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The Battleship Island

Format(s) Available
Opening Date
17 Aug 2017
NC16 Violence and Nudity
133 mins
Korean with English & Chinese subtitles
Action, History
Ryoo Seung-Wan
Hwang Jung-Min, So Ji-Sub, Song Joong-Ki
Based on true events in 1945 during Japan’s occupation of Korea, hundreds of Koreans were forced onto Hashima (Battleship Island) labour camp, where they are imprisoned and forced to mine for coal. Tentions run high between the Japanese soldiers who maintained order with shocking cruelty and violence and the Koreans. Then, just as the island’s dark secrets are revealed, the Koreans plot a daring escape. 
By Flora  16 Aug 2017
Korean big-budget war epic ‘The Battleship Island’ sees the extensive war epic on a fictionalised version of historical events nearing the end of World War II on the Hashima Island, also known as the Battleship Island. 
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Korean big-budget war epic ‘The Battleship Island’ sees the extensive war epic on a fictionalised version of historical events nearing the end of World War II on the Hashima Island, also known as the Battleship Island. 

Director Ryoo Seung Wan focuses on its 3 main central male characters, the Korean labourers forced to work in a mime of undesirable conditions to the extent of slavery. Lee Gang-ok (Hwang Jung-min), a jack-of-all-trades, gift of the gab music bandleader who travelled with his little daughter, Sohee (Kim Su-an); Choi Chil-sung (So Ji-sub), a gangster who believes in using his fist to solve his problems; and a Korean spy leader (Song Joong-ki) who unexpectedly became the leader of the massive escape plan. At times the film shifts to the secondary characters - the defiant captive Mal Nyeon (Lee Jung-Hyun) who is forced to be a “comfort woman” for the Japanese troops. 

While there are many who disagree with the fictionalised storytelling in what is said to be ‘inspired by real life events’, it is should be viewed as a war drama and not a historical epic. It is true that the conditions suffered by the Koreans may have been extreme, but there was never a mass escape like the one depicted in the film. Ryoo has clearly skewed it towards a Korean audience, amping up on the brutality of war, the emotional torture of its characters and a little girl’s ill-fated destiny to wring the sympathy from its viewers. 

When we talk about a war epic, we’re expecting huge troops, explosions and fight combats. While this particular film doesn’t give you the cinematic rah rah, it does, however, explores the characters’ motivations and their intrinsic needs for survival, which ultimately leads to the penultimate ‘fight to death’ battle scene. 

Hwang plays his character as a resourceful man who becomes a translator for both camps in order to lead a somewhat better life, and in hopes to save his daughter from the Japanese captors. Despite his quirk and sly gimmicks, the fatherly side of him brings a nice warm touch to the intensive-filled drama. His sacrificing love for his daughter reminds this writer of the Oscar-winning film ‘Life is Beautiful’ by Roberto Benigni. So is all about the tough-guy posture who uses brawn than brain, but sheds his arrogant image in front of Mal who he soon falls in love with. Song proved to be the leader in uniform, thanks to his exploding fame from ‘Descendants of the Sun’, but you’ll not see him bantering with female doctors in the film as he portrays a more sombre spy, sent on a military mission.

However, the MVP goes to 11-year-old Kim Soo An. The young actress proved to be a league of her own in ‘Train to Busan’, but she manages to impress with ‘The Battleship Island’, playing the doting and mischievous daughter of Lee. In one scene where she desperately pleads to be freed from entertaining Japanese men, as she dances on stage bawling, Kim gives her all in the most heart-wrenching way possible. 

If you manage to put the fabricated narrative aside, you will enjoy ‘The Battleship Island’ as a rather decent war film that provides adequate drama and action. Expect lots of impressive action sequences, especially the final prison revolt which was meticulously executed.
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