Roaring Currents takes place in 16th century Korea, during the second Japanese invasion. Following a devastating naval defeat, the king reinstates Yi Sun-shin (Choi Min-sik, voiced by ER Ejercito in the Tagalog dub) to the admiralty, pardoning him for crimes for which he was wrongly accused and nearly put to death. Aging, ill, and untrusted by many of his men, Admiral Yi must find a way to use his navy’s twelve remaining ships to keep an overwhelming force of Japanese vessels led by a vicious pirate from crossing the Myeongryang strait and reaching the capital.
It takes a while for the film to get going. Even with the shorter international cut, it does feel like the movie drags its feet getting to the meat of the story. And it does so for no real gain. The depiction of the complex politics of both the Joseon and Japanese courts are token attempts at best. The film starts filling the screen up with a multitude of interchangeable characters, vaguely pointing at personal conflicts and dramatic arcs that never fully emerge.
In theory, this time is spent in order to establish who exactly Admiral Yi is, but the film doesn’t really offer much insight. It mostly goes hagiographic, concentrating on his devotion to defending the nation and his incredible strategic prowess. It pounds on the same points over and over again, with the Admiral giving monologues about fear and courage and the soldier’s duty. At the very end, the film makes a strange bid for depicting him as a man of the people, suddenly throwing in some left-wing rhetoric amidst a story that pushes for right-wing devotion to the nation.
And so there is little to gain from this film as a character study. It either functions on cliché or is just thematically confused. Thankfully, the naval battles are actually pretty great. In many ways, Roaring Currents is what 300: Rise of a Nation should have been. The film makes it really easy to understand how it was that a dozen ships were able to fend off a force more than ten times their size. Once the battle starts, the movie just breaks down every component of the engagement, finding a balance between capturing the scale of the violence and locking on to the emotional state of its participants.
The visual effects aren’t always great, but they work well enough. The direction often makes up for the shortcomings of the computer-generated imagery. And it helps a lot that the production went through the trouble of actually constructing a number of ships. The usually wild-eyed Choi Min-sik largely projects weariness in the role of Admiral Yi. ER Ejercito’s dubbing is serviceable, but it doesn’t quite have the gravity that the role needs. His son, Eric Ejercito, gives voice to the antagonist Kurushima, and that’s an odd choice as well. The younger Ejercito just sounds too young, and doesn’t deliver the menace of the pirate commander.
Roaring Currents is a fine film once it gets going. Its character work is iffy, and the number of subplots does get wearying after a while. But that battle, which does make up a good chunk of the film, makes it worth the price of admission. This might be the weakest dubbing job for SineAsia yet, but it doesn’t fully negate the thrills of that central naval battle. Even in the age of big Hollywood blockbusters, that battle still proves to be quite the exciting spectacle.
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