Usually, when I made critical comments about anything Korean, someone points out that must be because I am Japanese. Let me point out that although currently Netflix users (I will never trust you again) give this 4.5 stars, my friend who is South Korean and my husband who is only half ethnic Japanese, also found this movie tedious.
Although this movie is about the other side of the war, one that the Japanese lost and thus were all imperialistic expansion ambitions were squelched in Japan until the American Commodore Perry taught the Japanese about divine rights of superior beings to defeat other nations. The battle in question is the Battle of Myeongnyang in 1597. The admiral is Yi Sun-Sin.
Yi had 12 ships, but was able to defeat the Japanese fleet of 330 vessels. If you have a problem remembering numbers, don’t worry. That number, 12, will be bludgeoned into your brain if you are still awake.
This is the Joseon period (1392-1897) in Korea’s history. During this time modern-day Seoul was made the capital. That Japanese invasions (1592-1598) were part of an ambitious expansionist move by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to take over Korea and China. Toyotomi’s death in 1598 ended the invasions from Japan but Manchu tried to invade twice in 1636. Korea, like Japan, closed off its borders to become known as the hermit kingdom, but had 200 years of peace.
The movie doesn’t show Toyotomi. Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-sik) goes up against Daimyo Kurushima Michifusa (Ryu Seung-ryong). The daimyo has a great costume although my husband and I debated if the dress battle gear was being worn at the proper time and circumstances. Seeing it makes you think that Darth Vader is a Cubist abstraction of Japanese armor, but that’s a wild tangent inspired by my boredom.
You’ll be able to tell the Japanese from the Koreans. The Japanese are evil and have thin mustaches. The Koreans have more facial hair. You might have a hard time differentiating between which is crueler. The Korean side takes desertion seriously. The Admiral’s motto is, according to my colleague Seongyong Cho, “Those willing to die will live, and those willing to live will die.” If you want a more detailed account of history and the battles, you can read his analysis.
The problems here in this movie are character development and too much reverence for this historic hero. I enjoyed director and co-writer Kim Han-min’s 2011 “War of the Arrows” where the Japanese were also the villains. However “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” was not interesting enough for either myself or my husband to recommend.
“The Admiral: Roaring Currents” won Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction at the 23rd Buil Film Awards and Best Film at the 51st Grand Bell Awards. The movie was wildly popular in South Korea. In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles.