K-Movie: The Seven Hell Gates in Korean Afterlife

by Isabel Bang

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds | 신과 함께: 죄와 벌 (2017)

It’s only natural to be curious about the unknown, about what would happen after our death. That’s why it makes sense that there are so many myths, stories, and theories worldwide to give us an image of the afterlife. If we go deep into the traditional Buddhism theories that most East Asian countries based their old beliefs on, the life after death gets very interesting and vast. A Korean movie that talks about this East Asian afterlife folklore is ‘Along With the Gods: the Two Worlds’

Lotte Entertainment | Along With the Gods

‘Along With the Gods’ is currently ranked as the third highest-grossing film in South Korea, after Roaring Currents and Extreme Job (listed January 2021). The plot originates from a famous WEBTOON ‘Along With the Gods’ by Homin Joo. The original work had over 200 episodes and was divided into three seasons, which is why the movie is running in sequels as well - the second movie ‘Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days’ was released in 2018! The movie does not follow the plot of the WEBTOON very accurately, but it still has its own amazing storyline based on the unique and Korean culture-esque afterlife folklore. Just from this very novel setting of the film, people from around the world were just bound to be intrigued!

To ease you into the storyline, I must tell you the background of the Korean Buddhism afterlife traditions. When a person passes away, people go through a funeral ceremony called ‘49 Jae.’ From the day of the passing, the loved ones go through seven rituals, once each week, for forty-nine days. In these rituals, tables full of food are served for the dead and on the 49th day, all clothes and belongings of the dead are burnt to leave the land completely. Since Buddhism believes in reincarnation, families pray that the dead would reincarnate somewhere nice and peaceful during the ceremony. 

Lotte Entertainment | Along With the Gods

Buddhists also say that there are seven gates of hell in the Korean afterlife, and the movie links this concept to the 49 Jae ceremony. The movie portrays court trials for the dead in these seven hells to take place for the forty-nine days, for one’s afterlife fate to be decided. Depending on the crimes and wrongdoings during one's lifetime, the Gods of each court judge the guilt and sentence years to the dead spirit if necessary. If you pass through all the gates, you get to be incarcerated, but if you’re judged guilty, you’ll need to serve your time. The seven gates of hell include the murder hell, the indolence hell, the deceit hell, the injustice hell, the betrayal hell, the violent hell, and the filial impiety hell. At each gate they have brutal and ruthless punishments that make you look back in your life, worried about whether you’d have to end up in any one of those when you’re dead 🥲

Lotte Entertainment | Along With the Gods

Kim Ja-Hong (Cha Tae-Hyun), is the main lead of ‘Along With the Gods’, who died a heroic death as a firefighter trying to save a young kid’s life. With all the good deeds that Ja-Hong did in his life, he is labelled a ‘paragon’ (a noble) that’s treated as a VIP in these hell gates and trials. After his death, he encounters three guardians of death, a.k.a. The grim reapers, who seem quite excited to meet him. These guardians are Ja-Hong’s lawyers that proves his innocence at the courts, helping him to be reincarnated with honor. The guardians’ story is that if they manage to reincarnate forty-nine spirits within a thousand years, they too, get to leave the underworld and be reincarnated. As they were designated to a paragon for their 48th client, these guardians were expecting the trials to go nice and smooth. Yet, with the twist and turns, their adventure through the hell gates do not go as swiftly as predicted. 

Lotte Entertainment | Along With the Gods

The movie makes us question whether Ja-Hong is a worthy candidate for a reincarnation as his life story continues to be revealed in each trial. His complex life gets us worried, angry, sad, relieved, and also feeling very much related to him. Everyone lives a different drama and times of both good and bad. Each action would only be understood when your full story is explained, and not one action can be judged by itself. It's not just Ja-Hong's story that we get to look into, but also his family and the familial love that was disguised as guilt with misunderstandings.

As a lover of both the movie and the WEBTOON, I recommend Along With the Gods as a heart-moving watch & read in any media form possible. We’re also getting the news that the third and fourth movie is being filmed in 2021, so I’m definitely looking forward to that - rumours also saying that shooting crews are planning on a K-Drama as well 🤞 If you were curious about Korean traditional folktales and legends, this first sequel of Along With the Gods would be an interesting surprise for you! Check out the trailer below to see a bit of the brilliant acting, actions & computer graphics of Korea’s top box office films!

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