A heist movie, obviously, it stars Hong Kong legend Simon Yam, who is often nicknamed Michael Caine in China, but that’s totally unfair to both actors. Like Caine, Yam has taken on a wide variety of roles from A-list to C-grade and delivered so many richly defined personas, all with that cool suave style all his own. But both Yam and Caine are distinctive actors with a repertoire that demands their individuality.
Yam faces an ensemble Korean cast, who quickly rise up their performance bar to become highly engaging characters. It’s a story of double crosses and back stories, and in the end, despite some nasty betrayals, there’s still some honor among the thieves. With a convoluted tangle of intertwining story arcs, there are great rappelling combats, awesome stunts and firefights. Ocean’s Eleven nothing about this movie.
The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014)
The Admiral: Roaring Currents currently holds the honor of being the most-watched and highest-grossing film of all time in South Korea. It is loosely based on the historical naval battle of Myeongnyang (1597 CE) when a dozen Korean boats fought off some 300 invading Japanese ships. It’s glorious and extremely violent, soaked in seawater and blood.
A broken admiral named Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-sik) must rally battered ships to fight against shiploads of samurai, ninja and pirates. He is supported by dubious captains, fearful sailors, weak villagers and weak Buddhist monks. After nearly an hour of setup, the rest of the film is a flurry of colossal naval battles. It’s spectacular violence, too, with plenty of beheadings, cannon fire, archers, ship rammings, explosions, sword fights, and plenty of satisfying melee on the decks of ships.
A prequel was released last July, Hansan: Dragon Risingand it has already become the second highest-grossing Korean film of 2022. A trio titled Noryang: The Sea of Death should start production soon.
The Pirates (2014)
This delicious Korean movie is a great game and a great example of entertaining K-flicks. This is Pirates of the Caribbean meets Moby-Dick and whale rider. A whale swallows an Imperial Seal, given to Korea by the Chinese Emperor, and the film follows the quest to retrieve it. Some mountain bandits assume the role of pirates only to find they are not seaworthy at all. There’s cheesy CGI, totally comedic characters (the ever-hilarious Yoo Hae-jin as Chul Bong stands out), a gorgeous sword-wielding pirate captain (Son Ye-jin as Yeo-wol), lots of eye patches and scars, sea battles and a ton of fun sword fights. It’s two hours of constant entertainment: an action adventure, a comedy and a romance. It’s a little bloody but family-friendly for the most part, and like good K movies, it makes some sharp, surprising turns that move the plot along nicely.