Thoughts on 49 Days

I just love the promo poster above. There’s that slightly sinister (did I just use that word?) look on Ji-hyun. Yi-kyung, while facing her, seems unaware of her presence. And the black and white.

I caught up and finished 49 Days a while ago. I started with pretty high expectation because I noticed the raves, and generally, I have a fondness for shows and movies like Six Feet Under, Death at A Funeral, In Bruges, (the k-drama) Flowers for My Life. Morbid much? In reality death is grim, it’s something we don’t fully understand and we rarely talk about. Behind the lens (or the pen), when done well and thoughtfully and sensitively, it has the mad potential to be something great.

The result? To me, the drama hovers on the borderline between good and great; but eventually, it didn’t manage to make the jump to greatness.

49 started light hearted and pretty. Shin Ji-hyun, young, beautiful and privileged with loving parents and friends, is to be engaged to the love of her life. Unfortunately she also came across as a bit of an annoying airhead – the obliviousness, the princessy tendency; if completely unintentional. Then of course came along that fateful car accident, and the 49 Days.

Ji-hyun, who’s desperate to come back to life, is allowed to borrow the body of Song Yi-kyung, who can’t wait to end hers. Their lives could not be more different. Yi-kyung has stopped ‘living’, she’s just barely there; choosing an existence completely devoid of purpose, meaning, companionship, not even simple pleasures like eating. Dude, I love instant noodles; but even I wouldn’t do that.

It seems simple, the premise of this drama and Ji-hyun’s 49 Days mission: get three pure tears from three people who sincerely love her, family excepted, and come back to life. It should be an easy mission. She’s got her two best friends and of course Min-ho oppa her fiancee; she’s well loved. Well, maybe except that Han Kang who always gives her the cold shoulders even though they’re high school friends.

Of course things are not that simple. Ji-hyun really was in for a rude shock, for the illusion of her perfect life is shattered. Dear fiancee and dear best friend have been conning her for years, aiming for her dad’s company. Yes, her dad who also happens to suffer from terminal illness.

(Come to think of it, the drama gods for this one are really cruel.)

For me, 49 Days is like an unassuming little sapling that unexpectedly blossoms into this beautiful thing. Somewhere along the journey, my annoyance with Ji-hyun gradually changed into fondness and I began to root for her earnestly. Her sweet nature and kindness, her care for Yi-kyung, her love for her parents and friends got me. The bad guys, who are also the people close to her, are flawed and complex and conflicted instead of being painted as one-dimensionally evil. I never expected The Scheduler and Yi-kyung’s storyline to be so compelling.

And of course, any discussion about 49 Days ain’t complete without mentioning Kang-aaaaahhhh!! Kang-ah is a genius. Not again. And an architect. Not another one! Who hangs around in his restaurant all the time instead of working labouriously on a design project. Huh?

Exactly my point, Kang.

But anyway, once and for all he’s completely deserving of his genius status, because he’s so… switched on. Seriously, he has this uncanny ability of knowing what’s going on and avoiding petty misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts that droned on and on for hours, overpopulating the k-drama scene. Not to mention his gentleness and thoughtfulness. His quiet suffering of being in love with his respected hyung’s girl. His attentiveness to every little thing of Ji-hyun’s quirks and habits. Those sorrowful eyes. That great bod.

Far from being a simple romcom, 49 Days muses on life and loss, sorrow and moving on, love and friendship, sincerity and jealousy. And I say it’s a darn good attempt.

With blow after blow that her family suffers, I thought Ji-hyun’s mum would succumb in denial and sorrow – but instead she overcomes that and shows strength she never knew she had. Meanwhile, Yi-kyung is unable to move on from the death of Yi-soo, the only one who cherished and loved her in the world. Ji-hyun’s kindness and helpful nature, coming from a girl who never seems to suffer any hardship in life… Is it inevitable human nature that it would fruit envy and ugly jealousy from the receiving end?

