Movie review: 'Along with the Gods' is the new Korean hit you should watch

Fred Hawson

Posted at Feb 12 2018 12:40 PM | Updated as of Sep 09 2018 07:39 PM

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I was not actually planning to watch "Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds" since I had not heard about it before. That was the case until I saw ads that it will actually have screenings in 4DX! Now that caught my attention as 4DX is usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters. I thought that was convincing enough a reason to go catch its release in local theaters. As of this writing, this film had just overtaken "Ode to My Father" and is now the second biggest Korean box office hit of all time!

A fireman named Kim Ja-hong (Cha Tae-hyun) died a heroic death in the line of his duty. A head guardian of the afterlife, Gang-rim (Ha Jung-woo), and his two assistants Haewonmak (Ju Ji-hoon) and Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi) escort the soul of Ja-hong in the world beyond. They will have to defend Ja-hong in front of the gods heading the seven hells, namely Murder, Indolence, Deceit, Injustice, Betrayal, Violence and Filial Impiety. Only if he can pass these trials in all these courts can his soul be reincarnated.

I had seen the lead actors in at least one previous film before. Ha Jung-woo also played the lead in "Tunnel" and "The Handmaiden." His portrayal of Gang-rim was noble, fair and willing to go against the rules. Cha Tae-hyun was most famous for "My Sassy Girl." His portrayal of Ja-hong never gave away how the story was going to go. Ju Ji-hoon was in "Asura: The City of Darkness." His character here had a gangster-like vibe to him. Kim Hyang-gi is only 17 years old, but she held her own as Ja-hong's kind and empathetic guardian. 

As far as tear-jerking drama is concerned, Korean filmmakers really know how to hit that sensitive spot. Whenever Ye Soo-jung (as Ja-hong's mute Mother) was on the screen, get your hankies ready. Do Kyung -soo, who was so good in "My Annoying Brother," also had dramatic moments as the guilt-tormented soldier Won Il-byung. There is also a touch of humor in the characters of two persistent prosecutors against Ja-hong, played by veteran actors Oh Dal-su and Lim Won-hee. 

The whole film was a visual effects extravaganza, though some effects were better than others. The various courts of hell were set in various fantastical landscapes which presented a particular challenge for Kim. Murder was in a volcano. Indolence was in a waterfall, Deceit was in a forest. Injustice was on a glacier. Betrayal was in a heavenly passage. Violence was in a sink hole. Filial impiety was in a desert. Kim and the guardians also had to fight with "hell ghouls" unleashed by a vengeful spirit which crossed over in both reality and the afterlife. There were really a lot of exciting action sequences worthy of a 4DX platform (though I only watched in regular 2D).

I found the concept of the afterlife presented by this film to be very interesting. I do not know how much of this was based on actual Korean folklore and how much was just from the imagination of Joo Ho-min who created the webcomic upon which writer-director Kim Yong-hwa based his script. It says that we have committed some variation of all of these seven crimes in different levels of severity, and we have guardians to help us argue our cases before the gods of the underworld. It was an idea that was as innovative as it was also quite thought-provoking. 

On the debit side, the film tried to squeeze in too many subplots in its 140 minutes such that there are parts that may feel confusing and long. Nevertheless, I'm still looking forward to its coming sequel to be subtitled "The Last 49 Days." 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."