By Gary Murray

Starring SON Ye-lin and KIM Nam-gif

Directed by LEE Seok-hoon

Running time 129 min

Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE


First off, The Pirates is not the animated adventure from 2012 or is it the adult feature from 2006.  This is a new Korean tale that is getting a very limited release.  It is also one of the few films of the year that should not be missed on the big screen.

The gigantic story takes place in the late 1300s, in an era of pirates on the Far East Seas.  It is the founding of the Joseon Dynasty and the ruler is establishing his empire.  He has do deal with both pirates and bandits who rob the land and seas. 

As the film opens Yeo-wol (SON Ye-lin) is the chief of a pirate ship.  During an opening battle, we see what a swashbuckling leader she can be.  Her crew is fed up with the captain keeping all the spoils and there is a mutiny.  In an act of compassion, she lets her former captain Soma live and Yeo-wol become captain of a fast pirate vessel.

On the land, there is group of bandits led by JANG Sa-jung (KIM Nam-gil) also known as Crazy Tiger.  He is a robber in the ilk of Robin Hood.  With his merry men, they are inept bandits more for comic relief as scoundrel characters.  But, there is a bounty on his head. They have never been on the sea and have no idea the dangers lurking in the murky depths. 

In settling the new colony, the leader sends the royal seal and a bunch of gold. It is lost, swallowed by a whale.  Knowing the wrath of losing such valuable government items, the men lie and say it was taken by Yeo-wol.  There is now a bounty on her head. 

Everyone knows that the real location of the seal is in the belly of a beast and a mad scramble starts between both pirates and bandits to capture the whale and get the seal.  Yeo-wol has a special connection with the whale.  The film is of how these different groups all go after the whale, some trying to protect it and some trying to kill it.

But to be honest, the plot is secondary to the action in The Pirates.  This film is a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure that should thrill action junkies and thrill seekers.  Right in the middle of the flick is a giant action piece very reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean series with the giant water wheel in a market place.  This time out there is an added element of an aqueduct that is basically a giant water slide.  It becomes a focal point of both comedy and action as our pirates and bandits try to out maneuver a giant spinning wheel destroying everything in its path. 

The film is full of pirates swinging from ship to ship, swords flaying and cannons bursting.  In another scene, the bandits now on the high seas; are trying to catch a whale and accidentally spear a great white shark.  They are dragged around the water in a manner of Jaws.  The scene where they see a real whale is priceless.

There is the axiom that states if you steal from one, you are a thief but if you steal from everyone, you are a genius.  That would make director LEE Seok-hoon a genius.  There are elements from half a dozen different films in one scene, mashing together diverse elements.  Some scenes feel as if they are out of The Grand Master or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon while others elements come from a Jackie Chan flick. 

Our two leads SON Ye-lin and KIM Nam-gil work perfectly as individuals and as a couple.  Anyone who has seen this type of flick knows exactly where they two will end up but it is still fun watching the thrusts and parries of their courtship.  He is a charming, smiling rogue and she is a tough taskmaster with a kind heart. 

This is a film that needs to be seen on a big theater screen.  Watching it on DVD does not do it justice.  Since it is very limited release, one will have to do a little bit of work to find this film but it is definitely work the effort.  One will regret not seeing this one without state of the art projection.

For those looking for a very old-fashioned swash-buckling adventure, this The Pirates does not disappoint.  The film is of revenge and honor, comedy and thrills.  Simply put, The Pirates is my favorite foreign language film of the year so far. 

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