‘Hansan: Rising Dragon’ Review: Naval Gazing

The dutiful war movie “Hansan: Rising Dragon” recounts the successes of the 16th-century Korean national hero Yi Sun-shin, which were previously chronicled in the 2014 film “The Admiral: Roaring Currents.” Directed by Kim Han-min, both films trumpet Admiral Yi’s savvy and courage in fending off the Japanese invaders attempting to conquer the peninsula. This time, the main event is the Battle of Hansan Island in 1592, a Korean victory that is showcased as a feat of both strategy and technology.

Part of the movie tracks Yi’s efforts to lay logistical and diplomatic groundwork for a defense, amid internecine squabbles and Japanese espionage. (A daunting array of captions pop up onscreen to help identify the military figures involved.) Yi (Park Hae-il) is portrayed as a wise, deliberate leader, though his noble bearing can easily feel stolid, and the many military confabs tend to sag.

A recurring topic of debate is the deployment of turtle ships — stout armored vessels with cannons on all sides and a dragonhead battering ram. When the movie finally opens up into naval warfare, these monstrous ships are worth the wait, roaring through the water in impressive sequences that toggle between wide shots and zooms into the fracas. Much is also made of Yi’s arcing crane-wing battle formation, but its significance is overshadowed by the sheer spectacle of collisions.

The film’s dramas are ornately costumed but often stilted and lacking the verve of the battle staging. Even the glories of war can turn stultifying when you’re shown one too many thousand-yard-stare reaction shots by military leaders.

Hansan: Rising Dragon
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. In theaters.

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