FF134 - The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Intro by Ben Harrison

"Never make a film with kids or animals, and never set your film on a boat!" These are words for filmmakers to live by due to the high level of difficulty each one offers: Kids and dogs must be trained and they are easily tired or distracted and their performances rarely seem authentic. Boats, on the other hand, are their own unique complication: Their movement is affected by forces that no filmmaker can control, and therefore you are fighting to keep your angles and lighting correct as your set moves under your feet.

You have safety problems, you have a very limited set of tools for stabilizing and lighting shots and moving your camera, and your cast and crew can get seasick. Maybe consider writing a nice story about a soldier in an army and save yourself some trouble? No! Naval combat is something of an obsession for us on this show, in part because of the challenges inherent to doing it right and in part because of the fascinating limitations the sea imposes on combat itself.

As new technologies like CGI boats and drone cameras emerge to reduce some of the barriers to filming on the water, I am hoping we get more and more of these films, but even with these advancements, it is still much easier to set a naval warfare film on a modern naval vessel. Rare is the film that allows us to explore the finer points of naval combat prior to World War II.

Once in a blue moon, a Master and Commander comes along and gives us a glimpse into a more blessed timeline where movies like this are made all the time, but in our doomed reality Master and Commander, despite being a perfect film, was not financially successful enough to spawn its deserved cavalcades of sequels and imitators.

South Korea, thankfully, is not bound by the same creative constraints as Hollywood, and one of the most successful films to ever be released there is a film about a naval battle between Japan and Korea that took place the same year that Shakespeare's Henry IV parts 1 and 2 was first performed, the same year that the 3rd Spanish Armada tried and failed to invade England.

It is a 2014 film directed by Han-min Kim that covers the battle of Myeongnyang and the long-shot victory achieved by Yi Sun-sin against the invading Japanese. The style of ships is very different from the ones we see in Master and Commander. Their squared-off hulls engender a totally different set of strategies and tactics in ship-to-ship combat. The ships are oar-powered and the film is just as interested in the men struggling to propel the ships as it is the ones on deck firing arrows and swinging swords.

The action takes place in the Myeongnyang Strait, a slip of water notorious for the film's eponymous roaring currents. The badly outnumbered Joseon Navy that Yi commands makes clever use of their home-water advantage, and like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, thwart a Japanese invasion-fleet of 333 ships with a mere 12. We love a classic David and Goliath story on Friendly Fire! You map that onto a naval battle and we are all yours.

There is something deeply gratifying about seeing a small, outgunned force overcome the odds. It is a feeling we want to revisit more and more these days, and to follow the example of those figures of history who didn't lose hope even when everything and everyone around them said they were already defeated. This is a universal human story. "If you crave life, you will surely die! If you fight to the death, you will live!" Today on Friendly Fire: The Admiral: Roaring Currents.

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