Movie Review: The Battleship Island
Lee Kang-ok (Hwang Jung-min) and his band plays in Gyeongseong hotel with his daughter Lee So-hee (Kim Su-an), as the precious and talented singer and dancer. The father and daughter tandem of this jazz band easily captivates the audience but Kang-ok looks for a better opportunity and uses his connections to the Japanese colonial administration. This lands them a gig in Nagasaki so he and his daughter So-hee, along with the rest of the band boards a ship to Japan. Unaware of the ill fate that no one could dare imagine, they end up in a coal-mining labor camp in Hashima Island as prisoners, along with over 400 other Koreans. Male and female Koreans are divided into two groups so So-hee gets separated from her father Kang-ok and sent to a different shelter along with the other females as comfort women. Kang-ok and the rest of the male Koreans are sent to the pits to do a life-threatening forced labor. Amongst these men, Gyeongseong's notorious streetfighter named Choi Chil-sung (So Ji-sub) causes troubles at the labor camp and asks Kang-ok to translate his proposal to the Japanese Leader of the camp, furiously telling him to have a one-on-one fight so that if he wins, he will stand as the Leader of the Koreans and will be the one to oversee them. He wins and gets the trust of the Korean slaves including Oh Mal-nyeon (Lee Jung-hyun), a comfort woman whom he saves while physically being abused by a merciless Japanese man. They become close as he keeps her in his room with a clear thought that she is not there to be his comfort woman. Meanwhile, Park Moo-young (Song Joong-ki), a fearless member of the Korean independence movement enters the Hashima labor camp with a goal of rescuing a member of the independence group. He ties up with Kang-ok to make a successful rescue with a promise to include him and his daughter on their escape attempt. Unfortunately, he finds out that the man he is about to rescue from being held captive is on the side of their Japanese oppressors which is why no Korean has ever had a successful escape from the camp referred to as the "Battleship Island." He also uncovers an account book showing that a hefty amount of money coming from the Korean slaves are being split and transferred to the Japanese camp head and his account. Park's plan changes as he further finds out that all Korean slaves, including women and children are bound to be killed the next day to cover the evil doings of the Japanese over the Koreans. Moreover, they frame Choi for killing a Japanese teenager, another alibi for getting rid of the Korean slaves as they point out that Koreans are a threat to Japanese. With all the conspiracy happening, Park Moo-Young, Lee Kang-ok and Choi Chil-sung, along with over 400 Korean slaves lay out a strategic plan to pull off an unimaginably dangerous massive escape from the "Battleship Island."
What makes it interesting?
Bringing to life the 1944 Korean slavery during the Japanese occupation-era was a very ambitious attempt by Ryoo Seung-wan who wrote the script and directed "The Battleship Island." Despite a few flaws in the storyline (a few points that didn't matter to me at all), the film was a success in all aspects. Sure, I didn't know how in the world Park Moo-young entered the Hashima Island and why he seems too invincible that no matter how many times he gets shot, he is still very well alive with more stamina. And I did saw other flaws that should've preserved the historical value of the story but the magnificent acting, the humorous lines and scenes, the cinematography, the action-packed combat of Koreans vs. the Japanese, and the triumphant ending dominated the negative side of the film. Though the main casts of the film are Song Joong-ki, Hwang Jung-min, So Ji-sub and Lee Jung-hyun, my heart and big kudos goes to Kim Su-an whom I very much admire as a very good actress at such a young age. I have only seen this kid in Train to Busan as Gong Yoo's daughter and my heart melted with her very heartwarming acting. While she plays a serious child who thinks like an adult in Train to Busan, she was a kid who would sometimes throw tantrums at her dad in "The Battleship Island." Her singing and dancing talents just mesmerized me more than I already am. Is there anything that this kid couldn't do? Surely, she will be as prominent as the main actors when she grows up.
Not sure if I have seen So Ji-sub and Lee Jung-hyun in other films or television series but I've seen Huwang Jung-min as a Shaman named II-gwang from the movie "The Wailing" and he's a good actor whether he needs to be serious to capture the heart of his audience as a father or be funny without much effort of being funny. Song Joong-ki has always been one of my favorite actors, even topping Gong Yoo, the first actor who captivated and enticed me into appreciating Korean talents. I have seen him as a "Werewolf Boy," "The Innocent Man," a fashionable Sungkyunwan student, and the most handsome Captain of the Alpha Team. This movie made me even more proud of him and whatever role he plays, even if he plays an antagonist or a gay guy (which surely would never happen), I will always be there to watch his projects. His portrayal as Park Moo-Young was astounding and it's already expected that he does everything at his best but after watching "The Battleship Island," there was even more respect and admiration to his superb acting.
This film received negative reviews from some critics and Ryoo Seung-wan's credibility as a writer was questioned but I would agree with New York Times that the film "vividly conveys the pain of a national wartime trauma whose scars clearly have not healed." Clearly, Ryoo Sung-wan did an awesome job in the camera works because every pain, every humour, every sequence and even the tiniest details on "The Battleship Island" was very much felt by the audience.