Not only that, the show had me clicking for the next episode expectantly; the end-of-episode cliffhangers are particularly good. The show, liberated of the usual unnecessary conflicts, went to directions I sometimes didn’t expect and kept me on my toes all the time. As the boundaries between the soul Ji-hyun and the living world started to break down, I had to award 49 Days as the most goosebumps inducing k-drama I’ve ever watched.

Gee, as I write about this, there are so many good points about 49 Days is and how I with I could give it a 10/10. I love the themes brought forward by the show, its gutsy take on one of the biggest mysteries of human life. I also admire and adore quite a few characters in this show.

Of course it has its flaws, like the rushed real sisters storyline, the annoying psychiatrist (um at least he’s well meaning), and how everyone’s so switched on and accepting to extraordinary supernatural happenings, and the acting. But it’s not enough to offset the good things happening here. Ultimately,  for me, it’s lacking that magical 1% that rips my guts out and had me bewitched.

Or is it… is it the ending? Throughout the show, our Ji-hyun has finally accepted death. She’s tried her darnest to return to life, and along the profound 49 Days journey has grown in wisdom and maturity. And finally, she got her three tears and is granted a second chance at life. Only to be taken away. For real this time.

Uh. Oh. Hmm.

Yes, I was caught off guard. And yes, especially after calming down and giving it some thought and reading up other discussions, my head accepts that this ending, given the direction taken by the writer, is the best way to wrap up the scenario. Make her live and also remember her 49 Days and live happily with Kang; it becomes a weak saccharine Disney ending. If she lives and forgets the 49 Days, it would make an unrewarding and unsatisfying one. So the only remaining option, and the strongest one, is for her to die, but remember her 49 Days. It is powerful and profound. It stays true to the message it wants to deliver. The puzzle pieces fall into place nicely. It becomes clear that the 49 Days is indeed a gift since she gains so much, learns who the people who truly matter, and creates this beautiful connection with Yi-kyung; whom she would not have known otherwise, and ultimately saves her.

It also left me feeling somewhat cold.

This is a really bad metaphor, but imagine a petulant kid with a mouthful of cavities demanding cake. His mum wouldn’t let him have it. He stomps his feet and cries out but still his mum wouldn’t budge. Finally he starts to relent and understand that he and cakes aren’t meant to be together. Probably he even starts learning to love his veggies instead. But lo and behold! Mum presents him the loveliest looking piece of black forest cake; looked on him encouragingly, “This is a reward since you’ve been so good”. So the kid gives the cake a little sniff, so tantalising the smell. And as he tentatively spoons the cake and brings it closer and closer to his mouth, *SPLAT*, mum knocks down his spoon and in the whole platter. Because, well, haven’t you learn the lesson? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Hmph. Even if the metaphor’s all off since cake’s indeed bad for him, I can’t help but feeling exactly like the kid. I feel wronged.

Thus, head gives a score 9/10, heart only gives it a 7. At least, I’m greatly consoled by the fact that Ji-hyun’s final tear comes from In-jung; who, stripped off the jealousy and insecurities, deep down, sincerely loves her.

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About toopai
part time couch potato, full time movie and drama enthusiast.

2 Responses to Thoughts on 49 Days

  1. ditdut says:

    This was such a jinx. Episode 15 had me going all “I’m 100% sure the ending would do the drama justice” and crap. Look how that turned out.

    Personally, I dig the fact that Jihyun ends up dying. It’s a great mirroring with Yikyung and Yisoo in terms of closure and moving on. It’s not about yanking hopes, but it’s just a cruel fact that nobody can cheat death. What I don’t like about it is that it seems to be pulled just to kinda open a way for Yikyung and Kang, even tho subtly. And the sister bit just effectively ruined the ending.

    • toopai says:

      At least the sister storyline leads to the fact that Ji-hyun’s last tear is from In-jung, which is just awesome. I know some people were all, “I knew it!” from the subtle hints but I was too oblivious to notice any. It should be clearer and built up better. As for the ending, it is great in the narrative sense. Anything else wouldn’t be this deep and profound. Can’t help that I feel cheated tho. And I’ve grown to like Ji-hyun (even Nam Gyu-ri) a lot :,(

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