As I have probably said many times before, along with watching films, I do like to have a drama on the go at the same time. The 45-70 minute episodic nature works well for me when I don’t have the time or energy for a full movie, plus it means I can pick at it over time. Usually I am watching some recommended drama from times past, but on occasion I just pick a random one, maybe because I like one of the Stars, or possibly I find the synopsis intriguing. This one definitely falls into the latter category, but it is the first time I have followed a drama whilst it is still being shown in its native market. What this meant was I had actually caught up with it before it had completed airing, and I actually spent two weeks desperately waiting for the final episodes to be shown, made available online and subtitled. I’m not so sure I want to go through that again, but this one actually ended up rather entertaining.
“49 Days” is a take on an Asian concept I have seen before. The idea is that once a person dies, their spirit has 49 Days before ascending to the afterlife to sort out any outstanding affairs in the mortal world. What happens here is that Ji-hyun (Nam Gyu-ri) is a young flighty girl who is about to get married to her boyfriend Min-Ho (Bae Su-bin). However, on the way back from her Wedding Dress fitting, she is involved in a traffic accident caused by the attempted suicide of Yi-Kyung (Lee Yo-won). She awakes as a ethereal spirit and welcomed by a Scheduler (Jung Il-woo) who informs her that she has died, but that it is not technically her time to die, she has 49 days to awake from the coma her physical body is now in. In those 49 days, she has to find 3 people (not kin) that will cry honest tears for her and her predicament. Sounds easy for someone so young and popular you would think? Turns out that this is not the case – humans are complex people and shows of emotion often hide other selfish reasons. She is given the loan of Yi-Kyung’s body during her sleeping hours (without her knowledge), but is not able to tell anyone of her real identity. Yes, there are lots of rules and regulations in this 49 Day program, and Ji-hyun is going to find out a lot about her friends and family along the way. To complicate matters, Yi-Kyung is a bit of a lost soul herself, grieving over some initially unknown loss, and this story intertwines with the main one.
It’s soap opera stuff – it turns out Min Ho is having an affair with Ji-hyun’s best friend In-jung (Seo Ji-hye). But how long has it been going on for? And is Min-Ho the straight up guy he appears to be? Plus we have Han Kang (Jo Hyeon-jae) who is an old school friend of Ji-hyun as Min-ho’s best friend who seems a very sullen and angry young man who carried a secret torch for Ji-hyun. I’ll say no more, as there are 20 episodes of twists and turns for you to enjoy.
The show is as polished to look at as you would expect from South Korea. The acting on the whole is above average, and Lee Yo-won is especially good having to play effectively two characters. Nam Gyu-ri is utterly delightful as the rather naive Ji-hyun. Jung Il-woo steals pretty much every scene he appears in, and really gets very interesting as the show progresses. Sure, every character is stupidly good looking, and it is a little high on the melodrama, but again that’s normal. For a change, the first episode is actually quite gripping, I usually find it takes me a while to warm to a K-Drama, but in this case it had me on episode one – which is lucky as actually the first half of the show is actually quite slow going. It gets too obsessed with the machinations of the A plot, and nothing much is done with the journey of Ji-hyun, nor the hinted story with Yi-kyung and the Scheduler. The plot of our villains is frankly not sketched out or realised that well, but to be honest, I’m not sure it is that important other than a way to drive the other characters to certain places. It also frustrates – it sets up a lot of rules for the 49 Day program, and yet it keeps introducing loopholes. That would be fine, if it were not for the fact that this is obviously not a one-off. There are going to be a lot of people that are going to be aware of this if Ji-hyun’s experience is anything to go by. It also commits the common sin of having actors in their mid-20’s playing themselves at school – I’m afraid the illusion does not work that well (and mostly I am looking at you Jo Hyeon-jae).
But, once we get to about episode 9, it really starts to click, and you get invested in the storylines of all the characters. It has interesting things to say about identity (several characters cotton onto the dual identity of Ji-hyun/Yi-kyung, to varying degrees) – is the personality of an individual more important than their physical appearance? It does a really nice trick giving the audience some information about Yi-kyung and the Scheduler well before the characters are aware of it. I believed in the romances, the way people changed and were affected by their new circumstances. It was also brave enough NOT to go too far in some of the relationships. It also manages to humanise Min-ho and especially In-jung, giving them both punishments, but also a path to redemption.
Which kind of brings me to the ending. Without spoiling things, the show pulls what I like to call a “Windstruck”. It delivers a conclusion, and then takes it away very very quickly. I’m ok with this, as I guess life is like that sometimes. It isn’t all happy endings, and walking off into the sunset. People do die before their time, people do hold candles for others that is just not going to be reciprocated. I know from reading various forums, that a lot of people felt quite cheated about how the show ended. But on the whole, it really worked for me. It did something that marked it out as especially Korean, and you really can’t call it bland. On the other hand, it does pull a rabbit of out the hat in the final show, that to be honest was only mildly hinted at. And frankly, when you think about it, really should have been a far bigger deal to some of the older characters. But again, once the Elephant in the room is recognised, the show is smart enough not to sugar coat the resolution too much.
I really enjoyed the show, despite the slow start and the rather rushed ending. In fact, I was desperate for two weeks whilst I waited for the last bunch of episodes to become available and fan-subbed. Ironically, it actually talked to me about something going on in my real life, which is maybe why I am being so forgiving about it. So I think it is Highly Recommended. Enjoy