Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
A Fireman's Death is a Common Man's Odyssey
Based on the webcomic by South Korean author Joo Ho-min, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is the first half of two films that were filmed simultaneously. The second half, Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, will be released in South Korea in the summer of 2018. The film adaptation of Along with the Gods is written and directed by Kim Yong-hwa (Take Off, 200 Pounds Beauty) and stars Cha Tae-hyun (My Sassy Girl) as Kim Ja-hong; a fireman who dies at the beginning of the film. In the afterlife, a soul must pass a series of seven trials in 49 days before they can be reincarnated. Ja-hong is escorted through the seven gates of hell by three guardians of death or grim reapers: Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi, A Werewolf Boy), Hewonmak (Ju Ji-hoon, Asura: The City of Madness), and Gang-rim (Ha Jung-woo, The Handmaiden). Ja-hong is believed to be a paragon; the first honorable death in 49 days, which the three guardians believe he’ll not only excel during the trials but also benefit their own afterlife in the long run.
Visual effects for the film were created by Dexter Studios, one of the largest visual effects studios in Asia. A big fantasy film like this relies on strong visuals to really sell and execute lavish settings that are otherworldly and or larger than life itself. Not being familiar with the work of Dexter Studios, it was difficult going into this with any sort of expectations but the trailer looked fantastic enough. Dexter Studios seemed to put a lot of care into just how extravagant Along with the Gods is visually. Every layer of hell is breathtaking with action sequences that zip around in the air like a climactic battle on Dragon Ball Super while each layer of hell seems to have a different element to it that allows each individual trial and location to feel different from the one before it. Combined with some creative camera techniques that thrust you directly into the action or submerges the audience seemingly right next to Ja-hong as he narrowly dodges death (for a second time) at every turn, Along with the Gods is visually exhilarating thanks to outstanding special effects and an innovative perspective.
The different hells traveled through in the film are as follows: the volcano of the damned in murder hell, the river of indolence in indolence hell, the blade forest of deceit hell, the frosty glaciers of injustice hell, the heavenly passage that meanders through betrayal hell, the vacuum sink hole of violent hell, and the internal desert of filial impiety hell. It’s soon revealed that time in hell can start accelerating once a vengeful spirit begins its wrath in the land of the living; this also triggers a horde of hell ghouls. Ja-hong typically struggles at each trial as he feels like his ill mother will be lost without the income he’s been sending her the past 15 years and is convinced she’ll be lost without him.
Ja-hong’s life story is a complicated one that seems to unravel a more complex life event at each trial he faces. The line between what makes an individual a worthy candidate for reincarnation is constantly questioned because when you think you’ve got Ja-hong all figured out a dark element from his past rears its ugly head. The story doesn’t really have you judging what Ja-hong has done in his lifetime but mostly has you reflecting on your own. How would the actions you’ve chosen over your entire life play out if you were in Ja-hong’s shoes? Everyone has life events they’re not proud of, so it becomes this sympathetic journey that you somehow share with Ja-hong over the course of Along with the Gods. Ja-hong left home at an early age and never forgave himself for something he did as a teenager. He tried to make up for it over the years, but never returned home despite his mom and brother always being the drive that kept him going for as long as he did.
The acting is superb in Along with the Gods. The four leads showcase emotion on a scale that is almost unprecedented in mainstream American cinema. Kim Hyang-gi is cheerful and ecstatic about the forthcoming trials because the Deok-choon character firmly believes that Ja-hong has a chance at reincarnation. Her thumbs up hand gesture becomes this significant and special symbol for the film that you can’t help but love. Ju Ji-hoon has a harsh exterior as Hewonmak with a fight first and do things by the book kind of demeanor without emotions getting in the way. He seems almost bitter that he’s in the position that he’s in and doesn’t understand why his captain, Gang-rim, goes out of his way to do things the way that he does. Ha Jung-woo has always been an incredible actor in films like The Chaser, Nameless Gangster, The Berlin File, and The Tunnel. He is the one guardian/grim reaper who has memories of the life he had before he died and it shows. He has a scene with Ja-hong’s mother that is this unbelievable portrayal and control of emotion that I’ve never seen in any film.
It is practically unheard of that we start off the year with a film this good, but Along with the Gods is an impressively entertaining and reflective way to jump start your movie watching habits of 2018. This movie freaking destroyed me emotionally and its last half hour made me cry harder than any movie ever has. Along with the Gods is like South Korea got its hands on the bizarrely awesome fusion of What Dreams May Come and The Frighteners while expanding on the adventure that awaits us all in the afterlife and sucker punches our tear ducts to oblivion in the process. The sequel can’t get here soon enough.
