year’s ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE TWO WORLDS was a fluffy spin on Dante
Alighieri’s Divine Comedy; the story of an ordinary fireman poised for
post-mortal greatness, after he is killed on the job. In order to prove
his worth and succeed to reincarnation, the regular Joe must travel
through the various hells of the underworld and pass the trials of each
god in residence.
packed with some of South Korea’s biggest stars and full of CGI special
effects, and was as weightless and mindless as similar fare seen in Hong
Kong and China around Lunar New Year. It went on to become South
Korea’s second-highest grossing film of all time. Clearly, there would
be a sequel, and so comes ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE LAST 49 DAYS.
Picking up where the previous chapter left off, the trio of Grim Reapers
are now escorting Su-hong, the brother of the fireman from the first
film. Su-hong was unjustly murdered by his army buddies. He is
apparently made of the same afterworld-favoured stuff as his brother,
and so, if the guides can bring him through his series of trials and
into reincarnation, their own long-awaited transition to a new life is
assured. Problem is, Su-hong is a bit of a pill, and bitterly rejects
the notion that his friends have killed him, fighting against Gang-rim,
Haewonmak, and Deok-choon at every step. Besides getting this unruly
client in line, the three are also consigned to deal with a rogue deity,
who is affecting death tallies in the living world.
didn’t care much for the first chapter, THE TWO WORLDS: It was pure
claptrap, which is no disqualifier, but its brainlessness, laughably
substandard special effects and visuals (Except for the fabulous
duster coats worn by the two handsome male reapers.), were cheap and
obvious. The mawkish and schmaltzy tale of the perplexed dead
fireman was manipulative and cloying. The most interesting thing about
the film was its trio of guides to the afterlife.
Wisely, THE LAST 49 DAYS focuses more on the far more enticing
guardians, than the irritating human they must assist (Though the
film replaced one annoying schmuck for another, and gave this one
irritation steroids.). It feels far more lucid and
entertaining, if more soap opera-ish. The subtext of the reapers
splitting up to accost Seongju, the household god who has become a
little too attached to his human charges, sets us up for an unspooling
of the trio’s backstory, which feels like an entirely different – and
better – film than that of the ungrateful and obnoxious soldier, who
spends the entire movie spitting in the eye of celestial help.
learn our guardians have been entwined by fate for a millennium, in a
historical tale of tragedy, betrayal, and the ruins of war. The
discovery of their identities had loomed since the first movie, when we
learn the reapers don’t know who they were before they became Underworld
tour guides. Seongju, the house god is older than any of them, and
knows them all. He leverages his information against Haewonmak, and
Deok-choon’s order to stop Seongju and proceed to bring the elderly,
poor grandfather he’s assumed protection of, to the Other Side (Why
exactly he’s chosen this particular old man, with all the stories of
tragedy in the world, we never know, but hey.).
after day (Per the title, they only have 49 to bring Seongju in, or
they lose all their work toward reincarnation.), the house god tells
them a bit about their pasts, which creates new feelings and dynamics
amongst the trio, which could wreak a lot more havoc than a recalcitrant
house god, or stubborn dead soldier, and might sever their bond for
said, it was much smarter of the filmmakers to focus on the charismatic
strength of the three guardians, than the hashed-over story of guiding
another irksome mortal through the afterlife. Superstar Ha Jung-woo
cannot lose lately, appearing in more hits than he’s got fancy coats in
this film. On his own, he is a screen powerhouse (Even if he seems a
bit sleepy, here.), so it’s just dandy that his underlings, played
by Ju Ji-hoon, and young Kim Hyang-gi get their own time to shine.
of the first film are already familiar with the rash,
fabulously-coiffed, firebrand Haewonmak’s tendency to make a dumb move
first and ask no questions later, and Deok-choon’s sweet, open-hearted
kindness and innocence. Both actors are excellent in the flashback
scenes, and almost undo the relative shallowness of their afterlife
selves, who are imminently more boring than when they were alive.
