Magazine article Screen International

Roaring Currents

Magazine article Screen International

Roaring Currents

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Kim Han-min. South Korea. 2014. 128mins

Having broken almost every box office record in its path, South Korean historical naval epic Roaring Currents, that depicts the famous Battle of Myeongnyang in 1597 where Admiral Yi Sun-shin led 12 boats to victory against a Japanese fleet consisting of over 300 vessels, has been a gargantuan hit with local audiences, generating a whopping $64.3 million dollars in just ten days. But given the film's nationalistic tone and its many caricatures, it's unlikely to resonate as well with international audiences who by in large will be unfamiliar with the Korean legend.

One of Korea's most prolific actors Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) doesn't necessarily do anything wrong playing the legendary admiral, but his presence feels somewhat, surprisingly, underwhelming, at least compared to some of his more iconic roles.

Its extraordinary success at home, where it attracted over 3.3 million viewers ($25.8m) on its opening weekend, crushing a record held by Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2.3 million admissions; $22.4m) is in part due to the fact that the film succeeds in portraying Yi Sun-shin who is known to all Koreans as a hero along with the battle itself in a manner audiences have responded well to, but external circumstances too such as the poor diplomatic relations between Japan and Korea, as well as the Sewol ferry sinking in April that caused widespread despondency have perhaps been a factor in how audiences have responded to the naval epic.The film, which goes on release in North America under the title: The Admiral: Roaring Currents on August 8 in Los Angeles and then expands to 30 cinemas on August 15 through CJ E&M America will likely have a harder time finding an audience, but the film's unprecedented success in Korea along with Choi Min-sik's leading presence who is also experiencing success Stateside with Luc Besson's Lucy where he plays the film's antagonist, should aid in raising awareness of the film's release.

Set in 1597, the film is set in the sixth year of the Imjin War between the Joseon Dynasty Korea and Japan where Japanese forces are advancing by land and sea towards the Joseon capital. Amidst a fractious political climate, Admiral Yi (Choi Min-sik) is wrongly impeached and tortured following a Japanese double-agent plot, but is hastily reinstated after an incompetent naval commander squanders much of the Joseon navy through ill-conceived tactics.

Left with 12 ships at his command, he leads his fleet against a Japanese armada of some 330 vessels led by General Kurushima (Ryu Seung-ryong) in a battle in the Myeongnyang strait off the southwest point of the Korean peninsula that is dictated more by perceptive and intelligent tactics than by firepower. …

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