Choi Min-sik — the actor best known for “Oldboy,” the 2003 Cannes winner remade last year by Spike Lee — assumes the role of legendary Korean Adm. Yi Sun-shin in “The Admiral: Roaring Currents.”
The film depicts the storied real-life battle of Myeongnyang in 1597, when Yi led 12 ships to fend off a fleet of 330 from Japan near what is today the South Korean island of Jindo.
By that point, more than 10,000 Korean men had perished in a valiant but losing effort in the Imjin War. Yi defied a royal order to join forces with Korean Gen. Kwon Yul and instead embarked on what most regarded as a suicide mission to stall the Japanese invaders en route to the capital, Hanseong (now Seoul). The decision caused much dissension and rank-pulling, to the point that Cmdr. Bae Seol (played in the film by Kim Won-hae) conspired to assassinate Yi.
The film recounts how despite setbacks, the admiral studied currents and found whirlpools that he could use to his advantage. It’s fascinating, even if director Kim Han-min does little to help make sense of the logistics involved.
The film pays lip service to humanizing the antagonist Cmdr. Kurushima Michifusa (Ryu Seung-ryong), explaining his personal vendetta. But who cares? The sea battles are absolutely epic, more realistic and thrilling than John Woo’s 2008 “Red Cliff” or even Peter Weir’s 2003 “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”
“The Admiral: Roaring Currents.”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes.
Playing: At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.