True leader on the silver screenA recent film celebrating the remarkable naval victory of Korea’s most famous soldier, Joseon admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598) against an invading Japanese fleet has been making box-office records, putting a new spotlight on the legendary figure and his heroic achievements. “Roaring Currents,” a film on the Battle of Myeongnyang (1597) where veteran actor Choi Min-sik plays the legendary admiral who defeats a Japanese fleet with just 15 warships, has attracted 5 million people in just four days in theaters.
The admiral has always topped the list in polls of the most respected people among Koreans. The unprecedented love for a 16th-century figure suggests a thirst for a leader with insightfulness, charisma and morals. Koreans have been repeatedly disappointed, discouraged and frustrated by irresponsible leaders amid a chain of corruption scandals and major catastrophes such as the Sewol ferry sinking. Koreans are touched by Yi’s unbelievable feat against the Japanese, and long for a similar leader with invincible will, high ethical standards, vision and devotion to the people and country. Because of disillusionment with Korea’s political reality, people are turning to an ancient leader on the silver screen.
“A soldier must be loyal and that loyalty should be toward the people,” he solemnly declared. At the height of a national crisis, he was unwavering in his confidence and stood before the people to reassure them. He was calm, wise and compassionate till the end. He was everything society needs in a leader at any period. He appeals to Korea today, which is in urgent need of direction and a breakthrough to save it from a sense of helplessness and lethargy.
The sensational phenomenon of the epic film about Yi should send a message to the elite class and leadership. Leaders in all areas must reassess the needs of employees and citizens and try to address them.
“Roaring Currents” is a good recipe to connect different generations and classes across the society. The film underscores the need to strengthen Korean history in classrooms. A movie can raise awareness of social needs in our current situation and we can draw lessons from our history and ancestors on how to survive hardships and challenges.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 4, Page 30
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