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Friday, April 24, 2015


Thrilling in a way that's seen all too rarely in action cinema, THE ADMIRAL: ROARING CURRENTS (2014), the most-watched film in the history of South Korea, manages to combine moving human drama with one of the most epic sea battles ever filmed.

The film opens in 1597 right in the middle of the Japanese invasion of Korea and feels like a sequel since the Koreans have just suffered a major defeat. As what's left of their ragtag forces lick their wounds, venerable Admiral Yi Sun-sin (OLDBOY star Choi Min-Sik) prepares for a new attack in which over 300 Japanese ships, led by ruthless General Kurushima (Ryu Seung-Ryong, WAR OF THE ARROWS) will take on the Admiral's meager 12 ships as they stand as the last defense of the Korean mainland.

This simple storyline consists of two parts: the spectacular sea battle which takes up the entire second half of the film, and the events leading up to it. Since we know that sooner or later things are going to explode in a non-stop barrage of all-out naval warfare, director Kim Han-min (WAR OF THE ARROWS, HANDPHONE) is able to take his time with a long, involving build-up in which the Admiral contemplates the enormity of his seemingly impossible task, with his men severely demoralized and gripped with fear in the face of the impending one-sided clash.

Fans of OLDBOY and LADY VENGEANCE will already appreciate the talents of Choi Min-Sik. His deeply-felt portrayal of the Admiral conveys the old man's wisdom, courage, and tactical cunning along with a world-weariness that taxes his own resolve. On the other side, Ryu Seung-Ryong plays his opposite number Kurushima with the dark, cruelly intimidating air of a Sith Lord whose superior forces make him virtually unbeatable.

The Admiral's plans remain a mystery to us even as we watch him quietly formulating them as he looks out upon Myeongryang Strait off the southwest coast of the Korean Peninsula, where Kurushima's ships must pass on their way to shore. In the meantime, the story touches upon the various physical and emotional hardships suffered by not only the soldiers but also the lowly civilians caught in the crossfire of war. What we see is often brutal and horrific.

When the enemy ships finally appear on the horizon like a plague of locusts, and the Admiral's forces sail out to meet them in what appears to be a suicide charge, THE ADMIRAL: ROARING CURRENTS explodes into one of the most intensely exciting maritime clashes ever filmed. Even less patient viewers for whom the first half was rather tedious should find it worth the wait when this brilliantly-staged and frequently amazing sequence gets under way.

Actual full-sized ships are expertly combined with almost seamlessly-wrought CGI to create a fully convincing effect. Ships blast each other with cannons while their crews swarm into close battle in a lengthy succession of astonishing images made even more amazing when the movements of the sea itself, in the form of raging whirlpools and currents, are revealed to be part of the Admiral's desperate plan to beat the odds and defeat the Japanese naval juggernaut.

The DVD from CJ Entertainment is in 16 X 9 widescreen with Korean and English 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks, and English subtitles. In addition to a teaser and trailer, there's a half-hour of highlights from the film. The Blu-ray also contains an exclusive video, "The Making of The Admiral: Roaring Currents."

After its dramatically resonant first half, THE ADMIRAL: ROARING CURRENTS becomes the epic we hoped it would be and then some, coming close to matching even the visual grandeur of John Woo's 2008 epic RED CLIFF. It's action filmmaking at its most exhilarating.

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