ALONG WITH THE GODS: THE LAST 49 DAYS (FILM REVIEW)

By now, you would have probably heard of this unexpected hit of a South-Korean title. Yes, it already had all the makings of a blockbuster, but it exceeded even projections by pundits. Surpassing 10 million viewers in only 15 days, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds tripled returns of the US$36 million investment on the 2-parter, and became the second highest-grossing film of all time in Korea.

Most importantly, it will be remembered as “that emotional rollercoaster of a film that kept my waterworks going”.

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Given my history with the franchise, I prepared an extra packet of tissues for the viewing of the sequel. But sadly, I hardly used a piece.

Although both titles were shot together, Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days feels like a distant product. It pushed up the sliders on scale and size, but lost the epic in their storytelling and pacing. What happened, Director Kim Yong-hwa?

The film returns us to hell, and along with the three guardians Gang-lim (Ha Jung-woo), Haewonmak (Ju Ji-hoon) and Lee Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi), we now accompany new paragon Kim Soo-hong (Kim Dong-wook) – brother of first episode’s paragon, Kim Ja-hong – through his trials.

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While the first chapter had Ja-hong as the plot anchor, The Last 49 Days turns our attention to the 3 guardians and their mysterious past. This, to me, is where the sequel flounders.

It’s not long before we splinter into various story arcs. There’s the main story of the trio’s pasts, retold through increasingly frustrating flashbacks that sometimes last no more than a minute. Then there’s the added task from King Yeomra, which dispatches Haewonmak and Deok-choon to claim a long-overdue soul, Hur Choon-sam (Nam Il-woo). This arc gets more diffused further into the film.

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Turns out the old fellow (who appears briefly in the first film) is protected by his ultra-powerful resident Household God Seongju (Ma Deok-seok). As the two guardians struggle to wrestle the deity into submission, they find out not only his reason for protecting his client, but also that he was an ex-guardian who was there at their own passing – thus a key to retrieving their memories.

Head guardian Gang-lim seems to be on a hidden agenda, throwing in all his chips to get Soo-hong reincarnated, while Soo-hong’s own unwillingness to do so hinges on him not wanting to believe that his friends murdered him. Add to that, Seongju’s bout with failed investments and helping his actual charge (Choon-sam’s grandson) to find a real guardian, and you have essentially a very convoluted and diluted film. Even King Yeomra is not spared with his own little twist!

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By sowing 49 Days with so much threads, another deft director might still be able to measure out his priorities to steer the vehicle in the right direction, in order to maintain a strong plot with a moral compass like the first. But Kim dropped the hat on this one. The second episode flickers back and forth between stories incoherently, and makes for a frustrating viewing.

Most annoying of all is Soo-hong’s temperamental behaviour. It seems to serve only as a catalyst to drive Gang-lim’s actions, and loses potency because of it. Gang-lim’s own guilt-laden agenda is also slightly unbearable, given how it was obvious halfway through, what it was really all about.

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While the film does still feature gorgeous graphics and settings, it has lost a slight shine from the first film’s reveal. We get to see a new scene for Indolence Hell, but other new segments really raise eyebrows in the wrong way. One word – dinosaurs.

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days stays on track in terms of a continuation, but the calibre is far more hollow than the first. You’ll get to enjoy some light sobbing at the end, but this second chapter leaves no lasting impression.

Let’s hope the next episode fares better. And yes, there will be one.

Rating: 3*

Great performances still by a cast with good chemistry, but an overstuffed script makes the story empty of substance. This chapter has lost its soul.

First published: www.movieXclusive.com

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