I have been chomping at the bit to see this movie ever since I found out about it. The original title for this film was Battle of Myeongnyang, which they should have kept in my opinion, but the film still works quite well under it's western title. The prospect of seeing Korean Turtle ships in action on the big screen had me very excited. I really do not know that much about Korean history, but I remember fighting Turtle ships while I was playing Age of Empires II. I always played as Vikings (I know all of you are absolutely shocked by this) and nothing could stand against my fleet of fully upgraded Viking longboats with fire arrows, except Turtle ships.
I pre-ordered the Blu-ray disk back in March and it finally arrived late last week, so I baked me a pizza Saturday night and put it in my Blue-ray player. The first thing that struck me was there was no previews, commercials or advertisements, just a simple main menu with play and setup options. I was expecting to have to watch a subtitled Korean audio version, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the fact that there was a full 5.1 English language audio! The dubbing in this movie is quite good and you can't tell that they are speaking anything other than English unless you specifically look hard for it. Already the disk was worth the $18 pre-order price!
The first hour of the movie sets up the back story, the year is 1597 and Japanese Imperial forces are in the process of invading Korean during the Joseon Dynasty. Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin has been disgraced and tortured by his own king for crimes that he did not commit. Close to death, Yi is saved from death by his friends and supporters at court. He is put in charge of the remaining Korean fleet of 12 Panokseon and one Turtle ship. The invading Japanese fleet consists of over 300 vessels, about 133 warships and about 200 supporting vessels.
For those of you who are not aware, Turtle ships are based on the flat-bottom Korean Panokseon boats. The Turtle ships had many distinctive features that set them apart from other ships. The most obvious being an added plating covering the main deck that resembled the shell of a turtle, hence the name. There has been some dispute as to whether this plating was iron or wooden, the plating was ringed with arrow or musket slits and covered in metal spikes which strongly discouraged the idea of boarding.
Another distinctive feature was the Dragons head on the prow of the ship. The mouth of the dragon could be used in several different ways, it could breath fire, emit a sulfurous cloud of concealing smoke, a poisonous cloud of deadly smoke, and it also could concealed a cannon. Turtle ships could also carry five different types of cannon, 11 on each side, plus two bow, in addition to the one in the Dragons head, and two in the stern. They also carried a huge anchor on the prow that they also used as a ram. These vessels were fast and maneuverable using sails and oars. They had a fighting crew of about 60 men, and a compliment of about 70 oarsmen. They were just as effective whether they were attacking or defending. They were floating fortresses, and almost invincible.
Because they were hopelessly outnumbered, the Korean king orders Admiral Yi to disband what is left of the fleet and take the sailors to fight with his soldiers in a last stand against the Japanese invaders on land. Admiral Yi has other ideas however, and is determined to fight, and win against impossible odds. Yi is haunted by his past, friends and comrades that have fallen by his side in earlier battles. He also must face the fear, and treachery, of those under his command. This film pulls no punches and shows just how brutal the invasion was, and at times is not an easy movie to watch.
The second half of the movie is all naval combat, and I must say, it is quite awesome! The special effects for this movie are very well done and everything looks quite realistic. Weapons, cannon, armor are all correct for the period. To insure complete victory, the Japanese Emperor sends a brutal warlord, known for his cruelty and called a pirate king by his own forces, to lead the invasion fleet. The film makers do a brilliant job of showing the strategic chess match between these two equally matched adversaries. Here is a small example :
There are a couple of weak points with this movie, at a couple of points, the acting is almost painful to watch. These scenes are few and far between however, and for the most part the film is very well acted and the script is very well written. I can't stress enough though, that where this film really shines is during the last hour of non stop naval combat! While the film does take a liberty with physics here an there, for the most part it is all very believable, very authentic, and very well done! IMDB gives it a rating of 7.1, which I think is pretty accurate overall. If I were just to rate the last hour, it would be a solid 9.5! If you are interested at all in naval combat, you will love this movie!