After becoming the first domestic film of 2022 to draw one million viewers in South Korea, The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure was released to generally favorable reviews on Netflix worldwide earlier this month. Get your sea legs ready for our quick look at this action-packed high seas adventure comedy film starring Kang Ha-neul and Han Hyo-joo.
It’s the 14th century and the Kingdom of Goryeo has fallen. After rescuing the self-proclaimed "best swordsman of Goryeo" Woo Mu-chi (Kang Ha-neul) and his crew of shipwrecked bandits, a pirate ship led by Captain Hae-rang (Han Hyo-joo) captures a map from Japanese treasure hunters. The first in a series of clues, the map sends the chaotic crew on a quest where they must battle the elements, deadly booby traps, and a ruthless nemesis (Kwon Sang-woo) for the stolen royal treasure hidden at sea by the head of Goryeo’s royal army. That is, if they don't kill each other first!
Like the 2014 Son Ye-jin and Kim Nam-gil blockbuster The Pirates, the first installment in what now looks to be a lucrative adventure film franchise, The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure follows a fairly straightforward format: a female-led pirate ship takes on a charming male bandit and goes up against a formidable foe in a high-seas race to valuable treasure.
Both films succeed at turning a simple premise into two hours of swashbuckling entertainment, and this second installment benefits greatly from the tremendous leaps in computer graphics made in the last seven years. Like last year's movie Space Sweepers, South Korea's first space opera, The Pirates: Last Royal Treasure features outstanding visual effects at par with Hollywood's, and memories of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise are inevitable. Just let them.
But of course, special effects alone do not a good movie make, and The Pirates 2 is carried along nicely by a fast-paced script and a large, stellar ensemble composed of the charming Kang Ha-neul and Han Hyo-joo, funny man Lee Kwang-soo, and many of Chungmuro's (Korea's version of Hollywood) most dependable character actors. Majority of the action is carried out by the combined crew of Mu-chi and Hae-rang, and the constant power struggles and betrayals alone make for some good comedy. Expect the usual slapstick comedy and bickering, made a bit more fun with bad perms, off-kilter musical score choices (orchestra before 80s-flavored synth-rock, then back again), and a whole cast of animals out of their habitat. There's penguins in the Pacific, because why not?
Unlike the first Pirates, which involved retrieving the bounty from the belly of a whale, this update involved an actual treasure hunt on a mysterious island, adding more levels of adventure and excitement. It would've been a fun watch with the family on the big screen, but even as a small-screen Netflix release, The Pirates 2 still pulls off a rather decent job for anyone who just wants two hours of high-seas shenanigans and silliness. The Pirates is campy, possibly forgettable, and really nothing deep (yes, sea pun intended). However, if that's exactly what you and the kids are looking for, then The Pirates 2 may just be the X-marked spot.
STREAM: If you want 130 minutes of pure, high seas entertainment.
SKIP: If you're in the mood for something serious.