The Admiral: Roaring Currents tells the story of one of Korea's most revered Naval Admirals Yi Sun-Shin (Min-sik Choi) who was betrayed by his own people and fell victim to gross incompetence, widespread jealously and endured torture as well. Yi Sun-Shin had spent years building Korea's navy knowing that the Japanese were going to invade and that they wanted to claim Joseon, the heart of Korea for themselves. While this is largely brushed aside in the movie, I think it's important to bear in mind as it reflects on Yi Sun-Shin's character tremendously. Yi Sun-Shin was demoted because of fabricated lies and false accusations, and was subsequently exiled while someone else took over his navy. Seeing fit to chase after the Japanese with minimal experience or knowledge of their tactics, Yi Sun-Shin's Navy was obliterated. Only a meager 13 ships managed to escape the massacre, and with the Japanese fast approaching Joseon, they desperately turned to Yi Sun-Shin for help.
Yi Sun-Shin was given a paltry 13 ships to go against an estimated 200-300 Japanese ships, and a crew that was tired, demoralized and full of fear. They had unequivocally lost the will to fight. People were deserting. Generals were dissenting. Talk about getting a rough deal. While the focus of the movie is largely kept on the subsequent Battle of Myeongynyang, I think it's important to understand how he was treated before to understand the sort of man that he was. Wise, selfless and courageous. All the virtues of a veritable hero.
The Admiral glosses over Yi Sun-Shin's treatment at the hands of Koreans and jumps right into his preparations for the decisive battle. Yi Sun-Shin has been ordered to abandon his navy and to fall back to Joseon with what remains of his men, but Yi Sun-Shin refuses. Yi knows that if they lose the seas, then they lose Joseon. The battle for the fate of Korea will take place on the seas, despite facing an overwhelming enemy that is practically already celebrating victory after they crushed the vast majority of the Korean navy. The admiral is really carried by Min-sik Cho's understated, but nuanced performance as a brilliant strategist that was against the ropes in every way imaginable. There are other characters there, but they're all fairly one-dimensional. Like I said, the only one who brought any real depth to his character was Min-sik Cho, everyone else was more or less just ancillary characters to him. I liked how he committed morally and ethically questionable things at times too. This is a man who has been worn down by war, but has the fortitude to do what must be done to win. Quixotic or idealistic he is not.
The Admiral is a movie of two parts. The first half follows Yi as he prepares for his suicidal mission, and the second half is the climactic naval battle that is anything but short, not that I'm complaining. For such a taciturn and enigmatic Admiral, Yi shows a tremendous ability to rouse and stir the troops, even by force if he has to. The Admiral is a well shot movie too, nice establishing shots, though it could be a bit close at times and the slow motion really began to slow the momentum of the movie down in places. There are a couple of impeccable one takes as well in the midst of battle, which requires an insane amount of choreography. I was trying to spot that 'one' extra that doesn't know what exactly he's supposed to be doing, there's always one, but I couldn't find one here. Really impressive. They actually built a number of ships, so they looked incredibly real most of the time, but for the larger shots of the navy, some cgi boats had to be added in. For the most part they didn't look half bad either, except for two(?) scenes where they really looked fake as hell. The budget for this was less than $20 million don't forget, and considering the scope and ambition of the movie, what they accomplished with it is remarkable.
My main gripe with The Admiral was how histrionic it became towards the end of the movie, overly sentimental and extremely melodramatic, but it didn't always work. The emotional beats felt a bit contrived. It wasn't enough to ruin the movie for me, but they were really starting to tread a fine line there. The Admiral will probably be compared to the likes of 300 and Red Cliff, though not quite as good in my opinion when it comes to those other epic historical battles. The naval battle was extraordinary, but I didn't understand why Yi was seemingly facing the entire Japanese fleet by himself. Yes, backup eventually came, but he seemed genuinely surprised when they did. I thought the 12 ships were his to command, but I guess his generals were scared to enter the fray. The Admiral was definitely intense, savage and impressive, but it was also fairly blunt and lost its focus towards the end. If you like historical/war movies then The Admiral should satiate and hopefully edify you to an extent, as it did me. Though I don't think it's claim of being the largest naval battle in history is accurate, I'm pretty sure that claim goes to The Battle of Leplanto, at least when it comes to historical naval battles.
Written by - The Sentry - 13/08/2016