Movie Review: “The Pirates” Is A Swashbuckling Good Time


Review by James McDonald

A band of pirates and a group of bandits fight to catch a gray whale that has swallowed a royal stamp.

“The Pirates” is much better than it has any right to be. It infuses action and adventure along with some elements of slapstick that for a film of this distinction, typically shouldn’t work and can culminate in a very uneasy balance, turning the entire movie into satire but thankfully director Lee Seok-hoon knows when to pare down the visual sight gags and concentrate on what’s most important at any given time. Set in the year 1388 on the island of Wihwa, the Royal seal is on its way from the Emperor to the newly founded country of Joseon, who without the seal, cannot carry out any imperial duties.

While the seal is being transported by ship, a huge whale attacks the vessel, consuming the seal in the process. When word gets back to the king, he gives his men five days to track down and retrieve the seal. Along the way, a group of misfit bandits get entangled in the mission along with a gang of pirates, all wanting to try and track down the elusive whale so they can partake in its glorious riches. The movie has some impressive set pieces, including a scene reminiscent of the finale in Steven Spielberg’s debacle of a movie, “1941”. I doubt this movie would ever have been made, given the track record of previous pirate movies such as “Cutthroat Island” and “Hook” but thanks to Johnny Depp, that all changed.

The leader of the pirates, So-ma (Lee Kyeong-yeong), is a cruel and heartless man that offers some of his men up in exchange for some gold but he is challenged by the beautiful and heroic Yeo-wol (Son Ye-jin), his second-in-command, a woman who, unlike him, strongly believes in the power of trust and brotherhood. After seemingly defeating him in combat, she crosses paths with Mo Hong-gab (Kim Tae-woo), the bandit leader, and we can see immediately that, in spite of all the action and turbulence going on around them, true love can’t be far away.

As they try to reach the whale before the Royal Fleet does, they encounter a face from Yeo-wol’s past who was long thought dead. “The Pirates” is two hours of terrific action and escapades and should bring a smile to even the most hardened swashbucklers.

In select theaters now

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James McDonald
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