First impression review: 49 Days

The premiere of the newest soul-swapping drama from SBS, 49 Days, has come and gone. Despite a slow ratings start (8.1% for the first episode and 8.0% for the second), the Korean audience responded positively to the fast pace and the creative premise of the show. In contrast, the international online community had a more mixed reaction. And my verdict? With much caution still, lest I jinx myself, I foresee that 49 Days might just turn out to be my newest drama crack in the making.

I confess that coming in, I had strong doubt about the fantasy element of the drama. Quite simply, it’s normally not my cup of tea. Here, however, that exact fantasy element presents such a fascinating  plot setup and room for genuine future conflicts, that I’m sold.  Unlike the recent stream of romance dramas that relied solely on the chemistry between the main couples, 49 Days seems to actually have something that they’ve been lacking – a plot. (oh! snap!)

THE STORY

At first glance and as far as she’s concerned, Shin Ji Hyun (Nam Gyu Ri) has everything going for her. Loving (and rich) parents who adore her; competent fiancé, Kang Min Ho (Bae Soo Bin); and two best girlfriends, Shin In Jung (Seo Ji Hye) and Park Seo Woo (Bae Geu Rin), who she trusts would give the coat off their own back if she ever needed it. Sure, Han Kang (Jo Hyun Jae), the talented architect and restauranteur who was her high school classmate and is her fiancé’s best buddy, always seems to give her the cold shoulder. But happy and carefree by nature (almost to the point of being called simple-minded), Ji Hyun doesn’t seem to take it to heart.

When Ji Hyun’s dad suddenly asks that she and Min Ho move up their wedding date, they’re taken aback but they follow along. After all, her husband-to-be is her knight in shining armor who had rescued her on their first meeting, when she was lost by herself during a hiking trip with In Jung.

And at the other side of town lives Song Yi Kyung (Lee Yo Won), a woman who has once received a degree in hotel management and tourism, but who is now a walking dead working at a neighborhood convenience store. Unkempt and expressionless, she merely goes through the act of living, but clearly she wants to stop that as well.

On the 5th anniversary of a day marked on her calendar, Yi Kyung takes the bus to a location of a past deadly car accident (A motorcycle, perhaps? Just saying!) and throws herself onto an oncoming truck. Though rescued just in the nick of time by a man who is a regular customer at the convenience store she works at (and who also happens to have followed her here), the damage is done and a multi-car pileup ensues.

Ji Hyun is also driving along that highway, and when a motorcyclist in front of her skids and falls, she swerves to avoid the motorcyclist and instead ends up hitting the truck from the earlier pileup. The impact throws her soul out of her body (literally), and Ji Hyun’s soul is forced to see the horror of her own comatose body be transported to the hospital.

What follows is an encounter with a perm-haired, motorcycle-riding, club-going, smartphone-using, modern-day Grim Reaper (and no, that’s a “Scheduler” for you, thankyouverymuch) (played by Jung Il Woo). The Scheduler informs her that since it wasn’t her time yet but her life’s been cheated away by someone else’s action, this is one of the rare instances (the third in his 5 years as a Scheduler) where she will be given the option to come back alive if she can find three non-family members to cry “pure” tears of love for her within the next 49 days. She chooses this option, believing that she has this in the bag. After all, counting Min Ho and her two friends, she easily has three right there.

The Scheduler further explains that Ji Hyun can borrow Yi Kyung’s body during those 49 days, with the caveat that (1) she can’t tell anyone of her true identity, (2) she can only use Yi Kyung’s body while the host is asleep and thus she must return home by midnight every night (ahh, I’m expecting at least one Cinderella moment in the future), and (3) she has to earn whatever money she needs herself.

And so starts Ji Hyun’s life as Yi Kyung as she follows the people from her original life as they grieve over her. To her surprise, she finds that people are much better at holding their tears in and they don’t cry as easily as she thought they would. Meanwhile, hungry and without money for food and basic necessities, Ji Hyun ends up at Kang’s restaurant. She ends up asking him for a job at his restaurant, and much to her surprise, gets it.

Everything is smooth sailing (albeit going slower than she originally anticipated), when she accidentally comes across Min Ho going into a hotel room. And much to her dismay, she sees In Jung following him right after. This triggers her memory of the day of her accident, as she remembers that she saw those two together on that day as well…

COMMENTS

Let’s get the bad out of the way, shall we? Besides his past experiences as an assistant director, 49 Days is director Jo Young Gwang’s directorial debut. And well, it shows. The scenes have pretty choppy transitions, and although it didn’t bother me in the first two episodes, I wonder how that may affect the quality and even the storytelling as we get further into the drama. A possible concern for the future, but I remain optimistic. I’ve seen plenty of well-directed dramas get ruined by a poor script, but rarely have I seen a well-written script get ruined by poor directing (and not that I’m calling 49 Days poorly directed either). It may lower the overall quality of the drama, but this is where drama cracks come along.

Second, the soundtrack released so far seems rather forgettable. But luckily, the songs are not the annoyingly addictive kinds and rather inoffensive, and I can see them either growing on you as the drama progresses or just easily dismissed.

