Story: Moo-chi (Kang Ha-neul) used to be one of the best swordsmen during the Goryeo dynasty, but since the dawning of the Joseon dynasty he and his men have been on the run from the soldiers of the new empire as he had tried to defend the former king. His death seems certain when he and his men float in the sea, but then pirate captain Hae-rang (Han Hyo-joo) happens to pass by and saves the men. For now, she just lets the men regain their strength, but when a Japanese pirate ship crosses their path, Moo-chi can finally demonstrate his fighting skills. The pirates find out from the crew of the Japanese ship that they were searching for a gold treasure. That is because prior to the fall of the Goryeo dynasty, one of the generals is said to have loaded all the gold of the palace onto a ship and then disappeared. Hae-rang gives Moo-chi's group of thieves the choice of staying on the next island or becoming pirates themselves, helping to search for the treasure. Even though the choice should be quite simple, Moo-chi keeps making things unnecessarily complicated. But he eventually participates in the ensuing hunt for clues to find the place where the treasure is said to have been hidden. Unfortunately, Heung-soo (Kwon Sang-woo) is also after the treasure - he and Moo-chi had already met under unpleasant circumstances in the past when they were in the army. With the gold Heung-soo would finally be able to make himself the king of a province. A desperate hunt for the treasure begins.
Review: If the plot description sounds familiar, then this is because the movie is to a certain degree a retelling of "The Pirates". In fact, there was supposed to be a sequel, but the moviemakers didn't manage to get neither Son Ye-jin nor Kim Nam-gil enthusiastic about the idea again. So, they unceremoniously rewrote the script and put a completely new cast together. However, it is quite obvious that the characters were originally those from the first installment. You can even find parallels to the villain who was in the army with Moo-chi. But there are some things that the movie does better than its prequel. For instance, the characters are even more charismatic, and the adventure element has also upped its game. Still, this also means that a lot of pirate movie clichés are being used.
A hidden treasure, maps that take you on a scavenger hunt, an island protected by constant lightning, a ship loaded with gold in a cave - the list could go on and on, it's all in there. Story-wise, the first part had a little more depth due to its slightly political background. Even though "The Last Royal Treasure" also takes place at the beginning of the new Joseon dynasty, you can hardly find some sort of critical view of the change from the Goryeo to the Joseon dynasty, apart from the fact that both hero and villain have to find their bearing in a new world in which they are no longer part of the army. But the treasure maps take us to a lot of different places, where the characters then usually find new clues that lead them to the next location. Often, it is just pure coincidence that the heroes get closer to the treasure, and some of the keys and clues even turn out to be absolutely unnecessary. For example, the cave in which the treasure is located easily could have been found without the last overly sophisticated hidden clue. After all, it is a huge grotto on a small island!
Even if you sometimes feel like you are watching some kind of retelling of the first installment, the movie still clearly tells its own story. In addition, it is especially actress Han Hyo-joo ("Masquerade"), who gives the movie more of an individual touch. She is not only the tough captain with a special kind of coolness as she was in the first movie, now she also shows willfulness and an agility that just keeps the events moving. Kang Ha-neul ("Forgotten"), on the other hand, has the same role that was attributed to the thief in the first movie. But since the captain is not so passive this time, it completely changes the chemistry between the two protagonists, which, of course, is meant to lead to a romantic relationship. And here the movie actually works a lot better than its prequel. Kwon Sang-woo, however, who already stood in front of the camera for director Kim Jeong-hoon in "Accidental Detective", somehow gets lost in the movie as the villain.
Another important individual in the movie is Mak-i, who is played by Lee Kwang-soo ("Inseparable Bros"). He represents the comic relief, but while his character was a little problematic in the first movie, as he conveyed quite a lot of slapstick and the gags rarely worked, that seems to have changed here at first glance. The humor is actually working quite well - at least, until we get to the finale, because then it just gets stupid. That's a pity and brings us to the CGI. This time, the special effects are a lot more believable than in the first movie, but once more the finale ruins everything. This is due to the computer-generated penguins. Animating animals in a realistic fashion is always a tricky thing, but the final result is simply not looking good here. And the cheap humor that is created with the penguins shows that the movie probably wanted to win over a very young audience as well.
Another negative aspect is the movie's editing, the cuts are often a bit too strong, so that the events feel torn apart. On the other hand, some of the fights have turned out quite well, one fight in the middle of the movie particularly stands out, as it takes place in a cave and with the backlight and smoke is kind of reminiscent of Tsui Hark movies. In addition, the events and changes of location line up nicely, so that you always stay glued to the screen. However, it is somewhat unfortunate that the movie resorts too much to pirate movie clichés. But sometimes you feel like this could actually be understood as an endearing homage to the genre. Nevertheless, you will certainly have fun with "The Pirates - The Last Royal Treasure", and in many ways, it does a lot of things better than its prequel. The finale, in which the ship has to be steered through a huge wave, is proof of that. Unfortunately, the movie still leaves you with a weird aftertaste, as you cannot help but get the impression that Netflix tried to make a movie here, which is catered to everybody's needs, and so it ultimately lacks substance.