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1 review, 1 rating



Pirates, The (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"A thoroughly entertaining Korean swashbuckler."
4 stars

That they can be given names as generic as "Pirates of the Caribbean" or, in this case, just "The Pirates", without fear of confusion means just one thing: There are not enough pirate movies being made these days. This one is occasionally on the silly side, but it's packed full of quality swashbuckling, and not nearly enough trips to the theater deliver that.

It starts in 1388, introducing us to Jang Sa-jung (Kim Nam-gil), who decides he would rather be a bandit than a rebel soldier as his leader Yi Song-gye seems to have more concern for himself than the people, though he must fight his way through captain Mo Hong-gab (Kim Tae-woo) to desert. At sea, Yeo-wol (Son Ye-jin) may be the only woman in a pirate crew, but she's first mate and clearly the most capable, even if she's not nearly so cold-blooded as captain Soma (Lee Kyoung-young). Three years later, Yi has become king, but a royal seal from the Ming Emperor meant to legitimize his rule is lost at sea, swallowed by a whale. Yeo-wol has no taste for hunting such a creature, but she is backed into it, and soon finds Jang to be competing with her.

As inciting incidents go, anything that includes the phrase "swallowed by a whale" is pretty unlikely, but the neat thing about such improbability is that it gives writer Cheon Seong-il and director Lee Suk-hoon the opportunity to play things both straight and comedically without a lot of the tonal whiplash that can come when movies try to do both. The filmmakers are certainly able to present the villains as real threats, but there are extended periods of outright slapstick comedy - watch mountain bandits who don't know what a whale is get in a boat to catch one! - and the two are able to intersect without one undercutting the other much better than is often the case.

That's even true with the action, which throws the audience into some fine swordfighting right off the bat but also has a few moments where it winks at the audience at how tricky (and unlikely) some of those swinging bits of a swashbuckling film can be to set up. It's a bit unusual in that many of its best pieces come relatively early - the climactic battle has a little too much going on, shot close-up with the sea composited in - but some of those fights are very well done, especially since it can be hard to portray someone like Yeo-wol being able to hold her own with the likes of Soma considering the difference in brute strength. There's also a roller-coaster-style chase with Crazy Tiger and Yeo-wol in the middle that probably has one too many visual effects elements thrown in but should bring smiles anyway - It's not just a big, elaborate sequence with runaway wagons, rooftop pursuit, and an improbably long elevated sluiceway, but it's also the sort of thing which anybody who has watched enough movies recognizes as foreplay.

As much as it's about having the two leads thrown together while getting on each other's nerves, they're also worth watching individually. Son Ye-jin first appears on-screen with a drawn sword and kicking butt, and never really stops, the film's best action hero by a good margin. She never seems to be overcompensating as just one of two women in the crew, though; if she's gruff, that just seems to be who Yeo-wol is, and it lets her be surprisingly kind in other ways without seeming a pushover. Kim Nam-gil often plays Crazy Tiger more comedically, and does fairly well by it - for all that he's sometimes stumbling through situations, he's still got the sort of charisma that lets the audience buy the character as a leader and not just a total pest to Yeo-wol when he sets his sights on her. They're a fun pairing both as a team and as adversaries, though Lee Kyoung-young and Kim Tae-woo serve well as the latter when the threat needs to be more serious. Yu Hae-jin is around to serve as comic relief whether as a seasick pirate or a bandit trying to make sailors out of the rest of the Crazy Tiger gang.

Despite a couple of moments where the effects could be better, those moments are outliers: The Pirates is actually a very nice-looking movie, with good effects work for the whales, among other things, and while the ships are often steady enough to have probably been shot on soundstages rather than on the sea, they work on-screen and allow for some neat action scenes. Costumes, props, and the like never look cheap, and while the score sometimes feels a little too twenty-first century for the action, it certainly helps move things along and add to the excitement.

It's a shame that its American theatrical release is so small, because while not perfect, "The Pirates" is a big-screen adventure movie that can compete in polish and sheer fun with a lot of what Hollywood puts out. It will be fun on video, for sure - this kind of movie is a blast to watch any time - but oceans, whales, and ships deserve the biggest canvas they can get.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27875&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/14/14 10:34:36
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User Comments

1/11/15 Kevin Recommended for anyone looking for a lighthearted action comedy. 4 stars
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USA
  12-Sep-2014

UK
  N/A

Australia
  12-Sep-2014


Directed by
  Seok-hoon Lee

Written by
  Seong-il Cheon

Cast
  Nam-gil Kim
  Ye-jin Son
  Hae-jin Yoo
  Kyeong-yeong Lee
  Tae-woo Kim
  Cheol-min Park



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