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January 20, 2015

The Pirates

the-pirates korean poster.jpg

Haejeok: Badaro Gan Sanjeok
Lee Seok-hoon - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Without apology, I happen to like pirate movies, a once viable genre that eventually disappeared about fifty years ago. Even better are movies with female pirates, not that there are there are more than a handful, with one of my favorites being Jacques Tourneur's Anne of the Indies. While pirate captain Yeo-wo shares the narrative with other characters, Son Ye-jin's action set pieces set her apart from past actresses who at most swung from the ropes, and briefly waved swords.

Some of the finer historical points may be lost, but the film takes place in 1388 during the foundation of the Joseon dynasty. A royal seal from China is lost at sea, swallowed by a whale. Several rival groups are after the whale. Among those in search of the whale, are Yeo-wo's former captain, Soma, renouncing his piracy for amnesty with the new government, a mountain bandit names Crazy Tiger who is totally ignorant of sailing or sea life, as well as Yeo-wo, who has a past link with the whale. One of the better visual gags is of Crazy Tiger's boat speeding across the ocean, pulled by the unseen shark, observed by Soma who was assured that he had the fastest seafaring vessel.

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In ways both expected and unexpected, Lee Seok-hoon has been inspired by Steven Spielberg. The story, stripped down, of course recalls Moby Dick, but also there is a bit of that most famous redo, Jaws, especially when the mountain bandits encounter a shark for the first time, sailing in a very small boat. More elaborate is a scene that takes the runaway ferris wheel from 1941 and amplifies it, with a giant, runaway wheel destroying a village, while at the same time, Yeo-wo flees pursuing soldiers by hurtling down and elaborate course of water slides. While going down the slide Yeo-wo breaks apart portions behind her, contributing to the scene of massive, comic destruction. Lee also recalls other films, with Yeo-wo and Crazy Tiger shackled together and on the run as in The 39 Steps, and a scene with the two comparing scars was certainly inspired by Lethal Weapon 3.

Maybe it was because her role was the most physically demanding, but Son Ye-jin won as Best Actress for the most recent Grand Bell awards, South Korea's equivalent to the Oscars. Winning Best Supporting Actor was Yu He-jin in a mostly comic performance as a seasick pirate who takes off for land, joining Crazy Tiger's gang where he is constantly promoted or demoted, depending on the whims of his boss.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 20, 2015 07:20 AM