The Battleship Island is a 2017 film from director Ryoo Seung-wan starring popular actors So Ji-sub and Song Joong-ki.

The plot takes place in the 1940s during Japan’s occupation of Korea during WWII, on a forced labor mining camp called Hashima, or “Battleship Island”. In Japan-occupied Korea, Kang-ok (played by Hwang Jung-min) and his young daughter Sohee are part of a popular jazz band. They accept an offer by an official to emigrate to Japan for better work and safety. However when they arrive, they realize they were among hundreds of innocent people that were unknowingly bribed off to the labor camp of Hashima instead. Song Joong-ki plays the soldier Park Moo-young, who is sent by the Korean Liberation Army to infiltrate Hashima to rescue another liberation leader. As rumors of U.S. forces coming to defeat Japan looms above the individual characters’ stories, the Korean laborers are forced to decide whether to risk escaping the island or continuing to work.

With themes of violence, sexual abuse, and copious amounts of blood, this movie is not for the faint of heart. The movie opens up in a black and white montage of the cramped and hellish environment in the coal mines underground. Korean workers wearing nothing more than helmets and scarves as protection from rubble and noxious gas toil away as Japanese overseers push them on. Despite having no color in this scene, audiences can feel the heat and suffocating air of the mine shafts, and may even experience a faint sense of claustrophobia.  

Perhaps the weakest aspect of this film was the introduction of Song Joong-ki’s character into the plot. The timing of the scenes was quite jarring as it shifts from the dark and grimy environment of Hashim that the Koreans find themselves trapped within, to the bright and warm colors of the Chinese desert without time for viewers to catch their breath. Despite the film’s dark and heavy plot, Hwang Jung-min’s portrayal of a father willing to do anything for his precious daughter was no doubt one of the biggest standouts. Audiences will easily see that Kang-ok and Sohee’s love for each other is a bond that endures through violence and suffering. While the main escape plot plays out, audiences will still be drawn to the small things Kang-ok tries to do for his daughter and make sure Sohee, above anyone else, is still looked after.

While this gritty movie shows the brutality that arose from both the Japanese and the Koreans during the occupation period, it also shows that on both sides of the war, there are those who choose to commit evils for survival and those who are indoctrinated to believe they are doing what is good. Even among these violent conditions, we see kindness survive in the form of Kang-ok’s love for his daughter, and Choi Chil-sung’s (So Ji-sub) kindness to the comfort woman Oh Mal-nyeon. Ultimately, the triumph of the movie was the teamwork of the Korean laborers willing to work together to plan their escape, rather than those who would rather cling to a false sense of security under the control of the Japanese.

Check out the trailer below!