Every once in a while, you want to watch a silly movie. When I say that there are some films that are silly, I’m talking about films that might have humor, but they might also have a million other little elements that make for a somewhat jarring (although not always unpleasantly so!) watch. The recently-released Korean film “Pirates: the Last Royal Treasure” fits right into that category. There’s action, adventure and comedy, and while the film absolutely doesn’t take itself seriously, there are just so many little things that make this film a whiplash of a watch. That said though, it’s fun, and if you want to watch a pirate movie that’s not too complicated but hits on all the ridiculous tropes of this kind of film, then ‘Pirates’ might be at least somewhat worth the two hours.
This story mostly follows Woo Moo Chi (Kang Ha Neul), self-proclaimed leader of a group of bandits, as well as the last swordsman of the now-fallen Goryeo dynasty. The movie opens with his bandits and himself floating alone at sea, nearly at the brink of death when the pirate captain Hae Rang (Han Hyo Joo) and her crew save them. For three months, these bandits and pirates have been living on the same ship, and just when they’re about to officially get at each other’s throats, they’re set off on a voyage to seek out long-lost treasure. But of course, they’re not alone in this search. Also looking for the treasure is none other than Woo Moo Chi’s old nemesis, Bu Heung Soo (Kwang Sang Woo) who, like Moo Chi, had served in the Goryeo military.
And so the adventure starts, filled with cinematic sword fights, a classic whirlpool in the middle of the sea and, at the climax of the movie, an epic showdown on the top of a lightning-stricken mountain. At the very least, “Pirates” knows exactly what counts as a good setting for action, and these specific scenes are all absolutely compelling. This is in part because the two main leads Moo Chi and Hae Rang are charismatic, stealing every single scene they’re in. Moo Chi is full of swagger yet skill, and it’s easy to see why he was such an excellent swordsman back when he was in the Goryeo military. He’s an easily likable character, brandishing the shortest of knives with the cockiest of smiles and yet also making the silliest of mistakes (that still somehow come across as weirdly charming). Hae Rang, while not as quick to cheer as Moo Chi, is also a powerhouse of a lead. In my opinion, she even outshines Moo Chi—her confident gait and stare is enough to make even a scoundrel like Moo Chi shrink a little bit. My personal favorite scene is when she goes toe-to-toe with him on the ship, the two of them going so far as to stand at the top of the sails. It’s unsurprising that Moo Chi falls in love with her—if Hae Rang were pointing at me with her sword and wicked grin, I too would have probably lost myself a little.
But outside of the interesting action scenes and the power of both leads, “Pirates” is still only somewhat okay, especially towards the second half. While the first half of the film had me giggling over the antics of the pirate crew and the bandits, the second half took on a more confused direction, in part because there were just so many things happening at the same time. For example, towards the climax of the film, we had Moo Chi battling Bu Heung Soo on top of a mountain (which is in itself an insanely dynamic scene), and then a second later, we’re switching over to Hae Rang and her crew’s epic showdown against Bu Heung Soo’s men, but then a second after that, we’re switching over to whatever the heck Hae Rang’s crewmate Mak Yi (Lee Kwang Soo) is doing with…penguins? On an abandoned ship? That scene’s funny, but it’s such a different tone from the insane action from Hae Rang and Moo Chi that I found the transition more distracting than anything else. This isn’t even a linear transition either—we’re going back and forth between all three big moments in the movie, and what could have actually made for a simultaneously exciting and comedic moment instead stretched out each scene well past its impact. Because of those scenes, I feel the movie could have been at least thirty or forty minutes shorter.
Ultimately, this film is a mixed one for a viewer like myself. A solid start, some genuinely solid actors and some interesting action scenes, but all of that felt a bit tainted from the confusing second half. But if you’re not totally deterred by that, “Pirates: the Last Royal Treasure” has its fun moments, and if you’re very severely craving some goofy pirate fun, then this film might do in a pinch.