I really, really, really …
Really wanted to like this movie. It’s Yi Sun-Sin (pronounced Ee Soon-Sheen), my favourite Korean historical personage. He was absolutely amazing – the one bright point in an otherwise disastrous period (the Imjin War when Japan invaded and occupied parts of Korea near the end of the 16th century). I’ve read his diary of the period, and it makes him out to be the kind of person with whom I would actually enjoy sitting down and having a drink.
That’s not the Yi Sun-Sin of this movie. Which is fine. I’ve ranted before about the huge errors with Braveheart and Gladiator, but I own both movies. Were this an entertaining movie with a logical throughline and engrossing plot, I’d forgive the inaccuracies. Nope.
While Choi Min-Sik, one of Korea’s best actors, does a great job of portraying a brooding, tragic Admiral Yi, the script gave him very little but cliché and platitudes with which to work. The special effects are excellent, and the battle scenes exciting, but the illogic of almost everything that happens drains the fighting of much tension.
My wife, who is Korean and who adores Choi Min-Sik, found the movie tedious. It broke all kinds of records in South Korea, and I think much of it is designed to cater to Korean movie appetites – tragedy, sacrifice, maudlin emotion. My wife may have been removed long enough that she isn’t as interested in these ploys to tug at the heartstrings.
For me, it’s extremely depressing because I think the actual story has so much in it, I can’t understand the desire to alter it out of recognition. I felt much the same about Braveheart. Admiral Yi was facing 133 Japanese warships and 200 support vessels with only 13 battleships (panokseon) of his own. He chose the battlefield, designed a strategy that accentuated his ships’ advantages and removed much of the enemy’s advantages, then prepared the battlefield and drew the enemy in at a time of his choosing.
Just read the Wikipedia entry on the battle if nothing else.
I would have loved to have Choi Min-Sik play the gregarious but determined admiral, disillusioned with politics but loyal to his nation – which really meant the king at the time – and his family. Rather than gloomy councils of war, show him entertaining his friends and officers, enjoying drinks and archery. He can confide the fear that he feels, but it seems to me – through reading his diary and the accounts of his deeds – that he knew the Korean navy was superior, that it could protect the nation and thwart the Japanese. Destroy their supply lines and one cripples their efforts.
Just as he did.
I give the Admiral: Roaring Currents 2.5 panokseon out of 5. Though filled with action and great special effects, the story is plodding, the characters stereotypes, and the plot clichéd. What a waste of great source material.
You can read about the Battle of Myeongnyang at Wikipedia.