Director: Lee Seok-hoon
Starring: Son Ye-jin, Kim Nam-gil, Yoo Hae-jin, Kim Won-hae, Park Chul-min, Oh Dal-su, Jo Dal-hwan
After rebelling against his treasonous commander, soldier Jang Sa-jung (Kim Nam-gil) has adopted the lifestyle of a bandit and goes under the name ‘Crazy Tiger.’ At the same time, female pirate Yeo-wol (Son Ye-jin) assumes command of a group of hugely successful seafaring pirates after their former captain attempts to sell out members of the crew. Both will come into contact when a royal envoy from the Ming emperor is attacked by a massive whale which swallows the Royal Seal sent for the founding of Joseon Dynasty. With the promise of riches and the dark machinations of the government and military at play, it’s a madcap race for these thieves to capture the whale and obtain the Royal Seal.
An actioner with more than a little in common with Disney’s own famous series of pirate films, The Pirates offers the typical Korean cinema mix of genres and a heavy dose of comedy to go along with all the over the top swashbuckling. Kim Nam-gil handles his action quite well with stylish moves and fares equally as well with his broader style comedic bits. He suffers from quite the baby face however and never feels like the former soldier of his character’s history. Son Ye-jin is as lovely as ever; her character is just the right mix of honor and female badassery. Her character feels comparable to Shu Qi’s turn in Journey to the West actually, minus the goofiness and lovelorn sentimentality. Her action scenes are very good and she perhaps handles the brunt of the film on her shoulders. The supporting cast is rounded out but a group of familiar faces; the enjoyable Yoo Hae-jin and scenery chewers Kim Tae-woo and Lee Geung-young standing out the most.
Production is fairly high; it’s among the better looking films to come out of Korean in a while and though it does lag behind the biggest Hollywood films, it is noticeably better that a number of productions I’ve seen recently. The aforementioned action varies with wirey swordplay mixed in with acrobatic rope swinging and varied weapon use. It’s an entertaining mix to be sure, but never really does anything to make you go ‘WOW.’ The comedy itself is generally spot on and I found myself enjoying those bits more than expected once the film’s tone was established early on. In particular the rivalry between Yeo-wol’s pirates and Jang’s land bandits reminded me quite a bit of the Navy/Police sentimentalities in another pirate-centric film, Jackie Chan’s Project A. While it never gets to straight out brawling, minus a funny little prison kerfuffle, it’s a joke that works and carries longevity.
Overall, The Pirates is a deftly entertaining, albeit over long piece of popular cinema. Crowd pleasing in spades, this is a film made for Korean tastes but with Hollywood aspirations. While I can’t imagine the film easily maintaining crossover appeal, genre fans will have lots to like and take in.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: The Legend of Shadowless Sword, The Huntresses, and/or The Pirates of the Caribbean films
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!