20th Udine Far East Film Festival: The Battleship Island Director’s Cut Review

Hashima Island is a small Japanese island, located a mere 15 kilometers off the coast of Nagasaki; it is full of concrete buildings and has a seawall that protects it from the waves. Its shape is the reason for the other name the island is known for: Gunkanjima (Gun-ham-do, 군함도 in Korean) – “Battleship Island”.

The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its contribution in the industrialization of Japan, and yet, there is a dark shadow in the history of the island that has yet to be officially acknowledged by Japan – before and during WWII, several hundred Korean workers were forced into labor in the coal mines of Hashima Island – not only that, the island’s population included comfort women. The story caught the eye of the Korean hit-maker director Ryoo Seung-wan; he took on the ambitious, massive project and co-wrote and directed a film that has caused a fair share of media noise both on Korean and Japanese sides.


The heavily fictionalized story of Ryoo’s The Battleship Island takes us into the time right before the end of WWII, with Korea still under the Japanese Colonial rule. Lee Gang-ok (Hwang Jung-min) is a troublemaker musician, a leader of a music band, who often performs with his talented young daughter Sohee (Kim Su-an). After causing a bit of trouble in Korea, he attempts to travel to Japan, but he, his daughter and his band mistakenly found themselves on a ship that transports forced laborers to Hashima. The father and daughter are mercilessly separated – he is sent to work with the miners, while she is to join the comfort women, despite her young age.

You can read the rest of this review on View of Korean Cinema.

Written by Sanja Struna

The Battleship Island photos © CJ Entertainment

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