17 January 2018 | ctowyi
Superb entertainment that will make you reflect upon your life
I like putting movies into Venn diagrams and I have special categories always swimming in my head like "movies with a great final shot" and "movies that showcase traits I would like in my future partner". Then there is that one category that doesn't have many movies - "movies that can make you reflect upon one's life". Along with The Gods: The Two Worlds slips in there ever so surreptitiously.
I didn't figure the Korean blockbuster to be a tearjerker, but it most certainly was. All through the screening, I could hear people around me sniffling and wiping their tears away unabashedly, me included. The movie doesn't even try to be subtle in this aspect and I must say every rivulet of my tears was earned.
Yet the story is also fashioned as a fast-paced pulsating adventure ride and it scores top marks in this aspect too. My eyes blinked in disbelief and my mind boggled in awe as the twists and turns become wilder and twistier, but never losing its grasp on the audience. This is high concept done well, every far-fetched notion perfectly digestible. There is superb verve in its storytelling. Nothing is truly what it seems.
Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is a film that is solidly cast. I don't get the Korean names very well, but I watch a lot of Korean cinema and TV dramas and instantly recognised all the familiar faces. Cha Tae Hyun is perfectly cast as the good-natured Paragon with a well of secrets that threaten to derail his chances at reincarnation at every trial. The casting of the 3 grim reapers is also spot-on with differing dynamics that lend propulsion to the story.
There is some amazing world building here, every level of hell is well-rendered and nothing for this reviewer feels repetitive. The CGI work here is top-notch, considering 90% of the movie is probably done to a green screen. IMHO CGI is just a means to an end and the end must always be to serve the story. The story is so strong here that the CGI disappears into the background.
Exposition is always a tricky business in storytelling and Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is practically all exposition. But the intrigue and suspense build-up through character motivations constantly draws one deeper into the proceedings. My senses hinged closely on the afterlife guardians' explanations at every turn as I got ready for the next trial. Even with the advance preparation the trial still puts me in a tailspin with some shocking revelations. Director Kim Yong Hwa even takes a 2-pronged narrative trek midway with both narrative trajectories dovetailing in the final act effectively.
The story resonates on God levels here. It is a rip-roaring adventure action film, but it also scores as an examination of the complexities of life lived in whatever station you are in. I shuddered in my seat as the end credits ran, wondering if I will see another movie that is as thrilling and heartfelt as this or can I even pass the seven trials right at that moment. Movies should do this - move you and make you want to become a better person. In a year you can count on the fingers of one hand, movies that can perform this feat successfully.
PS - a cameo during the ending threw me into a loop. I only found out later that this is the first of a 2-part epic, the concluding chapter will open in the summer of this year. Oh yeah! I am ready.