Imagine everything that you have done in your life at this point. With all of those memories, how would every indolent moment, every time you indirectly or directly caused harm, lied, or betrayed stack up in in a trial? Where the judge is a god and the prosecutors will sniff out every single bad deed? And what if you came up short? Or worse, the prosecutors won?
Depending on which trial you fail, your punishment could be being thrown into fiery lava trying to escape by climbing over other souls or forever run from the gigantic stone rollers that will either flatten you or throw you into waters full of soul eating fish.
After a sudden death during his fireman duties, Kim Ja-Hong (played by Cha Tae-hyun), finds himself in such a situation of judgement. Flanked by three grim reapers who will stand as his defenders through each level of hell, Kim Ja-Hong must revisit his past for a chance at reincarnation. As a paragon (someone who has died selflessly), having Kim Ja-Hong succeed through the trials will grant the grim reapers one more step closer into their own reincarnation of their choosing. The stakes are high for both sides and it is mutually beneficial that they help one another. It does not help at all when a vengeful spirit connected to Kim Ja-Hong in the real world has manifested, an existence that impacts the afterlife causing time to escalate and hellish creatures to appear.
For him to be successfully reincarnated, Kim Ja-Hong must pass all 7 trials in 49 days.
These grim reapers are battle ready. The youthful grim reaper, Deok-Chook (played by Kim Hyang-gi) is “karma” with the ability to sort through Kim Ja-Hong’s life and view all of his past transgressions and triumphs. Her role is very akin to a skilled records clerk of your life. Hewonmak (played by Ju Ji-Hoon) is the warrior of the trio. Not as bright or as tactful, he is quick with the bladed staff that magically split into two double swords. Leading and navigating through the trials is Gang-rim (Played by Ha Jung-Woo). Together all three work their way to defend Kim Ja-Hong through all 7 rings. The seven trials: Murder, Indolence, Deceit, Injustice, Betrayal, Violence, and Filial Impiety will challenge Kim Ja-Hong’s status as a paragon. For even the most selfless of all humans have shadows in their past.
There is a reason this movie was one of the top movies in South Korea and selling out multiple shows in Southern California at CGV theater (the only theater chain so far that will feature South Korean movies with English subtitles). With the help of Dexter studios, one of the biggest special effects masters, and directed by Kim Yong-haw, the gritty web comic by author Joo Ho-min became a South Korean box office hit. This is a visually stunning adventure with so much heart that there is rarely a dry eye in the house.
Each trial that Kim Ja-Hong is put through gives a snapshot of his past. We see the importance of his mother. We see how he works to help put his brother through school. There seems to be little question of why he is a paragon. There is a reason for the trials. With each trial, the snapshot widens until the whole story clicks in the place, the motivations behind his selflessness becomes heartbreaking.
The special effects are not flawless and there were parts that could have been better. One of the exciting parts of the movie is the battle of the bladed hell creatures attacking the party as they move through the Forest of Deceit. The sequence is fast past paced but also incredibly dark. It is hard to make out the hellish creatures except for the occasional flash of their bodies. Although they are moving at night, there could have been something done to make it visually easy to see.
Seven trials of hell was a pretty easy concept and there was not much surprise on which factor was valued the most. What was difficult to follow were the loose threads in the story left unanswered. Why would a vengeful ghost be in the afterlife? Does every soul have their own afterlife world they walk through or did these changes affect all parts of the afterlife? Some portions were breezed through and I would love to learn more about those particular hell levels. It would have made the movie extra long but the the visual scenery was just too beautiful not to want more.
Overall, it was great movie. Laughed, held my breath, and sobbed all in one sitting. By far, my own favorite scene was the Indolent hell. The bright blue water, the beautiful unique costumes, the funny little montage of Kim Ja Hong’s like (really? A CGI cat?!), and the comedic dialogue. I also felt that Indolent Hell would be my own feared punishment!
It is definitely a recommended movie and a movie that the whole family can enjoy. It is just a visually amazing story that floors me with each viewing. No surprise, I wanted to give my family a huge hug afterwards. Nor was it surprise that I ran to my diaries and revisited memories and wonder if I myself would pass the trials.
Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds on DVD or Blu-Ray now as the sequel will be coming out next year. Follow @WellGoUSA on Facebook and Twitter or for more information, go www.wellgousa.com.