Netflix is going through a rough patch at the moment. It’s clamping down on password sharing, upping its prices, and seemingly slashing popular shows all over the place (give us another season of Cowboy Bebop you cowards). Yet, for all its faults, Netflix is still the place to go to catch the latest Korean imports.
Filling out the ‘big adventure’ genre quite nicely is Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure, which zoomed into the number 1 spot in the box office upon release and, at the time of writing, is the South Korean highest-grossing film of 2022.
It’s easy to see why. The movie might as well have a massive SWASHBUCKLE label branded across its sea beaten face.
As to what is going on? Well, gaggles of pirates seek some long lost treasure and fight each other along the way. But you aren’t watching for that, because Pirates is stuffed to the gills with charismatic and larger than life characters who imbue each scene with more sparkle than a lingering sunset igniting an oceanic horizon.
Woo Moo-chi (Kang Ha-neul) is the leader of a bunch of bandits and self-proclaimed ‘master swordsman’. Shame then, that he has led his ragtag bunch to near death due to a series of inept decisions.
Salvation comes from Hae-rang (Han Hyo-joo), Captain of a pirate ship stuffed with (mostly) loyal crew and on the search for treasure. She reluctantly teams up with Moo-chi in search of the lost royal gold, alternatively helped and hampered by her ambitious first mate, Mak-yi (Lee Kwang-soo).
Various other faces get screen time but to be honest it's these core three who make Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure so enjoyable. Obviously, there are other forces hunting for the treasure, but when your antagonist is generic bad guy and your leads are brimming with personality then it’s not hard to identify the film’s appeal.
Ha-neul and Hyo-joo both light up the screen, with the latter delivering a performance that is in equal turns action-packed, comedic, striking, and show stealing. She has so much presence that ‘pirate queen’ seems like perfect casting.
Is Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure Worth Watching?
The obvious comparison to make is Pirates of the Caribbean and it’s a fair one. That Pirates manages to reach such a high watermark of adventure, excitement, and really wild things is a testament to the production values.
Large creaking boats slice through the waves, firing cannon shot at each other, whilst cutlass clasping pirates battle it out on the decks.
The finale is just gorgeous to watch, with lightning arcs illuminating (and being an active participant in) climactic fights to the death. Pirates brings the style in spades.
As I mentioned, the plot is somewhat besides the point. This does have the effect that chunks of the movie can feel like comedy ‘bits’ that are filling space.
Sure, the actors deliver the goods each time, but these scenes could have been better served developing a richer villain (such as Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa). As such Pirates misses out sailing into that perfect eye of the storm sweet spot where every aspect is perfectly balanced.
Regardless, Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure is a tsunami of swashbuckling fun. The oceanic battles have the kind of heft that comes from great set design and cinematography, whilst landfall also brings intrigue and action.
The movie has laugh out loud moments a plenty, cool as heck action sequences, and a dash of the fantastical to nail it all together. If you want some wind in your sails of an evening, then light the fuse on this movie.
Words by Mike Record