Korean Film Review – Roaring Currents (명량)

Every so often a film bulldozes it’s way into popular culture and becomes a critical and financial phenomenon. One such film is Kim Han-min’s Han Roaring Currents, which stars Choi Min-sik as admiral Yi Sun-shin.

Set during the famous battle of Myeongrang, the film tells the story of how 12 Korean ships took on a Japanese fleet of over 300 and has become an unprecedented success.

In just 18 days, the film overtook Avatar to become the most watched movie of all time as well as breaking several other records in the process.  At the time of writing, the film was quickly moving towards 15 million admissions, and when you stop to think that South Korea is a country of 50 million people, that is a staggering achievement.

However, I did wonder whether these records had anything to with the subject matter rather than the quality of the finished film.  But I’m pleased to say that the film is solid, mainly due to the direction from Han and in particular the performance of Choi Min-sik.  He plays Yi as a stoic, troubled hero that is plagued by spirits rather than a god-like character placed on a pedestal.

Yi has to continually deal with doubts from his navy who feel his plan is near suicide.  They revolt and even try to assassinate him.  But Yi is not afraid to kill his own men or set fire to his own town to prove a point and rile his troops.  Yi’s own son asks him why he continues to fight to which he simply replies “Loyalty” and that is the character Choi portrays on screen. I appreciated the film’s conflicted portrayal of one of Korea’s greatest heroes.

The final battle is huge, with one sequence being a single, uninterrupted take that pans round a large ship while 100s of extras are fighting – it’s impressive stuff.  The highest compliment I can give the film, is that despite knowing the outcome of the battle, i still managed to lose myself in the spectacle and was gripped

I do wonder how the movie will fare internationally as it definitely relies on assumed empathy for our hero – which may work on a well known character like Superman or James Bond, for example – but not so much on a lesser known character like Yi Sun-shin.

Even though I preferred Han’s War of the Arrows, there is no doubting that Roaring Currents is an impressive film with some huge action sequences.  And much like the boats in Yi Sun-shin’s armada, the film’s success shows no sign of slowing down.

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