Every place in time since the invention of the boat and everywhere there was commerce being moved over water, there have been pirates. That’s something Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski and Disney belated got around to mentioning in their many rum-soaked “Pirates of the Caribbean” comedies.
“The Pirates,” best remembered as a 2014 “Pirates of the Sea of Japan” take on the genre, has produced its own sequel. “The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure” throws bandits in with the pirate queen Hae-rang (Han Hyo-joo) for a lighthearted yet lumbering “romp” around that sea that separates Japan from the Korean peninsula.
These tales are set in the late pre-“Korea” Goryeon dynasty, and there’s quite of a bit of exposition explaining the collapsing kingdom, “traitors” and a “lost treasure” that might allow whoever tracks it down to “claim the throne not with rank, but with power” purchased by hidden royal gold and silver.
Hae-rang and her scurvy crew pick up a fistful of shipwrecked bandits “led” by Wu Mu-chi, a swaggering, cackling blowhard who bills himself as “The greatest swordsman in Goryeo!” When Mu-chi (Kang Ha-neul, pretty damned funny) leaps, spins, slo-mo and fast-motions himself into action, we see that he’s not just talk.
Everybody on that side of the law has heard of the treasure, a treasure map is procured and more clues are wrapped around an elephant’s tusk. But first the bandits have to convince the pirates that they fit in. And secondly, Mu-Chi has to start a comical power struggle with the tough broad with the perfect hair.
“The dragon is master of the sea, but the tiger runs on land!”
“If you say the word ‘TIGER’ in front of me one more time…”
That gets him about as far as you’d guess. But this power struggle, and others, becomes a running gag in the film. Whoever has the best idea about where the treasure might be is worth listening to, and even treating as “captain,” or so it seems.
There’s a power-mad villains (Sang-Woo Kwon) vying for the prize, Japanese pirates to overcome, obstacles both natural (swallowed by a whale, an epic lightning storm) and supernatural, caves and an undersea river reached by whirlpool, cannons and codes and battle junks turned into…junk.
These “Pirates” have a little more sexual tension, even if it is two-fisted and pierced by steel. There’s even a “real” princess (Chae Soo-bin) to set up a “love triangle.”
The fights are great fun, and the action beats — involving terrific stunt wirework — come off. The underwater effects are impressive and the leads are cute in the clenches, or in conflict with each other.
But the plot is convoluted to the point that the picture is almost never not ponderous. There’s a lot more “history” than is probably necessary, and less comedy than was required to make this come off.
Still, it’s kid-friendly and martial arts-happy and almost on a par with the least of the Depp “Pirates” pictures. Worth a look if you’re interested what “Yo ho ho” sounds like in Korean (or dubbed into English).
Rating: TV-14, bloody swordplay, combat-killed corpses
Cast: Han Hyoo-Joo, Kang Ha-neul, Kwon Sang-woo, Chae Soo-bin, Se-hun, Kim Sung-oh
Credits: Directed by Kim Jeonghun, scripted by Cheon Seong-il. A Lotte Entertainment movie on Netflix.
Running time: 2:07