Director Kim Yong-hwa of the Along With the Gods series is known for playing with the formula for success in Korean films – humorous and lighthearted at first, intriguing and tear-jerking at the climax. Talented in making audiences laugh and cry, the filmmaker is back with Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days, the second instalment of the webtoon-turned-film.

The plot of The Last 49 Days follows on from where the first film, The Two Worlds, left off. The three agents of the afterlife – Gangrim (played by Ha Jung-woo), Haewonmak (Ju Ji-hoon) and Lee Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi) – try to ward off the guardians of the underworld which are trying to prevent their client Kim Soo-hong (Kim Dong-wook) from passing through underworld trials.

“There are three layers to this movie in which the plot moves between the underworld and the real world: Gangrim and Soo-hong’s adventure to the underworld trials, Haewonmak and Deok-choon’s quarrels with Seongju, the House Guardian God, and the three grim reapers’ life and death stories when they were humans 1,000 years ago,” Kim said.

Ha Jung-woo returns to afterlife in ‘Along with the Gods’ film sequel

“Weaving such extensive stories into a film without holes in the plot and inconsistencies was the hardest part and thus it required a long editing process,” he added.

The Last 49 Days, released last Wednesday, set a new record for opening day attendance, drawing 1.25 million people, surpassing the previous record set by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with 1.18 million, according to the Korean Film Council data. The mega sequel attracted more than 5 million people as of Sunday, according to its distributor Lotte Entertainment, and broke the record for the shortest amount of time to bring 5 million people to the Korean box office.

The director cautiously said the secret behind the movie’s success across Asia might be its suggestive melodrama, realistic visual effects and the unusual subject of grim reapers moving between the underworld and the real world.

“I was taken by surprise when I saw the term ‘tear-jerking’ in foreign reviews. That’s when I realised that a powerful story could evoke emotional responses from global audiences,” Kim said. Following the success of the first film, the cast and creative team launched promotional events in Asia in Taiwan on Sunday.

As for differences from the first instalment, Kim said, “If the first film moved you to tears, the second part will make you cry from the heart.”

Compared with The Two Worlds which had a fairly straightforward plot and humour, The Last 49 Days has more story layers and the underlying message of forgiveness as well as some fun elements and visual effects.

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“Working on visual effects for the sequel was much more difficult,” Kim said. “But we were pretty confident with making creatures with computer graphics. The appearance of dinosaurs in the movie was intended to pay homage to the Jurassic Park film. Of course, some were opposed to the idea of inserting dinosaurs in the movie, as they might distract viewers. But as a director of commercial movies, I wanted to add some fun to the film and prove that the quality of Korean movies can rival those at Hollywood.”

Kim commented that he is proud to witness Korean movies gaining more attention worldwide and their quality improving over time.

“It is funny how people keep saying that Korean movies are in crisis. I've been hearing the phrase since 1991, but how the quality has improved over time. Although there are problems regarding lack of diversity in genres and the screen quota system, I think the quality isn’t far behind Hollywood movies these days.”

Despite audiences’ high expectations for further instalments of the series, Kim said he has no specific plans for a third instalment due to a busy schedule, both as a movie director and CEO of Dexter Studios – the visual effects production unit behind the Along With the Gods series.

“We’ll have to see how the sequel goes and if it marks a success, I’ll consider making the next one. But the director may change, who knows? I’m open to all sorts of possibilities,” Kim said.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds, which was released in December 2017, became the second most-viewed film of all time in Korea, attracting an audience of over 14 million.

The 40 billion won (US$35.6 million) budget fantasy film also topped box offices in Asian countries including Taiwan and Hong Kong. The film became the highest-grossing Korean film in Taiwan, and the second-highest in Hong Kong following The Battleship Island.

Director Kim’s previous works include 200 Pound Beauty (2006), Take Off (2009) and Mr. Go (2013).

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This article was originally written by Kwak Yeon-soo for The Korea Times.