Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days film review – Korean fantasy blockbuster returns bigger, louder, but not better
Writer-director Kim Yong-hwa’s follow-up to the successful Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds boasts lavish production design and eye-popping CGI dreamscapes, but has bad pacing and at times can be a thunderous slog
Although barely six months have passed since his adaptation of Joo Ho-min’s webtoon Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds became a box-office sensation, writer-director Kim Yong-hwa has delivered a second, even more ambitious chapter in his celestial saga.
Following on immediately from events of the previous film, The Last 49 Days also explores the backstories of its three guardian protagonists.
Guardian Gang-lim (Ha Jung-woo) must now “ascend” Su-hong (Kim Dong-wook), the younger brother of his previous ward, through the underworld trials that end in either reincarnation or being banished to hell. Gang-lim claims that Su-hong’s murder gives him paragon status, which would grant him reincarnation if proved correct. However, Su-hong’s trial will be far from simple, and Gang-lim’s own unorthodox methods come under heavy scrutiny.
Meanwhile, fellow guardians Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi) and Hewonmak (Ju Ji-hoon) are assigned the task of ascending an elderly man, only to discover household god Sung-ju (a sadly underused Ma Dong-seok) has sworn to protect him, at least until a new home can be found for the man’s young grandson. In return for their patience, Sung-ju recounts to the guardians their own human pasts, and how their lives were tragically intertwined.
While it boasts the same lavish production design and eye-popping CGI dreamscapes as its predecessor, The Last 49 Days lacks the first film’s narrative simplicity. Instead of simply going through the motions of another paragon’s seven trials, we now have giant sea monsters and dinosaur attacks – as visually impressive as they are narratively redundant – as well as running jokes about the economic downturn and mutual fund investments.
The film underwent hasty reshoots to replace actor Oh Dal-su, after he was embroiled in a sexual assault scandal, but it is the lengthy flashbacks, set a thousand years earlier in the war-torn Goryeo era, where the pacing suffers most. Whereas the original was magical and engrossing, its follow-up is at times a thunderous slog.
The open ending here confirms there is yet more to come in the Along with the Gods saga, but audiences may need more than digital razzle dazzle to keep them coming back.
Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days opens on August 9
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