Questions & Answers
Question: In your opinion, what is the reflection in this movie?
Answer: It’s interesting since you get wrapped up in Kim Ja-Hong ’s story, but you reflect on the not so pleasant times of your life as his are shown to you. The film leaves the impression that nearly anything can be reprimanded and amended when your time comes in the afterlife and an amazing world of wonder awaits us all once our life cycle ends.
Question: What are the seven trials of the story "Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds"? Also, can you describe each trial?
Answer: This is actually in the third paragraph of my review:
"The different hells traveled through in the film are as follows: the volcano of the damned in murder hell, the river of indolence in indolence hell, the blade forest of deceit hell, the frosty glaciers of injustice hell, the heavenly passage that meanders through betrayal hell, the vacuum sink hole of violent hell, and the internal desert of filial impiety hell."
Question: What is the setting of the film, "Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds"?
Answer: I guess it's modern day, but you spend very little time in the real world; just long enough to see Kim Ja-hong at work as a fireman before he dies. The rest of the time you're jumping through different realms of the afterlife, so the surroundings of the film are always changing.
Question: What is the theme of the story "Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds"?
Answer: This is a spin on the whole life after death thing and what lies ahead of us after our time on this plane has come to an end. In a way, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds allows you to reflect on your own life. You make comparisons to the decisions and mistakes you've made throughout your life as Kim Ja-hong is on trial. It not only becomes an emotional journey for this fictitious character, but for you as well.
Question: Who is your favorite character in "Along with the Gods" and why?
Answer: I like that you get to experience Kim Ja-hong's trial over the course of the film while learning what he did wrong during his lifetime, but I like Gang-rim the most. You don't really discover his character's back story until the sequel and the fact that he's kind of shrouded in mystery until then is intriguing to me. His character has a motive that aligns with good, but his past is bleaker than is first let on. All of the grim reapers are pretty cool though. There's really no wrong answer.
Question: Where is the martyrdom in Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds?
Answer: The film doesn't really cover martyrdom. The story revolves around the guardians of death/grim reapers on the search for paragons/individuals who have had honorable deaths. The film is smart in the sense that it doesn't target specific religions and is more about the core of our collective beings; what our soul goes through after we die. Kim Ja-hong dies in the line of duty while trying to save someone at the beginning of the film and what he's done over the course of his entire life is judged in the afterlife.
Question: What is the purpose of the film Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds?
Answer: I think it’s the type of film that means something a bit different to everyone. Personally, it felt like the film was providing an answer to the possibilities of what awaits us in the afterlife. No matter what sins we’ve committed over the course of our life, it’s never too late to redeem ourselves. But watch the film and make your own conclusions. That’s the best advice I can give.
Question: How does the movie "Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds" help you as you mature; literally and figuratively, in this temporal world?
Answer: I guess the film gives the impression that no matter how many sins you've committed over your lifetime or how severe they may be there's always time to repent. It's never too late to turn your life around. A sin isn't a death sentence. It's more of a flawed stepping stone that assists in you becoming a better person. Sins allow you to overcome certain obstacles in life and they heal like scars; you always feel them even after they fade and they never completely go away. They're a reminder of where you've come from, and yet they don't pave the path you choose to take to your future.
Question: What ethical teachings are present in Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds? How are they presented?
Answer: Probably just the basic treat others how you want to be treated mentality. The film touches on it never being too late to make amends for your deepest regrets. Kim Ja-Hong never returns home because he's so ashamed of what he did to his mother and younger brother at a young age. He uses it as a kind of motivation to be a better person up until his adult life ends abruptly. If you don't like who you are, then you should attempt to better yourself. Or sometimes what you think is so unforgivable is actually something that was rectified over time without you even knowing it.
Question: What is the realization in Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds?
Answer: Mostly that regardless of what you've done in your life and no matter how past the point of forgiveness you may think you are it's never too late to atone. That message probably changes a bit depending on personal experiences, but that's the gist of it.
Question: How does Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds describe hell?
Answer: This is revealed in my review and at least one of the questions already asked. There are trials in each of the seven layers of hell where if it rules in his or her favor they move onto the next hell layer; the intent being they're allowed to go to heaven or be reincarnated based on the trial's outcome which is a reflection of what they did while they were alive.
Question: Where is the setting of the movie "Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds"?
Answer: In the afterlife, I guess? It mostly resides in the different layers of Hell that pass judgment on an individual looking to be resurrected/move on to the next phase of death (either rot in one of the hells or be eligible for reincarnation).
Question: Are men worthy of incarnation?
