One of the better Korean efforts in recent memory

by Martin Hafer

The South Korean The Admiral, was an enormous hit in its native land. Beating Avatar’s former record, the naval war picture grossed $127 million, which might not sound like much in a country as large as the US or China. But this means that about 17.6 million Koreans went to see this film, or 34% of the population. It is clearly the most successful in the history of Korean film. Fortunately, this film is now available here.

The movie is about one of the greatest naval victories in history–a battle rarely talked about in the West. In 1597, at the Battle of Myeongnyang, Admiral Yi Sun-Sin only had about a dozen ships–against as many as 200 invading Japanese ships…and somehow he prevailed. In comparison, it’s much like the victory of the English against the Spanish Armada just a few years previous or the modern Battle of Midway–an amazing and very lopsided victory. But how did Yi do it? How was he able to use his wits, the currents as well as a lot of luck to turn the tide in favor of his demoralized navy? See the film and find out for yourself.

The Admiral
Directed by
Han-min Kim
Min-sik Choi, Seung-ryong Ryu, Jin-woong Jo
Release Date
15 August 2014
Martin’s Grade: A-

Like many epics, the story does lack a sense of intimacy. You really cannot fault the director, as they did a competent job as did the actors. Understandably, the focus of the story is mostly on war and large-scale events, and not the individual. But, as an epic, the film does very well, with a huge scope, amazing looking battle sequences involving what appears to be huge casts and a huge armada of ships (though in the big scenes, most are actually realistically computer generated). Additionally, the film generally sticks to the facts quite well, though Japanese and Korean accounts of the battle differ tremendously and we will never know the facts of this naval victory.

If you find this film in a theater, by all means go out of your way to see it. After all, it’s the sort of film that uses the full canvas. This also means that if you see it on DVD, it’s best to watch it on as big a screen as possible. It’s because the best thing about this movie is its scale, which you just have to see to believe. Seeing over a hundred ships battling it out is reason enough to see this war film, but so is the action, blood and heroism. It’s the sort of rousing film that I could see energizing the Korean movie-goers. Overall, an excellent yet unusual film, and one of the better Korean efforts in recent memory.