Admiral Yi film 'Noryang' featuring Kim Yun-seok explores hero's struggle

Actor Kim Yun-seok as Admiral Yi Sun-sin in ″Noryang,″ the latest installment in director Kim Han-min's trilogy about the legendary military strategist [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

Admiral Yi Sun-sin holds a special place in Koreans’ hearts, as he was a fierce military strategist who defended the country from Japanese invasion during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Countless fictional accounts of Yi’s battles have been produced over the years, but “Noryang,” the latest installment in director Kim Han-min’s trilogy about the admiral, which opened on Dec. 20, is very special, according to actor Kim Yun-seok, who plays Yi in the film.

“'Noryang’ is the film that finishes the trilogy and depicts the death of Yi, something we all know happened but dreaded bringing to the screen,” Kim said during an interview with reporters at a cafe in Jung District, central Seoul, on the film's opening day. “We filmed ‘Noryang’ nearly three years ago, and I can’t believe that it is actually opening for audiences in theaters now.”

In the previous films of director Kim’s trilogy, Choi Min-sik played Yi in “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” and Park Hae-il took the part in “Hansan: Rising Dragon.” Taking on the role of Yi after performances from Choi and Park, which have been critically and commercially acclaimed, put pressure on Kim, but he says it was something he welcomed.


“I can’t say that I didn’t feel pressured, but what I felt more was a kind of camaraderie with Choi and Park,” Kim said. “Almost like the expression ‘misery loves company.’ I didn’t think about outperforming those two great actors, but bringing something new to the table in depicting Yi.”

Kim was persuaded to play Yi in “Noryang” by director Kim Han-min, who brought the script to the actor and explained every little detail to him.

“Director Kim and I held a briefing session before filming began, and he laid out every scene and decision he had made in constructing the story,” the actor said. “The director had an explanation for each characterization and scene that went into all three of the films in the trilogy. And you could say that there is no one out there who knows as much as he does about Admiral Yi. The level of preparation and dedication moved me and made me want to work with him on this project.”

It is no secret and certainly no spoiler that Admiral Yi dies at the end of the Battle of Noryang. Playing Yi in that critical scene was an honor and a challenge for Kim, according to the actor.

Main poster for ″Noryang″ [LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT]

“I had previously played a historically important scene in ‘1987: When the Day Comes,’ and playing out Yi’s death was kind of like that,” Kim said. “I thought honestly about what the admiral would have felt and thought in that moment, and the conclusion I reached was that he must have withheld a lot of his emotions so that he wouldn’t become a hindrance during the ongoing battle.”

Channeling Yi while filming “Noryang” made Kim understand a lot about the admiral and also sympathize with the personal struggles of the historical figure.

“The time between the Battle of Myeongnyang, which is depicted in ‘The Admiral: Roaring Currents’ and the Battle of Noryang, is when Yi was most conflicted and lonely,” Kim said. “His mother had passed around the time of the Battle of Myeongnyang, and by the Battle of Noryang he also lost many of his most trusted generals. He also had to recover from being tortured between those two battles and was suffering physically. It was a miracle that he persevered through such challenges.”

Filming “Noryang” came with physical difficulties for Kim as well, with the actor suffering from fatigue to the point of getting nosebleeds on set due to the weight of the armor he had to wear.

“The armor was nearly 20 kilograms [44 pounds], and to make the armor fit well they have to fasten the fabric tightly underneath, so I nearly passed out from that at one point,” Kim said. “Once, I went to the emergency room for poor blood circulation.”

But all of that was worth it, according to Kim, who says the experience of watching the final cut of “Noryang” with audience members at a pre-screening testified to the strength of films and theaters.

“It was exhilarating to be at a screening with viewers and see people enjoy the film,” Kim said. “I don't think people will let a good film go unwatched — if a work is good enough, people will go see it. The fact that '12.12: The Day’ is doing so well in theaters these days is proof of that. I hope that ‘Noryang’ will continue this good streak for domestic films in theaters and that audiences will resonate with the story of Admiral Yi.”

To find out more about Kim Yun-seok, visit Celeb Confirmed!