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An Honest Review Of 'Battleship Island' By Someone Who Thought It Would Be Boring

It wasn't. Not even a little bit.
PHOTO: The Battleship Island/CJ Entertainment

The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

Battleship Island depicts the story of Korean laborers forced to work in the coal mines of Hashima Island in southern Japan. It was set in the time of the Japanese colonial rule (1910 to 1945).

Middle aged men and young adults—including Choci Chil Sung (played by So Ji Sub) and his gang—were mostly recruited. But even boys just starting puberty were forced to work. Korean ladies (and girls), like Oh Mal Nyeon (played by Lee Jung Hyun), were also brought to the island to serve as comfort women for the Japanese. There were also unwitting Korean men who were tricked into the labor camp through promises of better salaries and opportunities in Japan, including the musical band led by Lee Kang Ok and his daughter (played by Hwang Jung Min and Kim Su An).

A leader of the independence movement, who started a national revolution, was among the captured laborers. To rescue this influential figure, Park Moo Young (played by Song Joong Ki), an activist highly trained in combat and military tactics, was sent to infiltrate the island. But he's not the only one who wants to escape the hellish island—the 400 citizens of Hashima Island would like to be set free, as well.

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The Short, Honest Plot

It's a story about how Koreans were treated during the Japanese colonial era, how they struggled and, eventually, won the war. Most of them showed an immense sense of patriotism and loyalty to their families, while a few betrayed their fellowmen and dug their own graves.

The Actors And Where You Might've Seen Them

Song Joong Ki as Park Moo Young

Joong Ki's character sneaks into the island, pretends to be a laborer, and, eventually, reveals his true purpose and carries out his mission to rescue the influential figure on the island. You definitely know him as Captain Yoo Shi Jin or "Big Boss" in Descendants of the Sun (2016). And you probably heard about that news that SHOOKT the K-drama fandom: his upcoming wedding with Hallyu goddess and DOTS co-star Song Hye Kyo.

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So Ji Sub as Choi Sung

Ji Sub plays an infamous street fighter and gang leader, who, like most, had no choice but to submit to the Japanese. The actor's chiseled physique landed him memorable roles like the world-renowned trainer in Oh My Venus (2015-2016).

Hwang Jung Min as Lee Kang Ok

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Jung Min plays a father who will do anything to protect his daughter. Also leading a musical band, his troupe was scammed into thinking they were going to Japan for a performance, but, unfortunately, ended up getting dragged to be laborers in Hashima. The actor starred in several movies, including Veteran in 2015 and The Wailing in 2016.

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Lee Jung Hyun as Oh Mal Nyeon

Jung Hyun plays the role of a comfort woman who may have gotten all the misfortunes a woman can get. However, she never lost her dignity and fighting spirit. The pop singer and actress released several albums and singles and appeared in various films (like Split in 2016), dramas (like The Family Is Coming in 2015), and reality shows (Infinite Challenge and 2 Days & 1 Night).

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Kim Su An as Lee So Hee

Su An plays Lee Kang Ok's bubbly, talented, and entertaining daughter. Recognize her from somewhere? Yup, she was also the daughter of Gong Yoo's character in the epic zombie movie, Train to Busan.

And FYI, this is how HOT the four lead stars (sans the coal mine dust) look like:

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Did You Know?

1. The negative portrayal of the colonists of Hashima Island naturally caused controversy with some Japanese saying that the film distorted the truth. Director Ryoo Seung Wan defends that his film didn't mean to offend the Japanese but merely showed "how war can make man a monster." The "prison break" concept, on the other hand, was admittedly just a fictional tale inspired by the uniquely-shaped and walled island, which was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015 and now a tourist attraction in Japan.

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2. Before the film, it was the popular variety show Infinite Challenge that most recently put a spotlight on the tragedies that happened in Hashima. In 2015, Haha (one of the Infinite Challenge members), visited the island with a professor and found out about the Korean history that took place there. It was definitely an eye-opener—just like it was for Battleship Island Director Ryoo. To give justice to the Koreans who died and survived in Hashima, Ryoo and his team consulted military personnel and historians to accurately depict the conditions on the island.

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3. Despite the film being a sensitive issue for Japan, it was among the many countries in the world to purchase the screening rights for the movie.

4. The budget of the film was estimated at 25 billion won (or $22.3 million). That includes the amount spent on the sets built to resemble the island and the coal mines (yes, the movie wasn't shot on Hashima island itself). The pricey production value is definitely worth it when you see how realistic the sets and effects were. It helped make the movie a hit in various countries (the movie even grossed $1 million in the U.S. box office). It's also competing in the 2017 Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia (Spain), one of the most prestigious fantasy film festivals in the world.

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5. In one interview, Joong Ki shared that he took the role seriously and felt like it was his duty to help raise awareness on the tragedy. The Korea Herald quotes, "People ask me if I was concerned about foreign fans' responses before deciding to do this movie. Of course I pay attention to fans' responses. I've reached a point in my career where one photo of me is uploaded on the internet and all of Asia sees it. But I believed that (what the film shows) was just. It's the right thing to do, which is why I think I wasn't afraid. It was a small expression of my beliefs."

6. In the same interview, Joong Ki reveals he usually disguises himself and watches his films in theaters with a regular audience. He does this to know the public's feedback and see the parts they truly loved or hated in the movie. "Sometimes, I am sitting right next to someone so close that I can hear their breathing. It's fun to see that I'm on the screen and they don't know I'm right next to them," Joong Ki says as quoted by The Korea Herald. OMO!

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What My Friends Think:

"I liked the movie. First, because it is based on World War II events and it somehow showed a glimpse of what happened during that period. Second, it's because of how the movie was presented. It was intense from start to finish, and it let you feel the characters' emotions. It had drama, comedy, and action in one thrilling picture."—Rozz Cadavillo

"A friend and I watched Battleship Island and 100 Tula Para Kay Stella in one night. Parehas masakit sa puso."—Carla Ramos

What I Think:

I'm a fan of fairy tales, love stories, thrillers, and Marvel movies. Battleship Island seemed like a boring war movie to me after reading its plot and watching the trailers. I thought it was going to be just another action movie that got too sensationalized because of the star-studded cast. Aigoo, I was wrong again! I just love how the Korean entertainment scene keeps surprising its audience.

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From start to finish, the movie got me hooked! You'll appreciate how effective their storytelling was when you nitpick the details of each scene and setting. Through the camerawork and focal points, the audience would almost feel like they were there—hundreds of meters underground. You also get immersed with the way they zoomed in on certain people, actions, and paraphernalia throughout the film and how they showed 360-degree views of those scenes involving mobs.

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Moreover, you'll be amazed by the portrayal of Korean workers. They showed diligence in working, plus grit (and survival skills) amid the dire environment of the coal mines they were forced to work in. You'll also get a peek of the ever-colorful culture of the Land of the Morning Calm and the resilience of the people carrying out traditions in a time of crisis.

The characters weren't perfect, definitely—there were even a few traitors who caused the demise of fellow Koreans. However, the movie really showed how the unity and strength of the majority helped them become a strong nation. You'll root for each character, especially So Hee and the Chil Sung-Mal Nyeon (Ji Sub-Jung Hyun) tandem.

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I'd Recommend It To:

Fans of action-packed and historical movies and anyone who's not afraid to fall in love with Korea even more (I mean, they survived all those sufferings and still ended up as a first-world country—SO. ADMIRABLE.).

You can catch Battleship Island in select cinemas around the country. Click here to check the availability and schedules.

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