As a kid, I’d try to get extra TV time. In front of my mother, I would plead my case, extolling the goggle box’s educational benefits.  It was part excuse, part truth. I swear. Case in point, the South Korean fantasy blockbuster Along With The Gods (AWTG for short).

The two-part flick (a third-part is scheduled to be filmed next year) is a dazzling CGI packed, eye-opener into the afterlife as painted in Korean mythology.

Now that it’s the seventh month, you might want to know more about grim reapers and the afterworld. Grim reapers, also called “guardians” in the AWTG universe, are lawyers and bodyguards rolled into one. Their job is to escort the deceased through seven trials within 49 days. The successful cases get a shot at another life, and reincarnate.

The first film Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds sold more than 14.4 million tickets, ranking second in the list of most-watched films in South Korea. The intriguing story unfolds as three grim reapers escort a firefighter Ja Hong facing trials and tribulations in the underworld. In the first instalment, soldier Ja Hong dies an unfortunate death in the army.

Our favourite trio of guardians is back in the sequel, Along With The Gods: The Last 49 Days. Guardians Gang Rim (Ha Jung-woo), Haewonmak (Ju Ji Hoon) and Lee Deok Choon (Kim Hyang Gi) are on a mission to defend their 49th soul, Ja Hong’s brother Su Hong (Kim Dong-wook).

But if you didn’t know your Korean customs, you might be quite lost when you’re late for the movie and find Haewonmak and Lee Deok Choon rummaging through a house looking for…

1. A household god in a pot (Along With The Gods: The Last 49 Days)

Meet the gentle giant Seongju, a household god, in Along With The Gods.  Credit: Golden Village

The stakes are extra high for the three guardians. The trio is one successful case away from their own reincarnation.

The King of Hades ups the difficulty, tasking the spirits to defeat the renegade household god, Seongju (Ma Dong Seok). The gentle giant is a do-gooder, fulfilling the role of protector bestowed upon him by traditional families who believe in Korean folklore.

Venerated as Seongju, or House Guardian God, he doesn’t take the form of a sculpture or painting. Instead, he is enshrined in a sacred earthenware pot called the Danji. The small, round pot is filled with rice grains and kept in the home.

The Seongju isn’t the only deity living in jars in homes. For material wealth, there’s the Daegamsin, the State Official God. The jar is filled with freshly harvested rice stalks or money.

The Goddess of Childbearing Samsin’s vessel is a rice-filled container covered with white ritual paper, bound with a straw rope.

We’re hoping the grim reapers don’t pay us a visit any time soon. But to help yourself, you should…

2. Refrain from writing your name in red (Kim’s Convenience) 

In an episode of Canadian comedy Kim’s Convenience, grocery shop owner Mr Kim is all for signing a petition to create a better playground.

There’s just one problem: He’s given a red ink pen to sign his name with.

That’s taboo. Red ink is traditionally used to record the deceased’s name in the family register.

So if Mr Kim wrote his name in red, he would be wishing bad luck upon himself. He conveniently breaks the pen by accident and replaces it with a blue one, to avert the crisis.

If Mr Kim ever felt like misfortune is about to befall him, he could try…

3. Buying a good dream for luck (Pinocchio) 

Bickering friends turned lovers Choi In Ha and Choi Dal Po in Pinocchio, newsroom K-drama. Credit: Facebook

If you’re looking to make some pocket money, try selling your good dream. If you’re looking for some luck, you can buy a good dream.

Dreams of dragons are deemed the most auspicious. Dreams of pigs are said to bring wealth.

But really it’s up to you to interpret whether it’s a good or bad dream.

In the K-drama Pinocchio, Choi Dal Po dreams of a happy family life. His parents aren’t dead, and the fateful accident which ruined their lives never took place. He later sells the delightful dream for 5,000 won to aspiring reporter Choi In Ha — in hopes of fulfilling her wish of reuniting with her mother.  

Dreams are not the only subject of superstitions. Food is a big thing too. Students eat sticky taffy candy before an exam — in hopes that all facts crammed into their brains stick. Seaweed soup is a no-no. Slurp down the slippery seaweed, it’s believed that your grades may slip as well.

Then there’s tofu…


4. Eating tofu after release from prison (Lady Vengeance)

When ex-convicts step out of prison in Korea, waiting family or friends present them with a block of tofu.

The tofu’s white colour represents purity. Eating the tofu symbolises a fresh start, a hope of leading a life as pure as tofu.

Thriller Lady Vengeance opens with the familiar scene, as wrongfully accused murderer Lee Geum Ja is given a piece of tofu. Of course, we all know she isn’t planning on staying clean.

When the ex-con moves into his new home, you could…

5. Bring toilet rolls as housewarming gifts

Here’s a tip if you’re going for a Korean friend’s housewarming party. Go with a packet of toilet rolls. The practice is seen in Korean dramas and movies for a good reason.

Nope, you’re not being a cheap guest. The practical gift represents good luck, wishing the homeowner’s pursuits “roll out” as smoothly as how toilet paper unravels easily.

No wonder the K-pop idols in the GIF above are rolling the toilet paper out like their life depends on it.

So what other Korean customs will you learn from Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days? You’ll have to catch this Korean blockbuster and find out for yourself! It has started sneaking into theatres and officially opens this Wednesday, August 22.

Did you learn about any Korean superstitions or customs from the media? Share them with us in the comments!


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