Saturday, January 06, 2018

Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds

If reincarnation were easy, everyone would be doing it. Frankly, there is no shame in laboring for a while in the afterlife. However, a stout-hearted fire-fighter who dies in the line of duty might be one of those rare paragons, who are allowed to be reborn in forty-nine days, provided they are acquitted of the sins represented by the seven domains of Hell. Three Guardians will guide him through the process and act as advocates on his behalf. They are highly motivated, because two more reincarnations will earn them their own terrestrial rebirth. Kim Ja-hong should be a slam dunk, but events on Earth will complicate his tribunals in Kim Yong-hwa’s Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (trailer here), which is now playing in expanded markets.

During the maelstrom of the final fire, Kim lost track of how many people he saved. That is the kind of guy he is—or rather was. Hewonmak and Deok-choon are the ones to break the bad news to him—but to them, he is good news. As a reputed paragon, his reincarnation trials should be a snap. However, when they meet up with their “Captain,” Gang-lim, they discover a vengeful ghost is darkening Kim’s karma. He is not being particularly helpful either, but it is all due to his deep concern for his long-suffering mother. Alas, she has more bad news coming, based on what Gang-lim sleuths out.

Evidently, Kim’s younger brother Su-hong died shortly after him, but his body has yet to be discovered, thanks to a cover-up. Su-hong’s ghost has a right to be angry, but his wrath might also expose secrets that could derail Ja-hong’s reincarnation.

Reportedly, AWTG: The Two Worlds and its forthcoming sequel, The Last 49 Days, are the first big budget Korean tent-poles filmed back-to-back, presumably to realize economies of scale. It hardly seems like there was a compelling continuity justification doing it that way, because Two Worlds probably has more closure than half the films we covered this week. However, there is a mid-credits teaser featuring completely new characters that might make sense to readers of the web-comic it is based on, but will completely baffle the rest of poor naïfs (although the fact that Ma Dong-seok will play a substantial part is definitely intriguing).

Basically, AWTG is like What Dreams May Come (the film, not the book), but with periodic interludes of high-flying martial arts. The problem is the Guardians are considerably more interesting than the paragon, but its probably better that way than vice versa, because there are three of them and only one of him. In fact, Gang-lim is the real hero of the film, not the whiny and passive Kim. As the Captain, Ha Jung-woo just radiates steely badassery. He totally walks the walk, even when he is flying around CGI-style in his billowing black cassock.

Kim Hyang-gi is cute and plucky as Assistant Guardian Deok-choon, but sensitively turns some surprisingly touching scenes. Ju Ji-hoon also plays it to the hilt as Hewonmak, the arrogant and maybe not so scrupulous Guardian. Unfortunately, Cha Tae-hyun’s Kim Ja-hong is just dull as sawdust. In recent films, character actor Oh Sal-su has reined in the shtick, but not so here as one of the two Devil’s Advocates.

Based on this film, we would assume Gang-lim and Deok-choon will be the focus of the sequel, which could work out okay, since they are the ones we would have chosen anyway. There is some impressive world-building in AWTG, but its weird flights of fantasy call out for competing analysis from strict Freudians and Jungians. Yet, you have to admire its conviction. Watching it might actually be good for your karma. Recommended for fans of sentimental after-life movies (Heaven Can Wait, without the clouds and harps), Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds continues in New York at the AMC Empire and it is now playing in the Denver-Metro Area at the AMC Arapaho Crossing.