Korean fantasy drama Along With The Gods is a thrilling tear-jerker

Go on a journey with a heroic firefighter through seven levels of hell before he can reincarnate in Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds

(From left) Kim Hyang Gi, Cha Tae Hyun and Ju Ji Hoon star in Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds.
(From left) Kim Hyang Gi, Cha Tae Hyun and Ju Ji Hoon star in Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES



139 minutes/Opens today/3.5 stars

The story: Heroic firefighter Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun) dies on the job and, in the afterlife, must stand trial in seven levels of hell before he can reincarnate. Defending him at every level are his guardians Gang Rim (Ha Jung Woo), Haewonmak (Ju Ji Hoon) and Dukchun (Kim Hyang Gi), who replay the biggest events of his life to prove he was a good man.

This fantasy drama may be soap-opera melodrama, but at least it is unapologetic about it.

Director Kim Yong Hwa, known for making sentimental films such as 200 Pounds Beauty (2006) and Mr Go (2013), goes to great lengths to milk the tears here - and it works.

The journalists who filled the screening that this reviewer went to were sobbing by the end of the movie.

In South Korea and Taiwan, where the film opened last month, it has been named by many press outlets as the year's biggest tearjerker.

This is rather surprising as the film is marketed as a thrilling adventure movie - something which, to be fair, it delivers as well.

The action sequences are fast-paced and exciting, with dramatic actors Ju Ji Hoon and Ha Jung Woo showing off their macho sides as they battle various demons with lightsaber-like weapons.

Every level of hell that Ja Hong goes through looks mesmerising too, whether it is the endless desert dunes in the Hell Of Filial Piety or the cascading waterfalls in the Hell Of Indolence - all rendered by top-notch computer-generated imagery.

But as new details about Ja Hong's life are revealed during his journey through this mythical world, the emotions start to build up in the viewer until they spill over in the final act.

Nothing, the story tells you, is as it seems.

Character motivations of even the simplest man can constantly change and shock, building plenty of suspense throughout.

The director does get slightly carried away with the plot twists though, and throws in an unnecessary sub-plot involving Gang Rim.

Still, the film serves its purpose in teaching a lesson, even if it is a little obvious - that one should lead a full life or stand to regret it later.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2018, with the headline 'Thrilling tear-jerker'. Subscribe