“The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure,” connected (better not say prequel or sequel) to the 2014 Korean film The Pirates, is a well-executed pirate movie that has all the necessary elements of entertainment. In movies like these, there is nothing particular that one can really complain about or think about because there is nothing more than meets the eye. Such a movie offers raw entertainment in the form of sword fights, huge ships firing cannons at one another, pirate farces, and last but not least, the clear presence of nature. And “The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure” is another outcome of all these put together. However, what makes it worth watching is how it makes use of historical events to relate to 2014’s “The Pirates.”
‘The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure’ Plot Summary
Set in the late 14th century, which was the dawn of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, we have a female captain of pirates, Hae-Rang, who finds a treasure map that will lead her and her crew to a bounty of imperial gold that was stolen from the royal palace but lost at sea. On this ship, there is also a group of bandits, led by Wu Mu-Chi. That is why there is a palpable uneasiness in their alliance. However, unknown to them, Bu Heung-Su, a former officer of the Emperor’s army, is also after the treasure which he has promised to bring to King Yi Bang Won (5th son of Yi Seong-Gye). With the riches, King Yi Bang Yon shall claim the throne of Joseon (Yi’s half-brother Yi Bang-Seok, the 8th son of Yi Seong-Gye, was made the crown prince by his father, something which Yi believed he was destined for), and in return, he wants to be the King of Tamna. What follows is the search for the treasure with Hae-Rang and Wu Mu-Chi on one side and Bu Heung-Su on the other.
The Connection With ‘The Pirates’ (2014)
While it is not necessary to watch “Pirates” (2014) to understand “The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure” (2022), the movies are connected by a single event, i.e., The Wihwado Retreat. Not knowing it will not affect your liking it or disliking it. But for those who are willing to understand it better, here is the factual backstory of the Wihwado Retreat.
During the rise of the Ming dynasty, the royal court of the reigning Goryeo dynasty (of present Korea) split into two competing factions. One faction was led by General Yi Seong-gye (who supported the Ming dynasty), and the other one was headed by his rival, General Choe (who supported the Yuan dynasty). In 1388, when a Ming messenger came to the Goryeo court to demand the return of a portion of its northern territory, General Choe made use of the anti-Ming sentiments to invade the Liaodong peninsula (belonging to the Ming dynasty) as a sign of retaliation.
King U, the ruler of Goryeo, thus ordered General Yi Seong-gye to attack the new Ming dynasty despite the general’s disagreement. Upon arriving with his troops at Wihwado island, Yi found himself outnumbered by the Ming’s army. However, his support from the Ming officials (since he supported the Ming dynasty) made him take a decision that would forever change the course of Korean history. He decided to revolt against Goryeo and take control of the government. He attacked General Choe Young’s army, which was defeated. And thus, Goryeo fell. (This is when the Goryeo generals, including General Joo Bang, realized the threat to the Imperial treasure and took it and hid it in the sea as shown in the beginning of The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure).
Here is the timeline that connects the two movies to make it easier:
- Beginning of “The Pirates” (2014) – General Yi Seong-gye mentions that his army will turn back and attack general Choe Yeong and overthrow Goryeo in 1388.
- Beginning of “The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure” (2022) – General Yi Seong-gye turns his army around in Wihwado (The Wihwado Retreat), where the Goryeo generals steal the Imperial treasures and flee to the sea in 1388.
- End of The Pirates (2014) – Yi Seong-Gye established Joseon in 1392.
- End of The Pirates: The Last Royal: Wu Mu-Chi mentions that Goryeo has been rebuilt as Joseon.
- End of The Pirates (2014) – Yi Seong-Gye received the Royal Seal from Ming in 1403.
There is another connection other than the ones mentioned above. At the beginning of the film, Wu Mu-Chi mentions that the spoon he was wearing was made from the Samcheok tree. The wood from this tree is being used to make pillars for the new palace of Gyeongbokgung.