Answer: As far as the film is concerned, anyone (male or female) is eligible for reincarnation if they pass the trials. It depends on the sins they committed while they were alive and if they have or are willing to repent for them.
Question: What do the characters learn about themselves in the movie, "Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds"? How do they change?
Answer: The Two Worlds is pretty much Jae-hong's story, while the sequel The Last 49 Days dives into the backgrounds of the grim reapers. In The Two Worlds, Ja-hong dies suddenly, and it's revealed that he's been avoiding his deepest regrets since he left home. The film explores those regrets, and some are stronger sins than others, but throughout the film, Ja-hong learns that no sin is too great to atone for and family is family no matter what. Time heals all wounds, blood is thicker than water, and all that.
Question: Do you think the main character deserves to be reincarnated in the film, "Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds"?
Answer: The film portrays why the odds should shift in his favor. So yes, but that’s kind of the point.
Question: What moral issues are presented in Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds?
Answer: Desertion, acting upon something for money and being a total a-hole towards a younger sibling. There's an emphasis on love and forgiveness among family. No matter what you're most ashamed of from your past, you've likely already been forgiven by the loved ones involved.
Question: What is the perception of good and evil in the movie "Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds"?
Answer: The film seems to depict that the line is consistently blurred between good and evil. The only truly evil entity is a vengeful spirit, which can eventually be persuaded by its evil nature. Nearly everyone has their fair share of good deeds and evil intentions. The film looks at one man's lowest moments, and on the surface, these sins appear to be a conviction to whatever Hell they're residing in; an open and shut case right there on the spot. But each sin is either given a purpose that is for the greater good or at least puts a better perspective on why one man would do such a thing. As a civilization, we're complicated. "Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds" is very good at keeping a neutral stance and presenting that perspective to its audience.
Question: What Is the greatest sin of Kim Ja-hong in the film, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds?
Answer: It's been nearly ten months since I've seen the film, so my recollection may be a bit fuzzy. Kim Ja-hong never forgives himself for something he did when he left home as a teenager. He attempted to compensate for it by sending money home when he could, but he never returned home from the time he left up until his death. His mother and brother are what kept him going all these years and he never let them know that. The shame he feels of never going back home and never telling his family what they mean to him are his greatest sins.
Question: What is the view of knowledge based on the movie, Along with the Gods?
Answer: Not sure what knowledge you're asking about, but the film addresses what you face when you die rather intriguingly. Pleading your case to seven trials in Hell with your eternal placement on the line is something no one would look forward to. The film addresses a concept that causes you to reflect on what you've done over your lifetime. How would you stand trial? Would you be found guilty? Do you think you'd be considered for reincarnation? Most would probably think they wouldn't make it to the end, which is part of the reason it is so fascinating. Either that or they believe nothing exists after we die. Heaven and eternal bliss is something most of us probably don't deserve, but it's something we work towards to better ourselves with what little time we have left. Even if you don't believe in Heaven or Hell, we could all benefit from trying to be better individuals on a day to day basis.
Question: What are the punishments in Inferno?
Answer: Are you referring to the volcano in murder hell? I honestly don't remember what the punishment was for that hell. I've only watched the film once to review and it's been like 20 months since that viewing.
Question: What is repentance according to the context of the movie Along with the Gods?
Answer: Basically sincere regret or remorse. Somebody usually turns to God or their beliefs to cleanse or dispose of whatever they consider to be remorseful. The film explores it in the sense that Kim Ja-hong died a hero's death. He was healthy and should have lived much longer, but he threw that away for a selfless, heroic effort. Before he can have the chance to be reincarnated, he is put on trial and his life is put under a microscope to see what demons Kim Ja-hong has kept hidden all these years.
If you're asking what repentance means in every day life, then it's really up to the individual and how religious he or she is. I think people try to live by the do unto others mentality if they have a regretful past and have the desire to be a better person in the present. But again, all of this is speculation and probably differs from person to person.
Question: Does the main character of Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds deserve to be reincarnated despite his mistakes?
Answer: I think that's kind of left up to the viewer to decide, but the main takeaway from the film is that anyone can be eligible to be reincarnated regardless of their sins and mistakes. They just have to be willing to take that next step forward and accept atonement.
© 2018 Chris Sawin
Mia on November 23, 2019:
What do you think the issue or problem in this movie ?
Anne on March 26, 2019:
What do the characters learn about themselves? How do they change?
Jojie Alcantara on February 24, 2018:
My thoughts, exactly. "Thumbs up" to your review. :-)
anna on January 17, 2018:
omg I love this review - perfectly encapsulates what I love abt this show