Updated: Jan 28
This film took an expensive gamble on the macabre fascination with death and the afterlife, and—judging by domestic box office receipts—seems to have succeeded wildly.
Year of release: 2017
Where to watch: Available on Netflix and Viu
It’s movies like this that compels one to pray that when the end comes, we shall be escorted by Asian grim reapers who look as ridiculously good as Joo Ji-hoon in a grey bespoke coat.
Along with k-drama phenoms Goblin: The Lonely and Great God (2016) and Black (2017), and 2020’s Mystic Pop-up Bar, death and the afterlife have certainly proven lucrative for South Korea’s creative industries. Along with the Gods: Two Worlds took an expensive gamble on this macabre fascination, and—judging by domestic box office receipts—seems to have succeeded wildly. Playing the leads are some of the most recognizable actors in the industry: Cha Tae-hyun (the loveable dude from My Sassy Girl, 2001), Ha Jung-woo (Ashfall, 2019), the versatile child actress Kim Yang-gi, and Joo Ji-hoon (Princess Hours, 2006; Hyena, 2020).
A good-hearted fireman suddenly dies in the line of duty. His soul must now undergo seven trials in seven hells, and if he passes them in 49 days (with the help of three smooth AF guardians who act as his lawyers), he gets to be reincarnated. But along the way, we realize that our saintly fireman’s life may not have been so saintly after all. Will he reach the last judgement and pass? Or will his sins endanger everyone’s chances at a peaceful afterlife?
As commercial blockbusters go, the movie is easy to follow and the pace is brisk. Make that very brisk: the fireman dies in the first five seconds of the movie (Asian efficiency, y’all). The CGI of this movie is also quite amazing—think What Dreams May Come (1998) but with seven Buddhist levels. If you love production design and the costumes, check out the God of Murder’s headdress and the Goddess of Deceit’s military cave. The fight scenes are exhilarating, and if you’ve ever watched an Avengers movie and wondered if we could pull off anything similar...well—judging from the uber-cool teleporting scenes of a grim reaper trying to catch a wayward soul all over the Seoul metropolis—we apparently can. Now, it’s not a Korean movie without a jab at the heart, so expect the movie to tug on your emotions as well. Some scenes do get a bit too cheesy, but at least for a film that deals with death and loss, it wisely avoids reaching cringe territory.
While jaw-dropping productions are nothing new in Asian dramas and movies—Chinese historicals and the spate of Korean zombie movies have proven this over and over again—this film is a welcome addition to well-produced narratives that offer a modern take on the afterlife. We’ve grown so used to blonde angels and the Pearly Gates that to see an Asian interpretation of heaven, hell, and karma on such a grand scale is an incredibly welcome change.
STREAM: If you’re looking for an action-packed fantasy movie to watch with the family. Be sure to make time for its equally solid sequel, Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days (2018), also available on Netflix and Viu.
SKIP: If fantastical elements, such as flying grim reapers and the afterlife, aren’t your thing.