Battleship Island | Rousingly patriotic South Korean WW2 movie stays afloat

The Battleship Island So Ji-sub
(Image credit: © 2017 Good Match The Movie, LL)

1945 Hashima. We called it hell on earth.

It’s easy to see why South Korean World War Two movie The Battleship Island (Gun-ham-do) went down a storm in its home country. Giving a fictional spin to real events, it takes a dark episode from 20th-century Korean history and turns it into a rousingly patriotic adventure.

The setting is the Japanese island of Hashima (nicknamed ‘Battleship Island’ because of its shape), where thousands of Koreans were conscripted into slave labour as coal miners during Japan’s colonial rule. Director and co-writer Ryoo Seung-wan uses this as the basis for a stirring escape thriller complete with deep-dyed villainy and heroic derring-do.

As you might expect, the characters – including wily jazz band leader Gang-ok (Hwang Jung-min) and his spunky 8-year-old daughter So-hee (Kim Su-an from Train to Busan), swaggering Seoul gangster Chil-sung (So Ji-sub) and ‘comfort woman’ Mallyon (Lee Jung-hyun) - are drawn in broad strokes. Yet with Ryoo giving the action a Spielbergian sweep as the action builds towards the climactic prison break, you’ll find yourselves rooting for them all the same.

Certificate 15. Runtime 132 mins. Director Ryoo Seung-wan

The Battleship Island available on DVD & Digital from Precision Pictures.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.