Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Hansan: Rising Dragon

Sure, battling over one hundred Japanese ships with only 56 of his own sounds like tough odds, but Joseon Admiral Yi Sun Shin took on more than that with a mere twelve vessels of his own in the Battle of Myeongryang. That battle, depicted in Roaring Currents, transpired five years after this one, the Battle of Hansan Island. Like at Myeongryang, Admiral Yi is always outnumbered, but never out-strategized in Kim Han-min’s Hansan: Rising Dragon, which releases today on DVD and BluRay.

Lord Wakisaka Yasuharu has been dispatched to Korea to take charge of Japan’s invasion. In many respects, the campaign was going well, but they suffered an embarrassing naval setback as a result of their loss to Admiral Yi at the Battle of Sacheon. Presumably, that will the third film in Kim’s proposed Admiral Yi trilogy, which appears to be working backwards through his timeline.

Both commanders are preparing for a climatic battle, yet they each have difficulty unifying their rival officers. The Joseon emperor isn’t even present to offer council, which is probably just as well. Nevertheless, Yi must convince his colleagues to attack, rather than hunker-down in a defensive position that will only prolong the inevitable. Of course, the naval commanders also have spies placed in the enemies’ camps, but Yahuharu’s are particularly nasty, whereas Yi manages to recruit Junsa, a forcibly drafted Japanese sailor, disillusioned by his officers’ dishonorable conduct.

Like Kim’s first Admiral Yi film,
Hansan features some very cool naval battles. He has a talent for conveying tactics and strategy, without getting bogged down in technical detail. This is another big, sprawling film that is surprisingly well-served by its CGI.

Yi must have aged quite a bit in five years, because Choi Min-sik looked quite a bit older and more haggard in the previous film than Park Hae-il looks playing the role here. Unfortunately, he also lacks Choi’s gravitas and gritty charisma. Instead, Park is a bit standoffish and reserved.

Instead, one of the more interesting and humanizing performances come from the great Ahn Sung-ki, who basically compensates for Choi’s absence as the steely Yeo Young-dam, a veteran Joseon officer, who trained Yi and most of his colleagues. Also, Kim Sung-kyu is suitably tough and conflicted as Junsa. However, none of the Japanese officers has much personality, villainous or otherwise.

The first film worked better as a drama, but
Hansan still brings plenty of spectacle. It should appeal to those who miss the kind of thunderous films Mel Gibson doesn’t get to make anymore. Recommended for fans of military historicals, Hansan: Rising Dragon releases today (11/15) on DVD and BluRay.