Direction: ; Screenplay: : Cho Sung-min; Cinematography: Lee Mo-gae; Editing: Kim Jae-bum, Kim Sang-bum; Genre: War, Drama; Location: Hashimi Island, Japan; Distributor: CJ Entertainment Running Time: 132 minutes; Running time: 132 minutes;
Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V18
MTRCB rating: R16
Bandmaster Lee Kang-ok (Jung-min) and his daughter So-hee (Su-an), streetfighter Choi Chil-sung (So Ji-sub), comfort woman Oh Mai-nyeon (Lee Jung-hyun) are conscripted Koreans of the 2nd World War and forcedly employed in Hashim Island during the 2nd World War. The Koreans are treated harshly and inhumanely by the Japanese and each of these main characters do their best to survive. As the War reaches the end, Independence fighter Park Moo-young (Song Joong-ki) plots to rescue Yoon, a Korean spiritual leader also detained in Hashima Island. Lee agrees to assist in obtaining some keys in exchange for his and So-hee’s escape. However, Park discovers that Yoon is actually a traitor. The plan changes to lead an escape for the 400 Korean captives. Meanwhile, as the Japanese is about to lose the war, they scheme to blow up the island to wipe out any witness to the Korean slavery.
Battleship Island is neither a documentary nor a historical film, hence to criticize its inaccuracies or melodramatic storyline is inappropriate. What it is is a depiction of humanity amidst extreme pressure and struggles. There are three storylines to follow: the father and daughter pursuit of survival, the unlikely romance amidst cynicism and brokenness and loyalty to the nation versus deception. These are three common conflicts happening in every other storytelling but what makes it unique is the humanity of each character and how it is constantly tested in the perils of war and degradation. The balance of comic and agony, the contrast of classical music soothing and brutally savage deaths, the thin line between self-preservation and self- sacrifice make this film haunting, disturbing and real. The strength of the film lies, not in the spectacular production design so meticulously put together to transport viewers to the hellish internment camp that is Hashima or the insightful cinematography tightly woven together but in the direction of Ryoo.
Anytime a person is faced with life or death—he chooses either to save or to sacrifice himself. Each character in the movie decided and acted foremostly to stay alive—only Lee seemed to have concern for people other than himself. It is heartbreaking to watch fellow countrymen beating and betraying one another because it mirrors present day society. It is painful to witness how the weaker ones are exploited and dehumanized for the sake of profit and power. This, too, is true today. But when the Koreans unite and start thinking outside their comfort zones, when they commit to fight for the weaker one, when they decide to die so others may live—love pours out like waterfalls and hope sparkles as brilliantly as the sun. Naturally, because it is a war movie, themes and scenes are too violent and disturbing for younger audiences.