Kim Han-min’s prequel to the excellent Admiral: Roaring Currents (if you haven’t seen that yet it’s perfect timing to track down a copy) focuses a on a more volatile political climate within Korea years prior to the events of the aforementioned film, amidst the Japanese invasion in 1592. As in Admiral, we follow the career and naval campaign of admiral Yi Sun-sin as his countrymen attempt to read the tactics of Japan’s forces, intent on taking over Korea’s key points of command as well as a conquest of Ming China. There are more characters in Hansan: Rising Dragon than from Roaring Currents, but each has their own well-earned moment that contributes to the historic battle that forms the film’s climactic sequence.
Both Roaring Currents and Rising Dragon are very much historical action dramas and as such can come under scrutiny for nationalist and/or propagandistic messages. But the creative license in these films read less as a way to reframe events in service to a loyalism that highlight problematic selective histories to support a manufactured narrative, and more of a method to just punch up the excitement within the confines of historical fiction. It’s an attitude that may be easy to defend in this manner but as someone who can see where propaganda can be used as a tool to target discrimination or animosity towards certain groups, I just don’t see it in these films. The depiction of the Japanese armies are ruthless but it is possible that they are shown as such because of the reasoning behind Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s conquest of Korea, which was arguably dictated from a megalomaniacal desire for conquest. This was an invasion after all.
In any case, the film drums up near the same level of excitement as its predecessor but doesn’t quite hit the follow-through in the same way Roaring Currents does with its white-knuckle naval battle sequence. The details get a little scattered across the way with some political intrigue sprinkled in for good measure, and it flavors the pot nicely but doesn’t exactly feed neatly into admiral Yi Sun-sin’s story or provide enough to chew on as their own side stories. It’s a good film nonetheless and well worth the visit but doesn’t feel as captivating as Yi’s exploits during the battle of Myeongnyang.
Hansan: Rising Dragon is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and offers a wealth of a vibrant and muted color palette, its coloring nicely matching the warmth of comfy indoor Japanese military conference rooms while contrasting it with a colder look for the Korean offices, despite the sets being far busier with design and items strewn about the backgrounds of each interior shot. It strikes a pleasant balance and effectively communicates the differences in approach from the mentality of Japanese conquest versus the Korean rebellion to defend their homeland against the tides of invasion.
The weakest aspect of the film’s visuals fall on the CGI but in the hasty moments of battle these shots and their effects will hardly have the negative uncanny valley effect normally attributed to big-budget epics like these. Each shot provides an impeccably clean view into painstaking details from the ships design, inside and out, to the drab yet beautiful uniforms adorned by both sides of the war. Overall the film looks great, and has no visible compression issues. There are even instances of grain in lighter exterior shots but it does much more to add to the ambiance than take away from the integrity of its immersive visuals.
The film’s audio has four separate tracks: two in the original Korean in both a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix and DTS-HD 5.1 surround, and the same for the English dub of the feature. As always the original language track comes highly recommended, but during the movie I jumped between audio tracks and the mix below the dubbed dialogue (score, foley/sfx, etc.) seemed to be at a level comparable to the original sonic mix as released in South Korean cinemas.
As expected the sound experience is superb in this release, deep booms from crashing waves and war drums resonate as strongly as whistling arrows and wind gusting around the ships’ sails, and said dialogue is clean and perfectly intelligible throughout all points. If you have a nice home theater setup this is going to sound great.
Well Go USA still manages to keep their releases fairly bare but recently we’ve seen the addition of promotional materials on their discs. It’s not a huge jump per se but always a nice thing to see. Hansan: Rising Dragon comes with a short 4-minute featurette deceptively labelled a producer’s commentary, but it’s a promotional spot focusing on the technical side of putting the film together.
As such it features director Kim Han-min and his special effects team talking about the legacy Yi Sun-sin has left behind while b-roll of behind the scenes shots of the film’s naval battles and other sequences in soundstages play. It’s a good addition to a good movie but don’t expect an audio commentary to accompany this release.
Hansan: Rising Dragon certainly brings an excitement to its ultimate battle sequence, maybe hyping it up during the film’s runtime a little more than is spent in the previous film of the series. The details that get thrown at you do get a little messy, especially for those who aren’t too familiar with Korean war history. Names pop up left and right during the first act or so and it’s hard to keep it all straight, but the most important figures will stick despite what feels like overstimulation. Hansan follows a formula that worked incredibly well for Admiral and it does almost as well here, but doesn’t deviate enough from that previous method of structuring from 8 years prior; delivering that similar feeling between Roaring Currents and Rising Dragon towards the smallest conditions that can influence either victory or defeat in an instant — despite the tactics in any admiral or general’s arsenal.
It still emerges as a well-worthy follow up to the inarguably better Admiral: Roaring Currents but may become dwarfed by the earlier film’s emotional achievements during its excellent hour-long naval battle. Hansan: Rising Dragon comes well recommended from this reviewer as this is a stellar release geared towards an enthralling filmic experience.