more screen time in this chapter, Ju Ji-hoon is clearly meant for the A
List, if he’s not there already. (Ju also appears in this month's
SPY GONE NORTH) He has star quality and presence, and
this year’s version of his Haewonmak is more finely and fully written,
and much less shrill. Balancing his impulsive guardian with his heroic,
melancholy self from the past, is a great counterpoint to show what
actor Ju is capable of.
film also adds a very important co-star to the action. Ma Dong Seok –
or Don Lee, as he’s called in these ostensible international forays, is
a huge plus to the proceedings. Charismatic as the day is long, Ma
Dong-seok, elevates the film (Mostly by simply being Ma Dong-seok);
giving heart to his role as the sympathetic house god, who loves
humanity, even if he doesn’t understand it one bit. The brawny actor’s
hangdog glare, wry humour, and willingness to give his all to slapstick
is an asset to every film he appears in. He makes a better foil to Ju
Ji-hoon’s brash, impulsive Haewonmak, than Ha Jung-woo, if only that he
is allowed to be unselfconsciously silly.
all these improvements that make this film more palatable than its sire,
there’s still a lot lacking: The CGI that was distinctly unimpressive
in the first film, has, unbelievably, gotten worse. After the box
office bonanza of the first movie, I would have thought the CGI team
would be rolling in ₩on. If they were, I’m guessing there were a
lot of full-course dinners and overstuffed mattresses in the VFX
department, because there wasn’t onscreen evidence of improvement to a
single special effect.
nothing else, the scenic locations used in the flashback sequences were
far more notable than watching thick black outlines around the
character’s forms as they were badly matted into green screens. Even
the zippy, supernatural fighting motion looked like something a 7th
grader could achieve with Microsoft Paint, or a bad rehash of silly,
flipping Yoda from ATTACK OF THE CLONES.
Annoying dead person substitute this time is Kim Dong-wook, an
odd-looking actor, who doesn’t seem to know what to do with his
expressions, other than to look smug most of the time, especially when
others are fighting for his immortal soul. Had I been subject to his
unrelenting snarkiness, I would have thrown him into the lava pits of
hell, and let him have his wish of not reincarnating.
to endure Su-hong’s character is not helped by really stale retreading
of many of the scenes from THE TWO WORLDS. This time, whilst wandering
in the underworld wastelands, the filmmakers inexplicably decide to
throw several scenes featuring poor, but unmistakable rip-offs of
various Jurassic Park dinos. I wonder if Universal Studios can sue for
that pointless, bald-faced plagiarism? The scene was a complete
head-scratcher, as it made no sense, and went on forever in complete
unfunniness. Still, if the Mosasaurus out of the desert had actually
eaten Su-hong, it would have all been worth it.
worse is this movie goes on so long that it feels like they’ll have
another one lined up before this current one is over. There is no
reason for this movie to be 2 hours and 20 minutes long, especially as
we tread over so many of the original film’s grounds.
However, if the forecast is accurate, while it seems we may be stuck
with the itchy, uncharismatic Kim/Su-hong, it looks like we’ll be
getting a newer, much more charming human to play with in the inevitable
third installment. If so, I kinda hope it’ll be a musical.
note: The long duster coats on both Ha and Ju remain fabulous (If
somewhat ill-fitting on Ha). Hopefully, in chapter three, they’ll
float some fly threads to young Kim Hyang-gi, as well?
Amateurish, even after a first blockbuster, and terribly uneven. I’m
curious how long ALONG WITH THE GODS spell is going to work on the
Korean public? Even as pure popcorn claptrap, these movies aren’t that
great. While the performances by some of the cast became better,
and the guardians’ origin story was interesting enough (For the first
two hours), I’m aghast at the continued incompetence of the special
effects, the laziness of treading over the original film’s plot points,
and the complete lack of magic or spark.
WITH THE GODS: THE LAST 49 DAYS, has much to thank Ma Dong-seok,
Ju Ji-hoon and Kim Hyang-gi for. Whoever had the wisdom to throw the
movie over to their wonderful performances, saved the film from being
completely irredeemable, and improved it over the original.
Lady Miz Diva
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