The Battleship Island: a movie of desperate struggle in the Japanese colonial era

By Shin-hye Cha | 기사입력 2020/11/24 [02:29]

The Battleship Island: a movie of desperate struggle in the Japanese colonial era

By Shin-hye Cha | 입력 : 2020/11/24 [02:29]

The movie The Battleship Island tells the story of Japan's forced labor on the Japanese island of Hashima, which was also called "the Island of Hell." Hashima Island has an  undersea coal mine with a depth of more than 1km, and its slope reaches 60 degrees. Under Japanese colonial rule, many Koreans were taken to Hashima Island and had to work in coal mines in the worst working environment. The internal temperature was close to 35 degrees Celsius, and they had to continuously inhale toxic gas released from the underground mines. It was a harsh and fatal working environment, meaninglessly  claiming the lives of many Korean workers with no compensation. However, Japan has tried to hide it and use it as one of Japanese tourist attractions. This infamous island has now been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Battleship Island is a movie about this island and Korean workers’ sad story.  

In 1945, a bandmaster at Bando Hotel in Gyeongseong (another name of Seoul used during the period of Japanese occupation), Kangok and his daughter Sohee, a gangster Chilseong, and a Japanese military sexual slave Malnyeon are deceived by the news that they can make money in Japan, and head to Battleship Island or Hashima Island. However, it is an island where many Koreans are suffering from forced labor by the Japanese imperial army. When the war seems to be over, as Japan is defeated by the Allied Forces, an agent from the Korean Liberation Army, Mooyoung, infiltrates the island to conduct a secret operation for rescuing key figures in the independence movement. As U.S. bombings start to hit Japan, Japan tries to blow the mine up with the trapped Koreans still there to erase their atrocities committed on Battleship Island. Seeing this, Mooyoung tries to escape from the island with Kang-ok, Chilseong, Malnyeon, and other Koreans.

One of the characteristics of the film is that it does not emphasize the dichotomous confrontation between Japan and Joseon (a name commonly used for Korea at that time), unlike many previous movies based on Japanese colonial era. The film features three types of characters: a damaged Korean, a pro-Japanese Korean who harasses and suppresses fellow Joseon people, and an imperialist Japanese who incites internal conflicts among Koreans behind the scenes. Critics say the director's intention to rule out excessive nationalism was well expressed, although some say that the scene of Koreans oppressing the same Joseon people may cause uncomfortable feeling to Korean viewers.

It is also regrettable that only Kangok and Sohee seem to get the viewers’ interest, although various characters appear in the movie. The relationships and stories of the characters are a bit too complicated and so it makes it difficult to gain great emotional sympathy from the viewers. It is also regrettable that the story about Battleship Island itself seems to be pushed aside as the stories of the characters are dealt with as if they are its apparent concern.

  © Inho Shin



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