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The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure
Image Courtesy of Netflix

Film

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure Treads Familiar Waters

Kim Jeong-hoon’s latest film, The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure, is a sequel mostly in name that squanders great chemistry and potentially exciting character development.

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure Review

More of a spiritual sequel than anything, The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure sets itself up to be a potentially more interesting film than its predecessor – a swashbuckling adventure that quickly veers into tedium. With better chemistry between its two leads and a much more colorful palette at its disposal, Kim Jeong-hoon’s latest film winds up falling into similar pitfalls as the first and devolving into a very familiar race to riches. Luscious visuals and an endearing cast can’t steer this ship away from its set course.

The narrative tissue connecting the first film, simply titled The Pirates, and this one is easy to ignore. After the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, a legend spreads of royal treasure on a ship that didn’t make it to its destination. Joseon pirates find themselves swept up in the chase for the treasure by their leader, Hae-Rang (Han Hyo-Joo), who questions her abilities as a leader when her crew rarely see gold.

Similarly, Woo Moo-Chi (Kang Ha-Neul) leads a bandit clan that ends up tagging along with Hae-Rang and her crew, recognizing her natural ability to lead and forcing Woo Moo-Chi to reevaluate his qualifications. Known as the Greatest Goryeo Swordsman, his claim to fame is still present but his laziness and inability to think rationally frequently put him in perilous situations. Together, Hae-Rang and Woo Moo-Chi have to put aside their differences in order to overcome their insecurities and flaws.

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure
Image Courtesy of Netflix

It’s that dynamic, the two lead actors’ charisma, and a willingness to let characters be forced to confront their inner demons that give The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure a far more interesting angle to come at its film. The first was primarily drawing the line between bandits and pirates as their similarities transcend their differences in what environments they call home. While this takes in some of the humor that the first had with regards to bandits not understanding anything in the ocean (when penguins appear in this film, it’s difficult not to crack a smile and laugh), it’s not the centerpiece of the film like the original. 

Instead, Chun Sung-Il’s screenplay places a heavier emphasis on the character dynamics and exploring those characters. There are reveals that hint at more interesting character arcs though, and that ends up a frustrating experience to watch the film flirt with a character’s history in real-time and take only plot points to restructure the narrative. By doing so, it then turns into pretty much the same film as the last, having multiple groups vying for the same treasure. It’s a solid foundation to build a film upon, but building it into a generic adventure film complete with basic puzzles and an over-reliance on spectacle is disappointing.

What dampens the mood more is that the film takes a detour that ultimately turns into a much more action and comedy-heavy film but without the stakes. A character generally kept to the side until he’s suddenly propelled into the narrative, Mak-Yi (Kwang-Soo Lee) takes the reins of the film quite literally but despite a somber introduction to his past and his importance to the plot, his comedic relief put to the forefront. He’s fantastic and Lee’s emotive, slapstick performance is captivating but takes the wind out of the sails of the rest of the film.

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure
Image Courtesy of Netflix

Had the action scenes themselves stood out more, perhaps The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure would have been far more engaging as its third act essentially revolves entirely around action and comedy, not so much landing its character arcs. All of that work developing a relationship between its two lead characters is put on pause for a flurry of sword-fighting that pales in comparison to earlier setpieces. The mixture of slowing down and speeding up the presentation of an action beat can be enthralling, but for the climax that’s meant to carry far more weight, it’s just more of the same.

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure is a gorgeous-looking film though, and the variety in environments provides some much-needed respite from the generic pirate decor. There is fun to be had in Kim’s latest, but it’s all deflated by the end – pushing itself into trope after trope until the only compelling aspect is the chemistry between Han and Kang’s respective characters. There’s a whole ocean to explore, but The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure still finds itself delving into the same well-worn territory.

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Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

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