TV series “Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin” is a classical presentation of the Joseon Kingdom-era military commander who successfully fought off Japanese naval forces with his strong Turtle Ship armada during the Japanese invasion of Korea in the late 16th century.
Based on the two novels, “Immortal” and “Song of Sword,” both of which portray the life of Admiral Yi, this 104-episode period drama aired on KBS for about a year, from September 2004 to August 2005. The historical epic fascinated many viewers with its realistic battle scenes and the heroic acts and words of Admiral Yi, one of Korea’s most revered figures. The famous admiral and his numerous victories against Japanese aggressors have been a popular subject in movies, dramas and documentaries, but the battle scenes described in this drama are so spectacular that they will no doubt be engraved in the minds of people for a long time. It took several months for KBS to complete the special effects for the war scenes and the reproduction of the Turtle Ship, an ironclad warship designed by Admiral Yi. The production costs amounted to 28 million dollars, which means KBS spent 450-thousand dollars for each episode. Many audience members were thrilled to watch the legendary Myungryang Naval Battle where the small Korean fleet with only 13 ships, led by Admiral Yi, destroyed 333 Japanese vessels. The viewers were also deeply impressed by the admiral’s motto, “We will all die if we try to live and we will all live if we try to die.” When he was hit by a bullet at a sea battle, he left his last but immortal words, “The battle is in full swing. Never let the soldiers know my death.”
Admiral Yi was truly a national hero who defeated Japanese invaders when his nation was in a critical crisis. Historical accounts show the Japanese did not win a single battle against him during the entire seven-year war. Apart from his laudable acts, the drama also focuses on his private life, which was far from easygoing, filled with failure and hardship. It describes how he managed to tide over all the plights and how they eventually inspired him. It is said that the original aim of the drama was to show a new model of leadership by illustrating how Admiral Yi dealt with all the difficulties.
The biographical drama of the Joseon admiral enjoyed great popularity with local viewers, triggering nostalgia among the older generation and providing the younger generation with a chance to explore history. The costume drama even beat out trendy soap operas targeting younger audiences. The Korean TV series later aired in foreign countries, like the United States and Japan. Interestingly, American Onrie Kompan created a comic book series “Yi Soon Shin-Warrior and Defender” in 2009. He says he became an enthusiastic fan of Admiral Yi after watching the Korean epic on a local Korean television channel. The first edition of the 12-volume series is on sale in comic book stores in Chicago and the second edition is scheduled for release in April 2010.