the late 1500s, naval warfare was a tough business, almost entirely powered by
galley oars. Like most forms of warfighting at the time, it usually boiled down
to a numbers game. Yet, Admiral Yi Sun-shin will try to hold off 330 invading
Japanese vessels with a mere twelve ships (if that), largely through his force
of will. Of course, he also has home field advantage, including the treacherous
strait the Japanese will try to navigate in Kim Han-min’s smash Korean box
office hit The Admiral: Roaring Currents (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Yi has often defeated the noble-born Japanese General Wakizaka, but he was
lucky to escape their last confrontation with his life. Still ailing from his
torture and imprisonment, the freshly released and pardoned Admiral Yi assumes
command of the Joseon fleet, all twelve ships. Frankly, none of the king’s
generals believe he can do anything with his ragtag remnant except let the army
absorb them. In contrast, Admiral Yi understands they must slow the Japanese
advance or his unappreciative king will surely be lost.
to say, not everyone sees things his way, forcing the Admiral to deal with
insurrection at the senior officer level. However, the Japanese leadership is
even more deeply divided. While Wakizaka is still nominally in charge, de facto
command has been assumed by Kurushima, the ruthless former brigand. He has no
interest in winning hearts and minds, but his contempt and overconfidence might
be his undoing.
Roaring is a Joseon St. Crispin’s day
on the Myeong-Nyang Sea. Evidently, director Han is waging one man war against
Shogunate Japan, following up his action driven War of the Arrows with Yi’s heroic story. While Roaring is not as breakneck and
adrenaline charged as Arrows, it
features some massive cannonball-and-grappling hook spectacle, churned to
butter on the Myeong-Nyang’s roiling waves. Seriously, this probably not the
film for viewers prone to sea-sickness.
is also jolly good fun to hear the Japanese generals cursing Yi, like Seinfeld hissing
“Newman.” Appropriately, the legendary Admiral is played with haggard gravitas
by Choi Min-sik, currently one of the world’s biggest movie stars, given his
turns in Oldboy, Nameless Gangster, New World, and Luc Besson’s Lucy.
Although his Yi is considerably more reserved than his celebrated gangster performances,
he fully brings out the Admiral’s tragically heroic dimensions.
Choi’s most important co-stars are the warships and the angry sea, much as it
was in The Perfect Storm. However,
Ryu Seong-ryong’s Kurushima still makes a highly hissable villain, even if he
does not quite generate the same malevolent charisma he brought to bear as Qing
the Japanese man-hunter in Arrows.
Although her screen time is brief, Juvenile Offender’s Lee Jung-hyun also adds a memorable note of pathos as the traumatized
is no question Han puts a lot of movie up on the screen with The Admiral. It is the sort of military
epic Mel Gibson used to make before his implosion, which is meant as a compliment.
Recommended for fans of patriotic Korean cinema and big picture historicals, The Admiral: Roaring Currents opens this
Friday (8/15) in New York at the AMC Empire and the AMC Bay Terrace in
Labels: Admiral Yi Sun-shin, Choi Min-sik, Korean Cinema