ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS (2017)
Spectacular visual feat offers popcorn-feasting divertissement, as a hero fireman lands in the afterlife and undertakes various show trials in the hunt for reincarnation
A film made for its cinema appeal, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is best enjoyed before the wide screen, a notion its creators would have known all too well as ticket sales rattle through the tills.
That is not to lessen the visual aplomb that the films arrives with regardless of your screen size. A feast of CSI ingenuity, a two-hour plus rollercoaster of action and pictorial flourishes. Helmed by 200 Pounds Beauty (2006) director Yong-hwa Kim, who seems acutely aware of the various shades of audience-pleasing entertainment.
Here we are offered a spiritual fantasy film where our central hero is clad in the clothes of the living world’s hero – the firefighter. Kim Ja-hong (Cha Tae-hyun – My Sassy Girl, Scandal Makers) dies saving a young girl from a fire. He then meets three afterlife guardians in the form of Hae Won-maek (Ju Ji-hoon – Antique, Asura: The City of Madness), Lee Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi – A Werewolf Boy, Thread of Lies) and their leader Gang-rim (Ha Jung-woo – The Chaser, The Yellow Sea).
This trio of Grim Reaper-like afterlife transporters have done away with the deep hoods and scythe though, instead preferring stylish long black coats as they inform Ja-hong of what faces him in the afterlife. With the assistance of these three guardians who will defend him, Ja-hong will face seven court-room style trials over the coming 49 days. If he passes, he will be reincarnated while the guardians will edge closer to their own reincarnation.
Traversing to courts in places such as Hell of Murder, Hell of Indolence and Hell of Deceit, Ja-hong’s acts in life are unpacked and any misdemeanours defended by the guardians. If he can edge past each judge, he can return to the world of the living, but some developments from the living world threaten to derail his progress.
Film is visual art and as such the weighing applied to its visual appeal should not be underestimated. As such, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds achieves what it sets out to do – high-end effects that allow the audience to join Ja-hong on his difficult journey. No other element of the film works even closely as well, but there are still fine performances from a strong leading cast and a rather superb supporting cast, including Kim Hae-sook (The Handmaiden, Thirst), Lee Jung-jae (Il Mare, New World) and Ma Dong-seok (Train to Busan, The Outlaws), the latter of which is a taster appearance to promote the sequel.
There is a novel appeal to Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds – a truly unique piece of work. A film best enjoyed at face value and with a relaxed approach to a story line with regular twists of a sometimes jarring nature.
There is still some convincing emotional depth to the film as we look back at Ja-hong’s life – a good man, who has acted imperfectly. After all, living a good life is not about perfection, but about consistently doing the right thing as much as is practically possible.
All that leaves us with a superbly formed action-blockbuster that teases a sequel, but has the potential to spawn a Marvel-style Universe one day.