By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, July 21 (Yonhap) -- Kim Han-min, director of the Korean historical epic "Hansan: Rising Dragon," said Thursday that the charm of Adm. Yi Sun-shin has left him spellbound and inspired him to make a film trilogy about one of Korea's most celebrated historical figures.
The second installment of his trilogy about battles led by the legendary admiral, the upcoming film recounts the famous Battle of Hansan Island on the southern coast of Korea in July 1592, when Yi defeated the larger Japanese force through intelligent tactics.
It is a prequel to "Roaring Currents," a 2014 box office megahit about Yi and the Battle of Myeongnyang, which is the most-viewed film of all time in South Korea with more than 17 million admissions.
"I always read a translated version of the War Diary of Yi Sun-shin, and it oddly makes me feel comfortable and sleep soundly," Kim said during a group media interview at a cafe in Seoul. He referred to the personal journal that the admiral kept during the 1592-1598 Japanese invasions of Korea. "The more I read, the more I fall into the spell of Adm. Yi beyond his charm."
Kim described Yi as a rare war hero in Korean history who loved the people very much while being in tension with the king. "So, I wanted to portray him in-depth through the films."
Set in five years before the battle in "Roaring Currents," "Hansan" portrays a younger version of the admiral in his late 40s.
Kim said historical records showed Yi looked like a gentle scholar and was short-spoken, so he thought actor Park Hae-il who is in his 40s with a similar image would be the heavenly match for the role.
The contrast between the Korean and Japanese admiral characters adds fun to the movie.
"If I say Adm. Yi in 'Hansan' was like water, his opponent admiral Wakizaka would be just like fire. I thought it would be fun if I set the concepts of the two characters that way," the director said.
Unlike in the original film, Yi teams up with other navy commanders to hold off an encroaching Japanese army in the second installment.
"Yi resorts to his strong will to win a come-from-behind victory in 'Roaring Currents,' but in 'Hansan,' he works in a team with other commanders from neighboring regions," the director explained.
The real trump card in the Korean arsenal in the Battle of Hansan Island was Yi's signature "Geobukseon," or turtle ship, a hulking battleship that has cannon ports on all sides, a deck covered with iron spikes and a terrifying iron dragon head piece.
Not much is known about the famous battleship, including how it looked exactly, how it operated and whether it was a two-story or three-story structure, but the production team added their own imaginations to historical materials they collected to actualize it.
"We rather became more confused because of all different theories we found in the research process. So we built a model of the turtle ship that would be used in the actual battlefield, but didn't want to portray it too differently from the image of the ship that we generally think of," he said.
He said he filmed all naval combat scenes for "Hansan" and "Noryang," the third and last installment, at an interval of two and a half months from the same set installed at an ice rink in the east coastal city of Gangneung, without putting any actual ship in the sea. The third part is about the final battle of the seven-year war in 1598, when Adm. Yi was shot to death.
The director said he is now preparing to make a TV series about the war after completing the film trilogy.
He added the drama will deal with political and diplomatic perspectives of the war with characters such as King Seonjo, the then ruler of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Ryu Seong-ryong, a high-ranking official during the king's reign, and Chinese army generals.
"Hansan" is set to open in local theaters Wednesday.