Roaring Currents AKA Myeong-ryang [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Studio Canal
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th September 2015).
The Film

"Roaring Currents" (2014)

Taking place during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598) led by daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi with the intention to conquer Korea and China, The Battle of Myeongnyang in 1597 was the battle that ultimately changed the course of history.

Admiral Yi Sun-sin (played by Choi Min-sik) was one of the most successful admirals in the Korean military with over 20 battles led to victory. When hearing news that a Japanese invasion of 25,000 troops were sailing toward Korea, Admiral Yi and his men must protect the coastline. Unfortunately, the number of ships available to them is limited and help from the General is also limited. With 12 armored Geobukseon ships available for battle and the construction of a Turtle Ship underway, it is almost a suicide mission for the Korean soldiers, which causes distress among them. Some desert, some question why they are fighting, but it is under Admiral Yi’s words that they must use the fear, and that dying is inevitable whether they die in battle in the sea, or die in battle on land. Yi ‘s knowledge of the coastline and the changing tides of Myeongnyang makes him believe that he has a tactical advantage, even if he is outnumbered in men and in ships.

On the Japanese side, the Japanese chancellor dispatches Kurushima (played by Ryu Seung-ryong) the daimyo also known as “The Pirate King”, who is not particularly a choice that sits well with Commander Todo (played by Kim Myung-gon). But with their massive armada of 330 battleships sailing toward Myeongnyang, they are quite confident in success, even if their tactics are not exactly eye to eye.

“Roaring Currents” is the first time that The Battle of Myeongnyang has been told in film. A battle that is very well known in Korean history, it needs no introduction for Korean audiences, but luckily for international audiences, the prologue explains a brief history of the Japanese invasions leading up to The Battle of Myeongnyang, which like the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis of the Greco-Persian War (which cinema fans would know better through the films “300 Spartans” or “300”), in which a small army fended off an army of thousands. The first half of the film sets up the Korean and Japanese characters and the tactics, while the second half of the film is full on naval battle, and the battle scenes are intense. This is not “The Pirates of the Caribbean” or Errol Flynn style fighting on ships at sea: full on explosions, severing of limbs, blood spurts, and close combat scenes are epic with thousands battling. But it’s not just full on blood and battle for 50 minutes as the audience is witnessing the tactical skills of Admiral Yi and his men as well as the Japanese forces. It is not a spoiler since this is part of recorded history, but by the end of the battle, the Japanese lost 31 ships in the battle and were forced to retreat, while the Korean side lost no ships at all.

“Roaring Currents” was directed by Kim Han-min whose previous film was the acclaimed “The War of Arrows”, another historical war film which took place during the Second Manchu invasion of Korea of 1636. The film relied on incredible action set pieces and period details to tell the tale, and “Roaring Currents” does the same, but on a much larger scale. The ship sets are incredible as well as the battle scenes on the sea, which employs a large number of CGi shots, and most are convincing. Unfortunately, there are some shots that look way too fake and pull the audience out a bit. The characters in the film have some depth but not as much as there could have been. (But that may be because of some missing scenes…) Choi Min-sik does an “admirable” job as Admiral Yi, with some character depth coming visibly in the dream sequence in which he sees the ghosts of fallen captains and when he meets Su-bong (played by Park Bo-gum), who was the son of a dead comrade. Although with the crazy uncombed long hair in the dream scene it seemed like a scene straight out of “Oldboy” in which he had the exact same hair and look as Oh Dae-su, the character he played. The Korean actors playing the Japanese characters are a bit irksome though. It won’t affect non-Japanese speakers but the actors speaking their dialogue in Japanese was pretty bad. Only actor Ryohei Otani who played Junsa was the sole Japanese actor for the production. For others, their lines are stilted, the pronunciation is off, and overall not able to convey their sense as well as a native speaker would have done. Films like China’s “City of Life and Death” and the Hong Kong film “Ip Man” had Japanese soldiers played by Japanese actors which made a hell of a difference in performances. Had the producers gotten Japanese actors, it might have made a difference but who knows. Ryu Seung-ryong who played Kurushima had a noh style theatrical look, with some eyeliner and eye makeup to enhance his supposed menacing look, but I felt his “look” to be lacking in viciousness. Though it should be mentioned that his character seems to be influenced by Toshiro Mifune’s character of Lord Washizu in Akira Kurosawa’s retelling of MacBeth, “The Throne of Blood”, in which that film was influenced by noh theater, and both Kurushima and Washizu had similar final scenes with countless arrows shot at them.

It also should be noted the UK Blu-ray does not present the original 129 minute Korean version of the film but a truncated 110 minute version. The exact differences are unknown, but one significant element missing from the UK version is Admiral Yi being stripped of rank, gets beaten and tortured, but is reinstated by the General after the Battle of Chilcheollyang. There may be other subplots missing, but it is unfortunate that the UK version (and the Australia version) is 20 minutes shorter.

Released in South Korea in August 2014, the film was a huge hit, grossing more than US $100 million in South Korea alone, which was the first South Korean film to cross the mark, and surpassing “Avatar” in ticket sales.

“Roaring Currents” won 3 awards each at the Buil Film Awards, 34th Korean Association of Film Critics Awards, 4 awards at the 51st Grand Bell Awards, and 2 awards at the 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards.

Note: This is a region B-locked Blu-ray disc, playable only in region B or region ALL Blu-ray players.

Video

“Roaring Currents” is presented in 1080p in the original theatrical 2.40:1 ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The transfer is what you would expect from a brand new film, as the image looks pristine. The blue colors of the Korean forces and the red colors of the Japanese forces, the browns of the wooden ships, the colors look great. I can’t find any fault with the transfer for this shorter cut of the film.

Audio

There are 2 audio tracks available:

Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Korean LPCM 2.0 stereo


The 5.1 track is especially enveloping in the battle scenes with cannons bursting, water splashing, ships crashing, and guns blasting. Dialogue is always clear and easy to hear, and the music soundtrack sounds wonderful.

There are English subtitles which are forced with the film, unable to be turned off. The font is white, and is not burned in to the image, but electronic subtitles. The on/off switch is disabled during playback and there isn’t an option for the subtitles in the main menu.

The English subtitles translate both the Korean and Japanese dialogue, as well as the on screen text. In certain films when characters speak another language, sometimes the subtitles are in a different font. Sometimes the fonts are in a different color for another language or a different font to let audiences know that characters are speaking a different language. There are portions in the film in which the Japanese language is translated into Korean, therefore dialogue becomes repeated. If a differing font was used, international audiences would then know which language was being spoken by which character, making it much easier to know who is on whose side.

The opening prologue and ending credits are in the original Korean language.

Extras

Considering this is the biggest Korean film of all time, it’s appalling that there are no extras on disc. The Korean 2-disc DVD has a commentary and multiple making-of extras, while the US Blu-ray has minor extras.

Overall

With the Studiocanal UK Blu-ray of “Roaring Currents” being 20 minutes shorter than the original Korean theatrical cut and the disc having no extras at all, it is difficult to recommend. The audio and video are top notch but this disc does not come recommended.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: D

 


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