HANSAN: RISING DRAGON (2022)
The second instalment of Kim Han-min’s trilogy on admiral Yi Sun-sin provides another ear-blistering bout of naval national heroics
Eight years after the box-office smashing hit that was ‘The Admiral: Roaring Currents’, we get the middle portion of this three-part celebration of an historical figure with genuine claims to being one of their nation’s most celebrated historical figures.
One slightly jarring aspect of 'Hansan' – alongside being a prequel which jumps us back five years – is the omission of a modern day celebrity hero in Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, I Saw the Devil). While Choi played Yi in 2014, here Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder, War of the Arrows) takes over. Park is accomplished and considering he is 15 years younger than Choi makes more casting sense for a prequel. That said, the vast Choi fan base will surely be vexed.
While 'The Admiral' concentrated on 1597’s Battle of Myeongnyang, we shift East here in the direction of Busan for the Battle of Hansan Island. The foe remains the same though, the power-hungry and navy-heavy Japanese.
Wakisaka Yasuharua is the Japanese commander who has been charged with repelling Yi’s attack powers on a naval base in Busan. A new battleship from the Joseon – the dynastic kingdom of Korea at the time – has the Japanese rattled. Dubbed ‘bokkaisen’ after a sea monster from Japanese mythology, it had destroyed several boats in a prior battle.
Building towards the inevitable final battle, the film deals with the war strategy and preparations from both sides, with a litany of spies and saboteurs on both sides looking to give their nation the edge.
The final showdown is pitched for the open waters at nearby Hansan Island, where Admiral Yi’s smarts are pitched against Yasuharua giant fleet as Joseon attempts to hold its own from Japanese invasion.
Viewers of the first instalment will be well-prepared for a similar outing – the battle volume is turned to 100, the CGI scuffles are sweeping and impressive, and the nationalistic notions of glory are plentiful.
However, it does a disserve to both the historical figure of Yi and Kim’s rollicking films to suggest the series is pure flag-waving bravado. There are plenty of elements of national pride, but Yi’s real-life efforts were impressive by any measure. Joseon’s achievements in repelling Japan deserve recognition, not just as sources of national pride, but as a demonstration of the powers of intelligence, strategy and moral motivation.
The film attempts to state that itself as it is discussed that the war is “a battle of the righteous versus the unrighteous” by Yi during the film, rather than a battle of nations.
Destined to be another box-office smash, as will the third and final instalment too, it is certainly a film best appreciation on the big screen, if such an option exists for you. Though the option to turn down the volume at home for some scenes does seem some compensation.
Hansan delivers exactly what 'The Admiral' before it does – national pride played out with impressive battle set-ups. Perfect popcorn fare for an action-filled cinema visit.