Movie Review: ‘The Battleship Island’

Some of the many horrors of war are on display again in The Battleship Island. Loosely based on true events during the Second World War, Battleship Island follows roughly 400 Koreans as they are lured into slave labor under the colonial rule of Japan in 1944. The film is gritty, the story is horrific, and it is always disheartening to see the tragic events of war. There are a few upbeat, humorous moments, like just about any time the musicians play their instruments after getting to the island, but this definitely falls under a historical drama category.

Also on display are the horrors of coal mining; people die very easily underground, go figure. Granted, it is slave labor being utilized. But, in my mind, that is about the only way you would get me in a mine, or pay me a lot more than it is worth. It baffles me that people are advocating to “bring back” coal miner jobs in my country. It sometimes seems that a lot of the same people approve of war as well, it is weird. But, I digress.

The title of the film, Battleship Island, is the nickname for Hashima Island given due to the shape of the island resembling the war vessel. The film depicts the island’s dark history as a slave labor camp. We follow, primarily, a handful of Koreans as they travel to the island under false promises, only to quickly realize they are entering hell, metaphorically of course. The men and women are split up, including the band leader and his daughter. The men are sent into the mines while the women are separated for other, unspeakable reasons. Luckily, the band leader’s daughter is not subject to that horror, but her time on the island still is not a picnic.

At just over 2 hours, the movie is packed with fluid storylines, twists, drama, action, and explosions. There is plenty that can be discussed, debated, or just experienced. History buffs might find it interesting, though I read online that it is not historically accurate (but what historical film is?). I admit I was enthralled and even shed a tear during one scene. The acting is very good. It is subtitled as the dialogue is in both Korean and Japanese; the subtitles use different colors for the different languages, though I sometimes forgot which was which and, as I do not speak either language, I would forget which language was being spoken until it was referenced in their speech.

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