Director: Kim Yong-hwa
Cast: Cha Tae-hyun, Kim Dong-wook, Ha Jung-woo, Ju Ji-hoon, Kim Hyang-gi
RunTime: 2 hrs 19 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 11 January 2018
Synopsis: Having died unexpectedly, firefighter Ja-hong is taken to the afterlife by 3 afterlife guardians. Only when he passes 7 trials over 49 days and proves he was innocent in human life, he's able to reincarnate, and his 3 afterlife guardians are by his side to defend him in trial.
This movie will make you want to be a better person. And entertain you while it’s at it.
Most religious tenets include one of judgment in the afterlife. Along with the Gods brings a noble firefighter Kim Ja-hong (Cha Tae-hyun) into Korean purgatory, having died on duty while saving a girl. For having led an exemplary life, he is considered a paragon, and so draws the attention of three guardian spirits who accompany him through his trials.
In Korean Buddhist folklore, it is believed that a soul will have to undergo 7 trials to ascertain their contribution to the sins, and be punished accordingly if deemed guilty. Deceit, filial piety, violence, betrayal, indolence, murder and injustice - the Mirror of Karma shows the transgressions to the respective Gods and Goddesses, who then deal their verdict. For those who pass all 7 within 49 days, they are granted the boon of visiting their loved ones in a dream by Afterlife King Yeomra (Lee Jung-jae), before reincarnating into their next life.
As you might suspect, not many get through. But surely our brave lifesaver Ja-hong stands a chance?
Along with the Gods illustrates the epic mythology with impressive CGI, and combines it with some action-hero sequences not unlike those from the factories of DC and Marvel. Directed by Kim Yong-hwa, the film sees a few chase sequences lost to frantic editing and blurry movement (a la Michael Bay), but has enough merit coming from it’s easy-to-follow plot, stylistic settings and heartstring tugging moments to make it a worthy movie to watch.
Fantasy backdrops are commercial gold, especially when wrought articulately. With the expansive scale and Korean saga influence, the journey through hell is a visual treat. Confronting the wrathful God of Murder ( Jung Hae-kyun) at a volcano, persuading the sentimental but judgemental Goddess of Indolence ( Kim Hae-sook ) at the edge of a waterfall, reasoning with the flippant Goddess of Deceit in a forest of blades, the metaphors become a little less cheesy when it comes with stunning aesthetics.
Supporting all of this visual wizardry are the compelling stories that unfold at a brisk pace. Ja-hong’s journey begins fairly smooth, but a vengeful spirit soon appears to wreck his journey, much to the guardians’ dismay. You see, they also have something going for them. If they manage to send 49 souls through all 7 trials, they themselves get to reincarnate.
On top of all of this, the guardians also question Ja-hong’s integrity as a paragon, as more secrets surface and complicate their later trials.
As the leader spirit, Gangrim, Ha Jung-woo bonds the entire show as he orchestrates the events to a fair and desirable outcome. Ha’s dexterous acting saves Ju Ji-hoon’s own performance, whose erratic compulsions as a junior guardian spirit, Haewonmak, makes us more confused than amused. The baby of the trio, Duk-chun, is almost anime (maybe because the story’s source was a web-toon by Joo Ho-min). But actress Kim Hyang-gi has a charismatic innocence that surprises, and is a moving force on her own as the talented junior spirit.
Compelling performances also comes from Ja-hong’s brother Soo-hong, as he ties up loose ends on earth. And the mute mother at the centre of the storm is achingly portrayed by Ye Soo-jung. As Ja-hong’s journey unspools, his mother’s character gets fleshed out, and even recalling it right now, my throat tightens.
The good news for fans is that Along with the Gods has a sequel. And as you watch, the proceedings justify the decision, as points of interest emerge from supporting characters, which should fully play out in the later sequence. And because this is slated for release in the summer fo 2018, you won’t have to wait too long.
A modern fable with mythic roots, the accessible and relatable storyline is paired with an enjoyable performance from the talented cast, and together with the fantastic setting, makes this film only guilty of great entertainment.
(Daebak! As people start off the year setting resolutions, this visual treat of a film reminds us of our moral values with entertaining sequences and acting)
Review by Morgan Awyong