China and Korea fight against Japan in the Battle of Myeongryang in the film.
China, Korea and Japan are the three countries in Northeast Asia, too tangled up to unravel the long history of gratitude or resentment. In most cases, Japan always wanted to conquer Korea to conquer China, and then established a great emperor. As the mother country of Korea, China always counterattacked Japan when Korea was in critical situation in the Japanese invasion. In China, there are many films about counterattacking Japan during 1931~1945, but few films about helping Korea fight Japan before the modern history. More historical events about the three countries in films come from Korea, and The Admiral: Roaring Currents is one of them. Directed and co-written by Kim Han-min, based on the historical Battle of Myeongnyang, it stars Choi Min-sik as the Korean naval commander Yi Sun-sin. The movie overwhelmingly surpassed Avatar’s original record of 13 million viewers to become the most watched film of all time in Korea.
In the film, it revolves around the titular Battle of Myeongnyang circa 1597, regarded as one of legendary Joseon admiral Yi Sun-sin’s most remarkable naval victories, in which he led the only 12 ships remaining in his command to a heroic victory against an invading Japanese fleet numbering 330 vessels. The film spends a lot of time telling the story that the Korean fight Japanese, but a little time telling the truth that Chinese made great effort to help the Korean fight the Japanese. But the film caters to the Korean historical values, arouses the great enthusiasm of local audiences, and makes a great success in Korea.
Some details and mistakes worth thinking.
As mentioned above, we talk about the Korean historical values. And the Korean historical values are that Korea is ashamed of being a Chinese dependency in history, and they always want to get rid of this identity, though they already have. And they want to escape the Chinese influence upon Korea. It is reasonable to get the conclusion from the details in the film.
First, as mentioned before, Korea was a Chinese dependency, and they used Chinese Character as their official written language, and Chinese calendar as their calendar. In the film, when Yi Sun-sin reads the imperial edict in Chinese, we can see the date is Wanli 30 Years of Chinese Ming Dynasty. This is a stupid mistake, because the battle broke out in Wanli 25 Years, i.e., 1597, and Yi Sun-sin died in 1598. If in Wanli 30 Years, Yi Sun-sin could not revive to lead the war.
Second, in the film, the Korean navy soldiers are all dressed in iron armor, which is not true. The standard Korean army equipments were copied from Chinese Ming Dynasty, but only the generals had the right to wear the iron armor. According to history, the Korean navy soldiers wore leather armor and cotton armor. Furthermore, iron armors are very dangerous to navy soldiers, because when falling into water soldiers would be drowned for the iron armor gravity. The film should not show disrespect for history, only because the film wants better visual effect from iron armor than leather armor and cotton armor.
Third, the film pushes Korean army forward in the battle against Japanese, but the film tells little about the fact that Chinese army were the main force to save Korea. No matter how successful Yi Sun-sin in the Battle of Myeongnyang was, it was a blocking action, not a battle of annihilation. The Japanese navy main forces retreated because of local temporary small failure, but still had the ability to attack. “We are the last defense line of Korea, and the whole country will be lost if we fail,” says Yi Sun-sin. The fact is that Korea was already lost, and the Korean King escaped into China to seek refuge. And Korean army was dogged by defeat at every step, and the main forces were mostly destroyed by the Japanese army. Under the background that main forces of Chinese Ming Dynasty were the main power to fight Japanese army, the Battle of Myeongnyang was just an auxiliary campaign.
It was nothing surprising that the film only got nearly $5 million in box office in China. In the face of nationalism, people are mentally handicapped. But if you want a successful film, nationalism is enough in local country, but far from successful in international market.
The true history.
In 1592, Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi launched an invading war to conquer Korea to conquer China. Because of the corrupt Korean interior and army, Japanese army wiped out most of Korean army, occupied most parts of Korea to the border line of China and Korea, the Yalu River. Korean King escaped into China. China decided to counterattack Japanese army.
Badly frightened by Japanese army, the command and reconnaissance system of Korean army nearly collapsed, and couldn’t present the accurate information about Japanese army for China. Because of the wrong information, in July 1592, China sent a spearhead army of 3,000 soldiers to attack the fallen Pyongyang. The Chinese spearhead army suffered heavy casualties, and failed.
In December 1592, China sent the main forces to attack again. Chinese army showed terrible combat effectiveness. In January 1593, Pyongyang was recovered, and more than 10,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. The war damage ratio of China and Japan was1:15. In April 1593, Seoul was recovered. Soon, Japan proposed to make peace, and retreated its army. 10,000 Chinese army stayed to defend Korea and the rest retreated.
But the peace was so weak. The 1593 peace agreement was made by the envoys of China and Japan, but in order to get agreement quickly and nicely, the envoys made some provisions unreasonable for both parties, which made Chinese Emperor and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were very furious. In January 1597, Japanese army of 140,000 land forces and 10,000 navy forces attacked Korea again to ask for more. And that was the background for Battle of Myeongnyang commanded by Yi Sun-sin. Of course, Korean army was utterly routed as in the past, and it mainly relied on Chinese army to attack Japanese army. Though Battle of Myeongnyang blocked the Japanese navy attack, the Japanese navy main forces were completely destroyed by Chinese navy forces in Battle of Noryang in 1598.
The series of war laid the structure of the Northeast Asia for the coming 300 years, and had important influences on China, Korea and Japan.
In order to fight Japan, China spent 7 years and lots of money and lots of soldiers fighting in Korea, which made the country weak. And, what was worse was that to reinforce the combat personnel, the Ming dynasty had to arm and train the Manchu soldiers who later destroyed Ming Dynasty.
As for Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died for the loss of the war, and Leyasu Tokugawa unified Japan. Leyasu Tokugawa cut off Japan from the outside world for almost 300years, because Japan knew that they couldn’t afford to engage another war with China again.
The Korean dynasty was reserved after the war, and continued to attach itself to China. And Korea got a famous national hero Yi Sun-sin to commemorate for the nation. 300 years later, Korea was completely occupied by Japan.