Story by: Dean Crawford, Photos by:
Directed by Kim Han-min
(Listen to GrooveCast host Chance Dorland’s interview with Dean Crawford and their reviews of “Roaring Currents” on the podcast player below!)
Every so often a movie bulldozes its way into popular culture and becomes both a critical and financial phenomenon. One such film is Kim Han-min’s “The Admiral: Roaring Currents,” starring Choi Min-sik as Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Set during the famous battle of Myeongnyang, the film tells the story of how 12 Korean ships overtook a Japanese fleet of more than 300 in the 16th century.
Just 18 days after its release, the movie became an unprecedented success. It overtook “Avatar” (2009) to become the most-watched movie of all time in Korea, and broke several other records in the process. At the time of this writing, the film had topped 17 million admissions. Given that Korea is a country of 50 million people, that is a staggering achievement.
I did wonder whether these records had more to with the nationalistic subject matter than the quality of the finished film. However, I’m pleased to say that the film is solid, mainly due to the direction from Han and the performance of Choi. The veteran actor plays Yi as a stoic, troubled hero plagued by spirits, rather than as a god-like character on a pedestal.
As the plot develops, Yi has to continually deal with doubts from his men, who feel his plan is near suicide. They revolt and even try to assassinate him. But he is not afraid to kill his men or set fire to his town to prove his point and rile his troops. Even his son asks him why he continues to fight, to which Yi simply replies, “Loyalty.” That is the essence of Choi’s character on screen; it’s a multifaceted portrayal of one of Korea’s greatest heroes.
The final battle is huge, with one sequence being a single, uninterrupted take that pans around a large ship while hundreds of extras fight below. Despite knowing the outcome of the skirmish, I still managed to lose myself in the spectacle.
Though I still prefer Han’s “War of the Arrows” (2011), there is no doubting that “Roaring Currents” is an impressive film. And much like the boats in Yi’s armada, the film shows no signs of slowing down.