THE ADMIRAL : ROARING CURRENTS (2014)

  • Release Date: 30/07/2014
  • Original Title: Myeong-ryang
  • Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Ryu Seung-Ryong, Cho Jin-Woong, Kim Myung-gon, Jin Goo, Lee Jung-Hyun, Kwon Yul
  • Directed By: Kim Han-Min

“The Battle of Myeongnyang comes breathtakingly to life in this exceptionally well made film”

On October 26, 1597, the Korean Joseon kingdom’s navy, led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin, fought the Japanese navy in the Myeongnyang Strait, near Jindo Island, off the southwest corner of the Korean peninsula. This was known as the Battle of Myeongnyang. The Korean Navy had only 13 ships while the Japanese ships numbered anything between 133 to 300. In a shocking result of the battle, the Koreans annihilated the Japanese. They didn’t lose a single ship while the Japanese lost 33 and had almost 8000-10,000 causalities. This definitive defeat of the Japanese went down in history as one of their worst naval defeats and it was an even bigger embarrassment as they were fresh from a huge naval victory over the Koreans in which they had crushed almost 200 Korean ships and left them almost without a Navy in the Battle of Chilcheollyang. The Japanese had the numbers and the technology on their side but that didn’t help them. The victory made a folk hero out of Admiral Yi Sun-sin who never lost a single ship or a single battle throughout his career as an Admiral.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents attempts to recreate the Battle of Myeongnyang and show us how Yi Sun-sin pulled off the superhuman feat. The film dwells into the history of the times and gives us the necessary information about what led to the battle. We also get to see why and how the Japanese ventured into the Myeongnyang Strait and who were involved in the battle from their side. Besides, the film shows us in detail minute intricacies involved in the battle that went down a long way in ensuring Yi Sun-sin’s phenomenal victory. The film also lays emphasis on the natural elements that played a key role in helping the Koreans corner the Japanese. Interestingly, the film keeps out a more audacious claim by many historians about the usage of chains to block the path of the Japanese during the battle. This bit found its way into many books and articles but hasn’t been substantiated with enough data to prove its accuracy.

Anyone who walks into this film will definitely do so to witness the naval battle. I have to admit that the makers have spared no expense and have not left any stone unturned to make the battle look every bit as accurate and grand as possible. Before the battle begins, we get to see some Koreans sabotage Admiral Yi Sun-sin by trying to assassinate him and burning the only functional Geobukseon that he had under his command. A Geobukseon, also known as Turtle Ship, was a type of large Korean warship that was used intermittently by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon dynasty from the early 15th century up until the 19th century. It was used alongside the Panokseon warships in the fight against invading Japanese naval ships. The ship’s name derives from its protective shell-like covering. These ships were capable of ramming through ships and were somewhat feared by the Japanese as we see here. Once the Japanese learn that the only Geobukseon has been destroyed, they are buoyed even more for an emphatic victory. In the aforementioned attack, the Admiral’s son, who is also a close aid of his, is injured and is left indisposed for the battle the following day. There is also growing insubordination among the men in the Navy who believe that the Admiral is senile and would get them all killed as his 13 ships are no match in the face of the Japanese armada containing hundreds. With all that and more weighing in on his shoulders, Yi Sun-sin boards his ship and approaches the enemy.

The well-executed back-story helps in getting us on board with the characters and forging a bond with the protagonist as we walk into the battle. It is this bond that is at the heart of all the tension that the battle is able to generate. The action is relentless, tense and chaotic. It is also choreographed so well that the viewers will not miss a thing. In addition to the carnage, chaos and the claustrophobic feel of being stuck within hundreds of men, the physicality of it all will give the viewers the true feel of how it might have felt to be on board the ship of Yi Sun-sin on that fateful day. I had seen Panokseon only in pictures, but the film renders them with such finesse and realism that I couldn’t get enough of it. It is recreated to perfection and the fact that we know so little about them helps in making them feel that much more realistic.

The climax of the film is so emphatically executed that anyone who watches the film even with the slightest of attention will be up and cheering in inspiration for Yi Sun-sin and his men. The film does take its share of creative liberties here and there. The film also shows the admiral to be a tad bit more larger than life than he actually was. But when you are watching the film, these things never bother you. You are so enamored in the tale of the man and the battle that is unfolding that you forget these minor discrepancies and are more concerned about the final fate of the men. I must add that this film will be a lot more enjoyable for someone who has no idea of these battles and walks into the film with an open mind.

Choi Min-sik as Yi Sun-sin is inspiring. He is one of my favorite Korean actors and has played some stellar roles in films like Shiri, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The character suited his grim mannerisms to the ‘T’. I watched the film in its horrible English dubbing and even in that, his dialogue delivery and performance found resonance with me. I can imagine how effective he might have been in his native tongue with all the history and the heightened emotions accentuating his performance. It must have felt similar to how we felt watching Ajay Devgn enacts Tanhaji Malusare in the Biopic Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior. He is shown as a deeply troubled man who is not initially loved by his soldiers or all the people. He wins their love and respect through his actions on that day in the battle and how he does it is what the film is primarily about. Choi Min-Sik had ample room to showcase his acting prowess and he didn’t miss any chances.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Ryu Seung-Ryong as the Japanese daimyō, Kurushima Michifusa. He is Yi Sun-sin’s primary adversary in the film and he is scary. Every time you see this man, you feel that he is capable of meting out the most unthinkable horror and he doesn’t disappoint you one bit at that. Ryu Seung-Ryong looks every bit the character that he is playing and he extracts both fear and hatred from the audience. I like to say, “A hero is only as good as the villain he faces against”. In Ryu Seung-Ryong, Choi Min-Sik gets the perfect foil. Michifusa elevates the greatness of Yi Sun-sin in every way as he is such a formidable adversary.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is a spectacular war film that can be enjoyed by even someone who has no idea about the pretext of the war in question. It’s no surprise that the film is the highest-grossing Korean film of all time. The film is easy to follow, gives you enough information to make you understand its proceedings and connect with the characters, has insanely cool naval battles, is inspiring and is well-acted. It can be cheesy and over the top at times but that is something that we have to take in our strides with films like these. I highly recommend this film which is available on Netflix for your viewing pleasures in these times of Lockdown. However, the best way to watch this film would be on the biggest screen possible with the crispiest sound system.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars) 

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