Following up The Admiral: Roaring Currents, Hansan: Rising Dragon is a prequel and the second in a planned trilogy about the naval battles led by Joseon Admiral Yi Sun-Shin (Park Hae-il). Given the massive box office success of the first South Korean historical epic, Hansan wisely does not try to reinvent the first film’s structure, but instead just recreates another famous military battle at sea. While there is action and spectacle to satisfy the audiences, Hansan also has a meticulous eye for historical accuracy in every aspect of the storytelling, similar to Ron Maxwell’s American Civil War films, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.
Without prior knowledge about the historical period and events covered within the film, the first half of Hasan can difficult to follow, especially with the large number of characters on both side of the conflict that are introduced. Set in 1592, all of the Japanese navy joins forces in a campaign to conquer Joseon, led by daimyo Wakisaka Yasuharu (Byun Yo-han). Despite a new, fully enclosed Joseon battleship the Japanese call bokkaisen, the Japanese have discovered flaws in the design, so Joseon commander Yi Sun-sin (Park Hae-il) must orchestrate a unique battle plan to win against odds. This all leads up to a recreation of the Battle of Hansando, which is also where the film is at its best.
Although the plot primarily prioritizes historical detail over character development, Hansan allows does allow time for emotionally resonant supporting characters, primarily with Junsa (Kim Sung-kyu), a samurai who defects to the Joseon side. It also gives you more of Park’s stoic and subtle performance as Yi, and a decent villain in Byun’s Yasuharu. There is also the spectacle of the battles themselves, though slightly sub-par CGI does damper the effectiveness of this some.
The Blu-ray review of Hansan has a surprising number of special features for a foreign release, including character highlights to help those who struggle to follow them all as much as I did. There is also a commentary track and a featurette about the film’s make-up.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 7/10