David meets Goliath in the Imjin War epic film, The Admiral: Roaring Currents.
The 2014 film, directed by Kim Han Min, revolves around a famous battle in the 16th century when Admiral Yi Sun Shin defeats a Japanese fleet of over 300 ships with only 12 Korean ships. Yi saved the country and Choi Min Sik brings the titular character to life in a groundbreaking, award winning role.
Choi Min Sik delivers once again in a stellar performance that follows roles in top Korean films like Old Boy and Shiri. The Admiral: Roaring Currents is the latest of the films that the actor stars in to win an abundance of awards. Choi’s Yi is disgraced and haunted by the dead after the Korean fleet is decimated in battle, and has nothing else to do but die trying to save the Joseon era-Korea from falling to the Emperor of Japan’s fleet. Despite the King of Joseon’s orders, and a as other members of the previously grand fleet protest Yi’s decisions to fight against the Japanese navy, Yi pushes forward to protect his homeland. He has few ships, and his men have no hope, but he perseveres.
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The turning point in the film comes when an officer, in despair, burns one of Yi’s last Turtle Ships, a type of ship used by the Korean navy under Yi that was more well protected than other Korean ships and less likely to be boarded by the Japanese. Choi’s Yi Sun Shin falls into despair, and even madness, as he sets out to make a final stand with even fewer, less stalwart ships.
There are many side characters in The Admiral: Roaring Currents, all of whom are interesting, but the focus is on Yi Sun Shin. However, the secondary characters add depth to the film, particularly the bloodthirsty Japanese leader Kurushima Michifusa (Ryu Seung Ryong,) sniper Haru (No Min Woo,) and the heartbreaking couple made Im Jin Yeong (Jin Goo) and his mute love, Lady Jeong (played by singer-turned-actress Lee Jung Hyun).
The Admiral is an emotional film, with Yi’s honor and the survival of the Joseon kingdom at stake, but at the heart of it is the Battle of Myeongnyang. The battle takes up the second half of the movie, and is filled with explosions and intense battle scenes. Great detail was put into the costuming, depicting the extravagant visuals of the Japanese officers and more modest trappings of the Korean military leader and peasants.
The scenery in The Admiral is stunning, particularly the water mentioned in the English title of the film. (The Korean title of the film is Myeongnyang, named after the battle depicted. The permeating darkness throughout the film, a haunting, daunting darkness, is oppressive to the degree that even the audience of The Admiral is likely to doubt the outcome.
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But the film’s spectacular battle is filled with surprise after surprise, and the film ends with a poignant note, with Yi’s son pondering his father’s lesson that a leader, military or otherwise, has to put faith in both nature and the people he/she rules.
The size of Yi’s victory over Japan is debated by Japan and Korea, but Yi Sun Shin is one of South Korea’s most iconic heroes and Choi’s depiction lives up to the stature of the man whose statue is placed in the center of Seoul at Gwangwhamun Square.
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