Director: Kim Han-min
Notable Cast: Kim Yoon-seok, Baek Yoon-sik, Jung Jae-young,
Heo Joon-ho, Kim Sung-kyu, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Lee Moo-saeng
I will go out on a limb and say it right away: Noryang:
Deadly Sea is perhaps the best of the Admiral Yi Trilogy.
It's got the emotion and melodrama that helped push the first film along, and
it takes the more war-driven elements of Hansan and pushes the
envelope even further. This is one brutal and sprawling conclusion to Yi's epic
naval battle journey, as told by director Kim Han-min.
It's been nine years since the initial theatrical release
of Roaring Currents, and the finale here is worth the wait. We see
a filmmaker entirely in touch with his material, and the passion on display is
felt in every frame. The sense of scale, the thundering score, the visuals,
everything fires on all cannons (pun intended). Noryang takes
a nearly decade-old franchise and pushes it into the stratosphere of
Kim Yeon-seok steps into the shoes of the character Yi with
a great sense of stoicism and the sensibilities of a wizened elderly man who
has led many a fierce battle. He has this hardened edge, but his eyes are full
of sorrow and pain from the countless years of fighting. The emotional core
of Noryang is expressed between the dynamics of not only Yi
and his army but also a man and his son, giving a tender touch to an otherwise
relatively bloody and dark film. It does occasionally become a bit dramatic but
once more, given the context of the battles and the stakes at hand, it feels
justified and comes across in a genuine manner.
Fear not for those looking to see more intense high seas
battles; they are plentiful here and an absolute feast to the senses. We get a
large chunk of the film dedicated to nighttime warfare and the way everything
is shot and lit gets the classic chef's kiss. The way the camera whips around
the battlefield keeps you close to the action, and we are treated to set piece
after set piece and one combat-heavy treat after the next. There is an
awe-inspiring one-shot take that goes across numerous ships as we see soldiers
on foot fighting amongst one another, orchestrated masterfully by the film crew
The runtime may turn some off, but I found it to work for
this last hurrah with Yi and company. Some new characters were introduced,
including a Ming commander, Chen Lin, played by the great Jung Jae-young.
Although everything ultimately leads to war and bloodshed in films like this,
it was still nice to see another nation and its various sensibilities and war
culture being represented. It brings about interesting dialogues and adds more
flavor to the overarching narrative. The nationalism is on full display, but I'm
not sure what one would expect otherwise. Seeing nations come together to
overcome evildoers in the world doesn't get more classic than that.
All in all, Noryang: Deadly Sea takes an
already solid trilogy and helps to solidify among some of the best modern
cinematic trilogies in any genre. The many battles led by Admiral Yi, as told
by filmmaker Kim Han-min, finally reach a satisfying conclusion. Noryang not
only sees the end of a great saga, but it brings up a great question that I'm
sure the fans are clamoring to know the answer to: what's next for Director
Kim? Whatever that may be, I'll be ready to absorb it.
As for this third and final entry in the Yi
Trilogy, it gets my absolute highest recommendation. It is one of the best
films of 2023, without a doubt, and certainly one of the most thrilling. See it
on the big screen if you can!