Welcome to the afterlife in With the Gods
I am so ready for this!! When I first heard my favorite webtoon was getting a film makeover, I was beyond excited, only to deflate a little to hear that the actual movie wouldn’t release for a couple of years. Well, fast-forward two years later and With the Gods finally has a premiere date for this December! And by the looks of its trailer, the long production time was worth the wait.
There’s been some tweaks to the original story, but the basic premise remains the same: With the Gods gives a modern twist to Korean folklore about the afterlife, depicting deceased souls who receive judgment for their actions by various gods and their courts. The webtoon was pretty satirical and provided some sharp commentary on the state of contemporary society, while also acting as a fascinating mini-course on traditional Korean mythology.
While Cha Tae-hyun’s (The Best Hit) character in the source material was an average salaryman who died of work-related alcohol abuse, it looks like his pre-death occupation in the film version is a firefighter. Reapers Joo Ji-hoon (Asura) and Kim Hyang-gi (Snowy Road) call his name as he dies in the line of duty, both looking oddly calm as fiery chaos unfolds around them. Cha Tae-hyun is understandably confused, and I had to laugh at how Joo Ji-hoon attempts to placate him by saying, “It’s fine, it’s fine. It’s only because this is your first time dying.” How comforting. The copy reads, “After death, life goes on.”
They all meet head reaper Ha Jung-woo (Tunnel) at the gates of Cha Tae-hyun’s first trial. In the webtoon, the dead are all assigned defense attorneys for their various trials in front of the underworld’s gods, but I think the film is conflating the reaper and lawyer roles together. Ha Jung-woo informs us that there are seven hells, and that the King of Hell (Lee Jung-jae, Warriors of the Dawn) will personally choose the order of Cha Tae-hyun’s trials.
We see the reapers and the former firefighter travel through the various parts of the underworld, where “everyone goes,” but which “nobody has ever seen.” The teaser tells us that the “door to a new world has opened,” though this is not a world I’d like to spend a lot of time in, if even the reapers have a hard time traveling through it. The clip ends with our first look at a heavily bearded, chain-wielding Lee Jung-jae, the King of Hell.
I’m slightly disappointed that the film has removed some of my favorite elements of the webtoon, like the relatable average-ness of the office worker who died from being force-fed so much alcohol over the years at his company, and his ingenious afterlife lawyer who would find ways around the hell-courts’ systems to his client’s advantage. But, the epicness of this trailer has outweighed that feeling by far, and I also realize that it’s almost impossible to adapt over 200 chapters of a webtoon into two films, so I’m really looking forward to watching this soon.
I also can’t wait to see the bevy of actors who will play the plethora of characters in the afterlife and in the earthly realm. Up to play various gods in the afterlife are Jang Gwang (Mystery Queen), Jung Hae-kyun (Rescue Me), Kim Su-an (Battleship Island), Kim Haneul (Misbehavior), and Kim Hae-sook (Father Is Strange). Ma Dong-seok (Police Unit 38), Oh Dal-soo (Memoir of a Murderer), and Im Won-hee (Strong Woman Do Bong-soon) play various minor gods and judges. There are also some mortal characters in EXO’s D.O. (Hyung), Kim Dong-wook (Radiant Office), and Lee Jun-hyuk (Forest of Secrets). From what I remember of the webtoon, D.O.’s character has a particularly horrific sub-plot, so I’m looking forward to how they’ll treat that onscreen.
Whew, that is a lot of names. But, the film’s large ensemble cast just speaks to its grand scale, and I am counting down the days until I can watch it on the big screen. With the Gods will premiere on December 20.