At this point, one of his crew members mentions that it is the one that King Yi Seong-Gye is building at Hanyang before declaring it as the new capital of Joseon. In The Pirates (2014), Yi Seong-Gye ordered his men to recover the Royal Seal from a whale’s stomach, only after which he would shift the capital. This point, as well as Wu Mu-Chi’s mention of the Gyeongbokgung palace, is proof that King Yi Seong-Gye has decided to finally shift the capital and has begun preparations, something that he had mentioned doing in “The Pirates” (2014).
The Rivalry of Wu Mu-Chi & Bu Heung-Su
The first time Wu Mu-Chi and Bu Heung-Su meet (when their swords clash), they recognize each other clearly. And we are taken back to a time when both were warriors, probably in His Majesty Yi Seong-Gye’s army. After a battle with the army of Tamna’s enemy general, Yi Seong-Gye, ordered the evacuation of the wounded and the setting up of camp. Bu Heung-Su went against the order by killing his own men who were wounded because Yi Seong-Gye promised to make him the new king of Tamna once Bu Heung-Su brought him the head of the enemy general. His mere restlessness to become a king took over his conscience and turned him into a treacherous murderer. Wu Mu-Chi got him arrested for his treachery, and this gave birth to a life-long enmity between the two.
It is not made clear as to what happened to Wu Mu-Chi that turned him into a bandit. It may be that he lost his faith in his king, which is evident right at the beginning of the movie when he says that “his vision” (the king’s foresight) never included what was right in front of his eyes. That he has given up his warrior self as a result of his king’s materialistic choices is also evident when he poses the question of whether trees form the pillars of a thousand-year dynasty or the people whom the king is bound to serve. Be that as it may, he still has bravery in him.
As for Bu Heung-Su, he retained his hunger for power and kingship. This is the reason why he offered King Yi Bang Won (son of Yi Seong-Gye) the treasure and his “deserving” throne of Joseon. All Bu wanted in return was to become the king of Tamna, the very place whose king he was bound to be, had not Wu Mu-Chi had him arrested.
Their conversation during the fight also shows them taking a dig at each other. Bu Heung-Su asks Wu Mu-Chi, “Will you steal what is mine..?” By this, he not only points at the Imperial treasure but also reminds Wu Mu-Chi of how he stole Bu Heung-Su his throne (his real treasure). In reply, Wu Mu-Chi nods that he will so long as Bu Heung-Su yearns to possess that which is out of his reach i.e., the throne of Tamna. For him, Bu Heung-Su is a murderer and can never become a king.
At the end of a long fight, Bu Heung-Su dies. Wu Mu-Chi is miraculously alive despite having a sword plunged through his chest (blame the creators for this completely). And there’s not even any wound at the spot when we see him, later on, yelling a cry of success along with his peers. In any case, they ultimately get their hands on the imperial treasure.
Hae-Rang and Wu Mu-Chi- An Incomplete Romance
The reason we say that it is an incomplete romance is that Hae-Rang’s past is not explored at all. She is just shown as a pirate and as a caricature of a beautiful woman who helps the hero regain his former self. Hae-Rang was just a bandit when he was rescued by Hae-Rang. But in the course of the events that follow, we see him develop feelings for her as well as regain his warrior spirit.
Hae-Rang is given no scope for development despite being one of the main characters in the film. As for the romance, there is no emotional connection other than some cliché romantic moments that are very common in pirate movies. By making Hae-Rang the captain of a pirate ship without being able to give her a proper arc, the creators only present a pseudo-feministic outlook that doesn’t hold back from showing off.
‘The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure’ Ending Explained: What’s Next for the Pirates?
At the end of the movie, Wu Mu-Chi, and Hae-Rang, along with their crew, claim the Imperial treasure. Goryeo is now Joseon under the reign of Yi Seong-Gye. So they are free to settle wherever they want. From the looks of it, if there is another Pirates movie, it can include another event from Korean history, one that follows Joseon’s establishment.
For example, the Gihae Expedition, also known as the Conquest of Tsushima, occurred in 1419. The event fits the arc of the Pirates franchise since it involved Joseon’s invasion of Japanese pirate bases on Tsushima island.
“The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure” is a 2022 South Korean pirate adventure film directed by Jeong-hoon Kim.