A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Pirates is a 2014 Korean film filled with martial-arts and medieval violence, as well as epic storytelling and slapstick comedy. The battle violence is unrelenting: Warriors are killed with swords to the throat, and pirates are shot in the head point-blank with crossbows. A female pirate is chained at the wrist to a male bandit, and though the bandit pretends to be asleep, he pulls the pirate's hand toward his crotch. Feeling herself in the vicinity of his presumed erection, she says, "You're not sleeping, are you?" There is profanity, including "bitch" and "s--t." Overall, the incredible detail in the choreography of these fights makes this an unforgettable martial-arts contemporary classic. However, with all the violence coupled with the English subtitles over the Korean dialogue, it's a movie best enjoyed by teens and older.
What's the story?
As the Joeson Dynasty is about to begin, a whale attacks a ship carrying the Emperor's seal of state. When he learns of the reward for the royal seal, a mountain bandit who goes by Crazy Tiger -- changing his name after trying to stop the evil plot that led to the founding of the Joeson Dynasty -- decides to take his ragtag gang to the high seas in pursuit of it, despite having no experience with ships and not knowing a single thing about whales and how to catch them. Also engaged in the hunt are a group of pirates led by Yeo-Woi (Son Yei-Jin), blackmailed into the search by the Imperial warlords who threaten to massacre the villages of their friends and families if they don't find the seal. The pursuit is on, with even a third ship in the hunt, and along the way the fearless pirates and bumbling bandits must find a way to work together not only to find the royal seal but also to overthrow the evil dynasty that has just come to power.
Is it any good?
The Pirates has all the makings of a contemporary martial-arts classic. The epic story, mammoth battle scenes, and detailed martial-arts fights all are tempered with a silly slapstick humor, manifested in particular by the incompetent bandits who are in pursuit of a whale even though they have no idea of the size of a whale (to say nothing of knowing how to capture one) and don't even know how to sail a ship. The story can be a bit difficult to follow at times, especially for those who don't like English subtitles, but the central story and the reasons for all those battles is easy enough to comprehend.
These stylized action scenes are so bombastic (in a good way), it's hard not to be completely enthralled by the detail in the execution, especially for those who love martial-arts movies. It's a fun and engrossing epic -- with some hints of Pirates of the Caribbean -- that is two hours and 10 minutes but certainly doesn't feel that long.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many genres of this film. How were elements of martial-arts battles, medieval epics, and slapstick comedy applied in this movie?
In terms of style, dialogue, culture, and humor, how do you think this movie would have been different had it been made in the United States or in another non-Asian country?
How did the stylized violence of the fight and action scenes dictate the style of the movie as a whole?
- In theaters: August 27, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2015
- Cast: Son Ye-Jin, Oh Dai-Su, Choi Jin-Ri
- Director: Lee Suk-Hoon
- Studio: Well Go USA
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Sports and Martial Arts, Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs, Ocean Creatures
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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