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The Admiral: Roaring Currents

This movie was great. Granted, I notice a pattern in Asian films to have a big chunk of exposition at the start, essentially delivered in a storybook fashion. Not a huge fan of that, to be perfectly honest, but given that this film was over two hours long and the prelude section lasted probably about three or four minutes of that, it's a very minor gripe.

Also notable is the acting lead, Min-Sik Choi, who I recognized from "I Saw the Devil" and "Oldboy." He's a very talented, diverse actor and here, demonstrates further flexibility as the grizzled, old warrior. He's more complex than you might think, and at times does hard things that might make you doubt him. But as Kambei Shimada said in "Seven Samurai": "That's war!" It's not all sunshine and rainbows, boys and girls. Frankly, I preferred a slightly ambiguous, "hard" character like this over something more obviously "good." And him having to inspire his men to essentially fight a suicidal battle was one of the films more interesting themes, and something that would've be equally hard to swallow had the protagonist merely been a cheerful flag-waver. 

The first half is essentially the drama and build-up before the battle (in which a surprising amount transpires, none of it boring) and the second hour is the battle itself. The plan is fairly simple, but much of the fight is full of surprises, improvised so that nothing feels boring. It's one surprise after another and nothing feels rushed, either. In fact, there's a massive amount of carnage as the admiral does his best to stay alive and inspire his men, and by the time the battle is over, we learn that only 30 of the 300 ships in the enemy fleet have been destroyed. I was surprised, given how gut-wrenching and  non-stop the battle seemed. It stretched, but didn't drag. The simultaneous exhilaration and exhaustion I felt during the conclusion mirrored the end of "Rocky", when Rocky went the distance with Creed.

As for the visuals, they were spectacular. One wideshot, with the camera slowly panning left across the deck as the Japanese and Korean soldiers fought to the death, was simply stunning: water-splashing in all directions, blood spraying from wounds, men running too and fro as they yell and scream -- it must've required a massive amount of planning to pull off and reminded me of the organization seen in the final battle between the samurai and the bandits in "Seven Samurai." Plenty of other shots were equally beautiful to watch. Some of the ships and effects were digital, of course, but they were married very well into beautiful, real landscapes.

I read several reviews before comparing the film to "300". The basic idea is the same, sure, and both film were extremely violent (though in my opinion, this one was more violent and exciting overall). However, "300" was a silly film with a pulpy feel.  "The Admiral" was sweeping and dramatic, but it was a lot easier to care about the characters because they actually had depth. Furthermore, the costumes in "The Admiral" were amazing. The sheer number of extras and attention to detail reminded me a lot of Kurosawa's "Ran."

I've loved Japanese and Korean films for as long as I can remember. This was a grand, epic example, with a plethora of complex and varied characters, stellar photography and clever writing, with a final battle that lasts for nearly an hour. It's incredible stuff.

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