The film begins with high-level military leaders from both sides discussing the surrender of a North Korean 50 MT nuclear warhead in a secret underground development bunker near the DMZ. The warhead was secretly jointly-designed, but international pressure has forced North (and South) Korea to hand over the device and close the facility. North Korean officer Major Kang, displeased with the conciliation of the Koreas, rebels and steals the warhead along with several of his loyal soldiers, even killing some North Korean guards in the process. Due to the top-secret nature of the meeting, the leaders of both sides cannot request reinforcements to apprehend the officer, and instead dispatch a South Korean special forces platoon that was present at the meeting.
The platoon intercepts the rebellious Kang and his squad by boat and begin a firefight in the dead of night. However, in the middle of the conflict a comet travels dangerously close to Earth - and this causes a "time rift" linking the present with other points in the comet's 433-year cycle of close approaches to the Earth. Three modern Korean men from each side (and one woman scientist, Dr. Kim, kidnapped along with the warhead) unintentionally and to their surprise find themselves time traveling back from 2005 to 1572.
The soldiers wind up in the middle of a skirmish between Joseon-era Koreans and Jurchen invaders. After some confusion, a grenade blast routs the Jurchens, and the soldiers immediately wind up with the nickname Heavenly Soldiers.
While in 1572, they also meet with a regional foreigner who turns out to be none other than the young version of Yi Sun-sin, the legendary admiral who later becomes instrumental in the defeat of the Japanese invasion some 20 years later. However, this "General" Yi acts like nothing like either of the modern Korean histories illustrate him to be: he is a petty thief with no skill in archery or any sense of military bearing. With nothing better to do other than try to fix history, the modern Koreans attempt to train Yi in the military skills he was so known for.
Yi is highly resistant to the modern Koreans' attempt to change his lowly lifestyle until he ends up captured by the Jurchens, who were aware of his association with the "Heavenly Soldiers". He is saved by the North Korean element, who simultaneously find the nuclear warhead that they originally lost. The Jurchens, incensed by the loss of Yi and a son of one of their high-ranking leaders, initiate movement into the local Korean village to violently root out the modern Koreans.
With the warhead back in modern possession, and the timing and location of the comet's overhead passing accurately calculated by Dr. Kim, the Heavenly Soldiers prepare to leave the past as it currently stands. Yi returns to the modern Koreans with the village elders, who plead with the Heavenly Soldiers to help them save their lives, and the modern Koreans relent. The two majors debate over the strategy that would work best for the villagers, and Yi, beginning to find his legendary tactical competence, successfully argues for a combination of ambushes and a last stand.
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