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Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days
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by Jay Seaver

"Not as flashy, but on the whole better than its predecessor."
4 stars

The first part of the "Along with the Gods" two-parter, "The Two Worlds", was good-looking but didn't quite have a story operatic enough to match its visual ambition, but it's clear right away that "The Last 49 Days" won't have the same problems - its Paragon isn't nearly as saintly as the one that came before, and all the things hinted at by the end of the last movie are primed to explode. It's not entirely a leap forward, as it winds up a bit weaker in places the other movie was strong, but it's enough of an improvement to make the whole a good combo.

(Spoilers ahead for those who have not yet seen The Two Worlds)

This episode picks up mere moments after the end of the previous film, the Guardian Captain Gang-rim (Ha Jung-woo) having passed out after experiencing a flash of memory from his previous life. He bargains the position of himself and his team, warrior Hewonmak (Ju Jin-hoon) and advocate Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi) on the soul of Kim Soo-hong (Kim Dong-wook), although he won't be as easy a case as his firefighter brother: Not only did he become a vengeful spirit after his accidental death (which Gang-rim claims was murder), but he's a cocky kid who, having passed the first part of the bar exam (on his eighth try), wants to be part of his own defense. King Yeomra (Lee Jung-jae) agrees, but on one condition - the Guardians must also ascend the soul of Hur Choon-sam (Nam Il-woo), and elderly man who has lived well past his fated time because he and his grandson Hyun-dong (Jung Ji-hoon) are under the protection of household god Song-ju (Ma Dong-seok).

Despite both being adapted from a popular online comic, I suspect that this would be a very different movie if made as a sequel after the first was a hit rather than as two movies filmed together, less likely to fully invert so much of its predecessor's configuration: This one has Deok-choon and Hewonmak spending most of the film in the land of the living while Gang-rim and Soo-hong travel purgatory, and while that's not necessarily an inherently better arrangement, it works well here, putting everyone in a position to do something a little better suited to them individually rather than just standing around looking at visual effects or playing out a "bad thing is actually good because of motivation" set of flashbacks. Folks get to bounce off each other and create more interest in what's going to happen next.

For instance, Deok-choon and Hewonmak are, in their different ways, fairly empathetic characters, and actors Kim Hyang-gi and Ju Ji-hoon benefit a bunch by being able to play off young Jung Ji-hoon and, especially, Ma Dong-seok's Song-ju. There's a sense that these Guardians are having fun in the present, and while there might be a great deal less fun during the flashbacks to a thousand years ago, they at least have their hearts on their sleeves and are able to help get the audience invested in a story that doesn't have a lot of ways it can end. Ma Dong-seok (credited as "Don Lee" for English-speakers) proves to be a great addition - Song-ju's human form is a mountain of a man with a big heart and an artist's soul, and the actor nails him as a rebel who is experienced but not tired, and deadpan funny, especially when Song-ju, Deok-choon, and Hewonmak find themselves similarly confused by the human world even if they're not strangers to it.

On the other side of the movie, the pairing of Ha Jung-woo and Kim Dong-wook quickly becomes enjoyably antagonistic, as Ha's thoroughly seasoned Guardian finds himself quickly irritated by the brash, not-nearly-so-smart-as-he-thinks Soo-hong. Freed from having to play straight-faced or ambiguous, they both get to show their frustration with the situation, but they also become a great pair to watch as it becomes clear that Soo-hong may be headstrong but he's not actually stupid. There's a sharpness to their later scenes as Soo-hong starts to figure out the basic outline of what is happening and the burden of it starts wearing on Gang-rim.

Getting this more involving story does mean that there's a bit of a trade-off with the visuals, and that's a bit unfortunate. There are fewer moments where the audience gasps at something new here, and the bits of action don't quite have the same sort of creativity - there's a moment that basically comes across as "there's supposed to be action here, so, dinosaurs!", which isn't so bad in and of itself, but it does feel a bit like grasping. There's also just less time spent in the fantastic environments - there's more time spent in the regular world, and the flashbacks to a thousand years ago are kind of grimy and bland, well-shot and with a fair story behind them, but nothing a fan of Korean genre films hasn't seen a fair amount of.

It would be natural to say that there's a still-epic 150-minute movie to be carved out of the 280 minutes this pair takes up, but it doesn't quite work that way; they make more sense as a pair than as something to be mashed together. Both the eye-popping fantasy of the first and the character-based drama of the second are done well, though, making "Along with the Gods" an enjoyable two-night event.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32312&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/09/18 09:44:35
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User Comments

4/08/19 Kengh The sequel is still gorgeous. 5 stars
8/02/18 Bob Dog A disappointing sequel to the awesome AWTG:TTW 3 stars
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Directed by
  Yong-hwa Kim

Written by
  Yong-hwa Kim

  Jung-woo Ha
  Dong-seok Ma
  Jung-Jae Lee
  Kyung-soo Do
  Hyang-gi Kim
  Dong-il Sung

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