If there’s one thing that sets apart the fantasy adventure genre, it’s the guarantee of action, tension, excitement, epic moments, and even suspense, all with an emotional and dramatic touch. “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds” by Kim Yong-hwa delivers all that and more. It’s a clear example of the high-quality entertainment that South Korea can produce, using its unique style, traditions, and beliefs.
A Fantastic Adventure about Life and Death
“After an unexpected death, firefighter Ja-hong is taken to the afterlife by three guardians. He must pass seven trials in 49 days and prove his innocence in his previous life to be eligible for reincarnation. The three guardians will accompany, support, and defend him throughout the journey.”
Director and screenwriter Kim Yong-hwa, known for “Mr. Go,” brings to life the webtoon “Along With the Gods” created by Joo Ho-min. The film is a fantasy adventure filled with action and a gripping dramatic narrative. It begins with Ja-hong, a firefighter, saving a little girl from a burning building but realizing moments later that he has fallen to his death. At that very moment, three guardians of the afterlife appear, explaining his journey from life to death and the seven trials that will determine the fate of his soul’s reincarnation.
During these trials, we witness Ja-hong’s past, his life choices, and the mistakes he has made. Some of these errors may endanger his soul. Without giving away too much, it’s easy to empathize with the protagonist, and in the most emotive moments, tears are likely to be shed.
Passing the seven trials not only grants Ja-hong the chance to be reincarnated (and say goodbye to his mother in dreams) but also brings the guardians closer to their reward for years of service in the afterlife—their own reincarnation.
The film offers more than just the trials and flashbacks. “Along with The Gods: The Two Worlds” includes thrilling action scenes, intense moments, and even epic battles against otherworldly creatures and vengeful spirits. These moments are accompanied by impressive special effects rarely seen in Korean cinema, elevating the overall visual experience.
The film has been a major box office success in South Korea and has already spawned a sequel, “Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days.” The plan is to develop a four-part film series, showcasing the enduring popularity of the franchise.
Guardians, Souls, Family, and Gods in the Afterlife
“Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds” boasts a compelling story, well-executed direction, and remarkable performances. It takes viewers on a journey exploring death, forgiveness, redemption, and how we have lived our lives. The success of this fusion of narratives and genres can be attributed to its charismatic characters and fantastic acting.
Cha Tae-hyun, known for “My Sassy Girl,” portrays the firefighter Ja-hong, the first person in centuries to enter the afterlife as an Honorable Soul, someone who sacrificed their life to save others. However, even as an Honorable Soul, Ja-hong is not without flaws. His torment from the past is poignantly revealed, often touching hearts along the way.
The three guardians are equally fantastic. The leader, Gang-rim, played by the talented Ha Jung-woo, tries his best to help Ja-hong achieve reincarnation, as he too is on the verge of attaining it. Gang-rim is the only guardian who can venture into the mortal world as an observer, which often leads to his deep involvement and the complications that come with it. He commands attention with his charisma and the unwavering seriousness he brings to his role.
Joining Gang-rim is the impulsive guardian Hae Won-maek, portrayed by Joo Ji-hoon, known for “Asura: City of Madness” and “Kingdom.” Hae Won-maek’s impulsive nature adds an interesting dynamic to the group, resulting in captivating moments. The young Kim Hyan-gi portrays the guardian Duk-choon, the embodiment of Karma’s memory. She wholeheartedly believes in Ja-hong’s innocence and plays a crucial role throughout each trial.
The film also introduces many other compelling secondary characters, including Ja-hong’s family and the Gods of the Inferno. Each character is well-developed and skillfully portrayed. Notably, Lee Jung-jae shines as the King of the Underworld, a character who appears sporadically but adds significant weight to the storyline. The other Gods also have their moments, with unexpected surprises along the way.
“Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds,” A Journey through the Seven Hells
According to Buddhist beliefs, the soul of the deceased must face seven trials over 49 days to determine its worthiness for reincarnation. These trials take place in the seven hells, each representing a specific aspect of human transgressions, and are overseen by the respective God of each domain. The varying landscapes and unique punishments assigned to each hell showcase the meticulous attention to detail in the film.
The seven hells and their corresponding trials are as follows:
- Hell of Violence: Judgment for physical attacks on others.
- Hell of Indolence: Judgment for a wasted life.
- Hell of Murder: Judgment for actions that caused someone’s death.
- Hell of Filial Impiety: Judgment for dishonoring parents, elders, or ancestors.
- Hell of Deceit: Judgment for a life filled with lies.
- Hell of Betrayal: Judgment for those who betrayed someone’s trust or faith.
- Hell of Injustice: Judgment for failing to help those in need, especially for selfish reasons.
There is no specific order to these trials; they progress from “minor” sins to more severe ones. Finally, Ja-hong must face the ultimate judgment of the King of the Underworld.
It’s worth noting that one doesn’t need to be well-versed in Buddhism to enjoy the film’s storyline, understand the trials, or grasp the importance of the three guardians. The concepts and narrative are well-explained, although at times, the film’s editing may confuse viewers when transitioning between the different hells or returning to the mortal world to uncover past or present events.
“Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds” is a fantastic and entertaining film, packed with adventure, action, suspense, moments that tug at the heartstrings, and outstanding performances. While some of the special effects may seem excessive, they generally contribute to the overall experience. It’s a film that aims to entertain, and it succeeds splendidly. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and its more than two-hour runtime was well worth it. If the sequel maintains this level of quality, it promises to be a compelling saga. Read the review for “Along with the Gods: The 49 Days” here.
- Original Title: Singwa Hamgge
- Year: 2017
- Duration: 139 min.
- Country: South Korea
- Director: Kim Yong-hwa
- Screenplay: Kim Yong-hwa (Based on the webtoon by Ju Ho-min)
- Cast: Cha Tae-hyun, Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Hyang-gi, Lee Jung-jae, Kim Dong-wook
- Music: Bang Jun-seon
- Cinematography: Kim Byung-seo