to film during the pandemic, Hugh found a sense of community with her collaborators, who inspired her to make bold choices to deliver a stellar first season of the show. “The big lesson I learned is you just hire the best people possible,” the showrunner states. “People loved working on the show; it wasn’t just a job for them.”