Rising Dragon (2022) by Kim Han-min

In 2014, director Kim Han-min’s “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” opened in Korean and international theaters and in the process set a record for the highest-grossing Korean film of all time at the domestic box office, a record that no other film has reached. he has managed to pull it off even eight years later. Based on one of the most important and famous sea battles in history, the show benefited from the legendary hero status of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, a man so revered and loved that he has a statue of himself in downtown Seoul. Following such a successful production can be daunting for one person, but Kim Han-min took a unique path to follow it; he decided to do not one, but two different features and make a whole trilogy about Yi Sun-shin, with the second story in the form of “Hansan: Rising Dragon”.

Set in 1592, five years before the events of “Roaring Currents,” the story begins as the Korean armies are forced back and only Admiral Yi Sun-shin’s navy and his turtle ships prove to be any real threat to the Japanese. . Having wounded Yi in the previous battle, the Japanese commander Wakisaka has him in his sights and sends spies to gather information on Yi’s plans and deadly ships from him. When his turtle ship designs are stolen, rendering the ships effectively unusable, Yi Sun-shin must come up with new strategies and designs to defeat the Japanese in the coming battle.

Beginning with an introduction to Wakisawa and an impressive but all-too-brief naval battle scene, “Hansan: Rising Dragon” then turns into an espionage thriller, the kind one would see set during the Cold War, with both camps sending their own spies. in the other to collect information about the plans and course of attacks. This makes for an interesting direction, but one that lasts longer than required, with most of the time spent on the power dynamics within the naval hierarchy and the mind games between Wakisawa and Yi. The fact that there are too many characters on screen, hardly any of whom would mean much to an international audience, doesn’t help the narrative, even if most are named on screen every time they appear. This also means that the emotional core of “Roaring Currents”, which was one of its key features, is a painfully felt absence. That’s not to say this half doesn’t have its moments, with an all-out attack on the marine camp by the Japanese as the highlight.

However, all the shortcomings of the first half are forgiven and forgotten once the final battle begins at Hansando, a show that lasts the last forty minutes of the feature’s running time. As you’d expect from the sequel to “The Admiral,” the battle sequences here, too, are nothing short of epic. The ships are magnificently made, as are the key moments of the conflict. Every urgency, every cannon shot and every ship crash is vividly felt, and credits also go to the work done on the sound design during these sequences. Unsurprisingly, there are moments of nervousness, sadness, and elation, each accurately conveyed and felt by the audience, in scenes that would surely deserve standing ovations if seen in a packed theater. The CGI remains an integral part of the sea battles, all of which are impressively executed.

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Since the events of this feature take place before those of Kim Han-min’s previous feature, the director chooses a younger alternative to Choi Min-sik to play the legendary general and finds one in Park Hae-il, with who worked previously in “The War of the Arrows”. Since he wears a suit of heavy armor for most of his screen time, he doesn’t allow for much physical acting, but his voice and mannerisms exude the necessary authority and command required of Yi Sun-shin. The actor’s recent collaboration with the veteran on “Heaven: To the Land of Happiness” also seems to have helped this project continue, as his diction and tone are often reminiscent of Choi’s on “The Admiral”, giving the impression of being Choi himself speaking, or at least a younger version of him. Despite this, he never owns the screen like Choi Min-sik’s Yi Sun-shin did. Byun Yo-han is also effectively cast as Wakisawa, the young commander who comes across as smart and ambitious, if not as menacing as Ryu Seung-ryong in part one. Ahn Sung-ki is always a joy to watch, even if it’s in a small role like he is here, but the very talented Kim Hyang-gi feels lost in a nearly dialogue-free role that requires nothing of her.

As with the first feature film, “Hansan: Rising Dragon” is also mounted on a large canvas, and Kim Han-min proves capable of navigating such high waters. He also helps that he has a technical team well prepared for the task. Kim Tae-sung’s camera is all over the place, capturing interior scenes, night scenes in the camp, and daylight battle scenes equally impressively. Most impressive are the moments when the boats change formation and sail forward, seen from a bird’s eye view. The costume design is, unsurprisingly, superb as well, with Wakisawa’s Japanese costumes, in particular, being authentic and looking good on the handsome actor. The music has a Hollywood blockbuster feel to it and proves to be the perfect companion to the cinematography, most evidently in the battle scenes.

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“Hansan: Rising Dragon” thus has all the elements of a blockbuster feature film and most of the ingredients to be a successful feature film at the box office like its predecessor. Despite the painful absence of Choi Min-sik and some narrative problems, it has a lot going for it. A well-liked and respected central character, a bona fide national hero, strong nationalist sentiment, and unrivaled naval sequences ensure that he will almost certainly do big business domestically, and the spectacle he has to offer should be reason enough. do well on the international circuits as well. Have no doubts: Kim Han-min has another blockbuster on his hands and audiences are likely to be eagerly awaiting “Noryang,” the announced final part of his Yi Sun-shin trilogy.

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