Monday, 3 August 2015

The Admiral: Roaring Currents

The amount of great films coming out of South Korea is staggering. With classic films like Oldboy, The Host, Memories of Murder, Joint Security Area, I Saw the Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters and Thirst already big, big favourites of mine, I'm always keen to see what comes out of South Korea next. One of my favourite South Korean actors is Choi Min-Sik, who was in both Oldboy and I Saw the Devil. So when this latest film popped up for review, I quickly noticed that he was playing the lead character. That's all I needed to know.


Directed by Kim Han-min and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes The Admiral: Roaring Currents, a powerhouse of drama and action, and a film that stands with the greats of South Korean cinema. The Admiral is based on the Battle of Myeongnyang, the 1597 legendary naval battle in which naval commander Yi Sun-sin defended his country from 330 invading Japanese ships. The real kicker is that Yi Sun-sin only had 12 ships of his own at his command, and this fact alone already makes it prime material for a big screen dramatization. However, though the film does eventually delve into the Battle of Myeongnyang in all of its gritty, violent and epic glory, The Admiral first takes its time and gives us some back-story of the big players involved in the iconic battle. By giving the viewer a deeper look into the intentions and motivations from both the South Korean and the Japanese sides, The Admiral isn't a film told with bias. It's a powerful character driven drama, but also contains some pretty great action scenes too.


Before we get into the action an epic second half of The Admiral, its true brilliance is told during its first half. This is where all the characterization and world building happens, and it's mostly down to Choi Min-sik who plays Yi Sun-sin with such a powerful and thoughtful performance. There's a weight to his presence that isn't constantly explained, but instead is simply shown through how he talks, moves and acts. There's never a point in the film in which you don't believe he's not a powerful naval commander, and there's a wonderful sense of respectful authority that just drips off his entire performance. Then you have Ryu Seung-ryong, Cho Jin-woong and Kim Myung-gon, all of which play powerful daimyo's, which were essential feudal rulers in Japan between the 10th and 19th century. These three actors collectively give the Japanese side of the events a fantastically watchable and even handed perspective on things. The events before the legendary battle excellent, incredibly written and give the viewer a reason to care about these characters, which ultimately raises the stakes when the battle does kick off.

The battle itself is top drawer stuff, and the key word throughout the entire epic confrontation is scale. Just like the history books say, Yi Sun-sin commanded 12 ships against 330. The Admiral shows this in all of its stunningly scary realism. With a wall of Japanese ships in front of him, Yi Sun-sin runs headlong into a battle, a battle in which both impressive choreography and breathtaking cinematography are married together in one hell of a spectacle. Beyond the grand scale of the battle, everything from the ships themselves, armour on various warriors to the clear visual South Korean/Japanese culture clash is just brilliant. The battle is a mix of CGI and practical effects, but I must say I was very surprised by how many ships were real actually really built. Though some CGI parts are a little shaky, the battle has a great tactile feel about it. It's truly thrilling stuff!


Overall The Admiral: Roaring Currents is a fantastic blend of drama and action. It's one part a character driven film, and one part an action packed historically accurate flick. However, though the end of the film gets pretty hectic, The Admiral never loses itself in spectacle or an overuse use of effects. Though building up these historical characters before our eyes and breathing life into them, it only serves to make this action all that more suspenseful and enjoyable, even if some of us may already know what's going to happen.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents get a rip-roaring 5/5.

★★★★★

Denis Murphy


The Admiral: Roaring Currents at CeX


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