Thursday, August 24, 2017

NAVAL COMBAT PORN: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014)


      
                “The Admiral:  Roaring Currents” is a South Korean war  movie that was directed and co-written by Kim Han-min (“War of the Arrows”).  It was titled “Battle of Myeongnyang, Whirlwind Sea” in South Korea.  It was a smash hit with 10 million viewers in the first twelve days.  It went  on to be the highest grossing South Korean film ever.  It is based on the naval battle of Myeongnyang in 1597.  In the battle, the legendary Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin defeated a Japanese fleet of 300 warships with only 13 of his own.
                After a bad defeat, the recently imprisoned Yi Sun-sin is reinstated to command of the pitiful remnant of the Korean fleet.  Yi has been ordered to disband the fleet and join up with the army for a last stand against the invaders.  This seems like a good idea considering the morale of his sailors is rock-bottom and Yi is in ill health and seemingly apathetic.  Plus he has PTSD from his recent imprisonment.  On the other side, the Japanese commander in chief sends a pirate named Kurushima to light a fire under his admiral Todo.  Kurushima is a total bad-ass who has a grudge against Yi for killing his brother.  He also has a henchwoman named Haru who is a sharpshooter.  I don’t think she was based on a real person. 
                 At his camp, everyone is depressed and Yi is morose.  Things can’t get any worse. Except they do.  One of his subordinates, Bae Seol, is a traitor who attempts to assassinate Yi and successfully destroys the only Turtle boat.  Damn, I was really looking forward to seeing that Turtle boat win the battle by itself!  Plus, this was a pretty short movie with an unsatisfying conclusion.  But wait, this insane admiral does not know the word quit.  He does some recon and discovers a place where the current is as insane as he is.  Perhaps he can lure the overconfident (and how can they help but be?) Japanese into a roaring trap.  Before you say “how can only 13 ships beat 300?”, be aware that at first only Yi is willing to take on the entire Japanese fleet.  Well, not actually the whole fleet, because only Kurushima’s contingent advances.  It still should be way more than is needed except that they are facing a dude named Yi and incidentally, there is a whirlpool.  What ensues is typical Korean mayhem, only this time on water.  And it lasts 61 minutes!
                As my readers know (both of them), I am a big fan of South Korean war movies.  They are the greatest practitioners of combat porn on planet Earth.  This is the first one set on the water that I have seen, so I was a little skeptical.  The battle is epic.  Just when you think it cannot get anymore gonzo, Kim Han-min steps it up a notch.  So a scene that starts out at a 10 on the combat porn scale, ends up at a 15.  Kim films the action with a variety of cinematography including slo-mo, of course.  There is abundant use of CGI, but it is pretty seamless.  Kim did have the use of eight ships that were very detailed recreations of the period warships. The violence is graphic and relentless.  But the movie is not just action.  The plot is fine with the theme of make the enemy fear you and turn your men’s fears into courage.  Yi does not manage this with the usual cinematic charisma.  Choi Min-sik plays him as damaged, but driven.  He’s a magnetic actor.  Plus the movie has a great villain in Kurushima, “The Pirate King”.  He’s so bad, the other Japanese don’t like him.  And throw in the unique character of the female sharpshooter.  Sure, she’s ridiculous, but Korean women need someone as a role model, too.  She may not be a real person, but the movie is surprisingly accurate.  Granted, it’s a Korean war movie version of the events.  Like how “Godzilla” was the retelling of a lizard being found in a Tokyo sewer.

GRADE  =  A

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:    The background information that leads off the movie is accurate.  In the 16th Century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan and then decided to conquer Korea and possibly China.  The movie is set in his second invasion of Korea which began in 1597.  The Japanese army advanced northward and had the objective of capturing the Korean capital.  Admiral Yi Sun-sin won numerous victories against the Japanese fleet, which had the effect of slowing down the Japanese advance by cutting its supply lines to Japan.  Unfortunately, Yi was removed from command due to Japanese espionage and court intrigue.  He was tortured and demoted to a common soldier.  He was replaced by a rival who subsequently got his ass whipped at the Battle of Chilchonryang.  This defeat cost the Josean Navy around 200 ships.  Yi was reinstated, but had only 12 ships under his command.  Those ships had been saved by a captain named Bae Seol.  As the movie shows, Yi had problems beyond the small size of his force.  His sailors and commanders were justly demoralized and not exactly keen on another confrontation.  In fact, the government strongly urged Yi to disband the fleet and take the crews to supplement the army.  Yi refused and many of his men thought he was nuts.  Bae Seol deserted, for instance.  Unlike in the movie, he did not try to assassinate Yi.  And there was no Turtle ship to set afire.  The inclusion of the Turtle ship was a nice nod the memory of Yi because he was credited with designing the iconic ships.   Bae was later caught and executed for desertion.
                Yi did scout out locations for the battle and decided on the Myeongryang Strait.  Besides the narrowness which would negate the size of the Japanese fleet, the current was ten knots.  Not only that but the current shifted around after three hours so at first the Japanese ships would be impelled forward into the Koreans and then would be forced rearward.  The strait was rife with eddies and whirlpools which would cause severe problems for maneuvering and swimming if any Japanese sailors went overboard or were on sinking ships.  In other words, it was the perfect location for what he had in mind.
                The Japanese fleet was actually about 130 warships (the movie’s number of 330 would have been arrived at by adding support vessels).  Kurushima was in command of the vanguard.  I found no evidence that he was considered to be a pirate and was not liked by the Japanese commander Todo Takatora.  Although the Japanese fleet included some sharpshooters, the Haru character is clearly fictional.  She would have been better placed in the Korean fleet because it relied on missile weapons and stand-off fighting whereas the Japanese tactic was to close in and board.
                As far as the battle itself, the movie gets the foundation right, but enhances the action in ways only a South Korean war movie can do.  On the day of the battle, Yi advanced his fleet and anchored at the northern end of the strait.  He then moved the flagship forward to provoke the battle.  This act of seeming suicide was probably due to the reluctance of the other twelve ships to accompany him.  Kurushima took the bait and accepted combat with his vanguard.  The rest of the Japanese warships held back, most likely because they were intimidated by the knowledge that it was Yi they were facing.  They had good reason to be awed as Yi’s ship was able to hold its own against numerous opponents by using it cannons, arrows, and larger size.  Seeing the flagship performing magnificently, the other ships gradually joined starting with An Wi.  Yi’s ship was not boarded, but An Wi did have to repel boarders.  The death of Kurushima did occur, but the circumstances are unclear.  The corpse of a Japanese general named Modashi was fished out of the water and decapitated.  His head was launched toward the enemy.  A second turning point occurred when the current shifted outward.  The Japanese ships lost headway and began to drift rearward.  They also began to collide with each other.  Cannon fire and ramming increased the panic of the Japanese.  There was no giant whirlpool.  Thirty ships were sunk in the melee.

                The result of the battle was morale was restored in the Korean navy and the military in general.  China’s navy came into the war to aid the Koreans.  Japan never did get to the capital.                

6 comments:

  1. I read your blog! So 3 now. Keep it up. Really like the 'sub' movie battle. If not already done a 'nam' movie battle would be cool.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have already done that. Try the "Table of Contents" tab under "Visit My Bunkies".

      Delete
  2. I was on extended sick leave and poking around Netflix for something to watch. I started watching this movie out of boredom, not expecting much. Boy, was I wrong! I loved it!!! The only thing I didn't like was that there wasn't a series of movies based on "The Admiral!", which the English title led me to hope for! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Make that 4. Love your writing.

    ReplyDelete

Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.