And now to the fun part. I love the way writer So Hyun Kyung had set up the relationship between the main six characters to be much more than meets the eye. All the characters in Ji Hyun’s life had been wearing a mask, and we only come to discover their true selves under the mask as Ji Hyun starts living as Yi Kyung. I don’t think the revelation that Min Ho and In Jung are in fact not as “good” as they appear to be would have surprised that many viewers. The other alternative would be that Ji Hyun develops feelings for another man and cheats on her grieving fiancé while she herself is in a comatose state, and you know, that’s just cruel.

What I did not foresee is the possibility (if what the clues indicate are true) of the Scheduler being Yi Kyung’s former lover, and the significance of what this would mean to him and the two women “in his life” once they realize their connection.  Further, with the various potential couplings, there’s also the issue of whether we, or any of the characters themselves, will truly understand who they’re falling for. Interestingly, this is true even if the characters discover about the soul swap, as there will always be the question of whether they’re in love with the person or the soul inside that person. But really, even without the soul swap to complicate the matter, isn’t this the age-old question of what is love? The possibilities are endless, and the final outcome remains highly unpredictable… just the way I like it!

Lee Yo Won is a much better actress when playing a brighter character, and as expected, the transition as she took on Ji Hyun’s role was smooth. It still remains to be seen the chemistry she develops with her male co-stars, and how that carries on during the intervals when Nam Gyu Ri takes over.

I find Jo Hyun Jae to be the younger, less experienced version of Park Yong Woo (isn’t the resemblance uncanny?). And I’m liking the depth in his eyes that Jo Hyun Jae is developing, following in the footsteps of his look-a-like senior colleague.

Oh, and Jung Il Woo as the Scheduler is a complete hoot. I can only guess that he’s having a blast playing his new role.

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11 Responses to First impression review: 49 Days

  1. camille says:

    Thank you very much. I like your article & I enjoyed reading it. This drama brings out many questions about how the story will go & how things will unfold with regards to the relationship of the cast. I enjoyed it so far especially episode 2 where Lee YoWon played a cheerful character. So many hilarious moments. Can’t wait to see the next episode.

  2. ajjahh says:

    indeed, this drama has a good start for me, i start liking it more and more, i think the story will develop smoothly episode by episode..

    and i love all the cast, they’re great..

  3. missjb says:

    I start to love this drama…. hOpe it won’t dissapoint me. I trust SO Hyung Kyung and can’t wait to see the story and the conflicts will unfold. I Love her previous work. The writers is my main reason why I watch this drama int he first place. I don’t care some bad acting because I can deal with it. That’s the way I can enjoy a compelling story…

  4. kcomments says:

    Dear Blue, you have to add Park Yong Woo into this, do you? ^_^ Hehe.
    The hardest part for me on starting a new drama is to remember the NAMES, and this soul swapping makes it even more ridiculous (couldn’t finish reading SG recap cuz of that). I myself didn’t watch it yet, your post here temping me to DL, but I’ll resist for now. Have a sneaky feeling this drama might betray me LOL and you know it’s really bad for your health to get addicted since ep1, will update with the recap/review though. BUT even without seeing, already fallen for the high-tech Scheduler (my guessing he will steal the show), have read comments elsewhere that he is the Scheduler to die for, LOL.

    Thanks Blue for sharing, hope you will be over JJW in no time. *wink wink*

  5. Softy says:

    Hey blue – so glad you seem to like this too. Ppl keep complaining about the main actress and how she can’t act and stuff but I don’t know anyone here except for JIW so I don’t see that at all. She isn’t the best, but I would hardly count her as the worst. The sad girl seems to do a better job at acting I have to admit – but I just don’t get all the criticisms out there on soompi. It is like ppl are trying to fight the drama and find fault with lots of stuff- but all I did was sit back – try to reign in my expectation – and just soak it in. So far I am loving this drama cuz it is easy to translate and the story keeps me on my toes.
    What I don’t get is how could JIW aka the Scheduler be the sad girl’s former bf – did I miss something? was his memory wiped when he became a scheduler? he is looking at his former gf all the time and doesn’t feel any connection from when he was human? Also – didn’t he tell J that Y was connected to J – but J just doesn’t know how yet – so does that mean he already knows Y is going thru the motions of living cuz of his death?? So what is he doing – helping Y move on by having her fall for Han? I don’t get how ppl jumped to that conclusion. Can’t wait to find out how all this plays out. Love wed and thurs again 🙂

    • kcomments says:

      Dear Softy, I checked a bit of ep1 and have to say I cringed at Shin Ji Hyun (Nam Gyu Ri) ‘s acting just like others too, don’t know why ,but we are only at episode 2 so let’s see^^

    • blue says:

      @softy, of course, I’m not positive whether or not the Scheduler is in fact the depressed girl’s former bf. However, the clues indicate so. For instance, he said he’s been a Scheduler for five years (which probably means he died 5 years ago). The girl’s calendar when she attempted to kill herself was marked on March 2006 (which is also five years ago). I suspect that she was trying to kill herself on the anniversary of his death.

      Also, the Scheduler told Ji Hyun that if she succeeds in getting the three drops of tears, she won’t have any recollection of what happened to her while she was in coma. Likewise, I think it’s possible that even if he is the former bf, he no longer has memories of when he was alive. Hehe, purely my guess, but I’m almost willing to bet on it!

      @softy and kcomments,
      I agree with others that Nam Gyu Ri’s acting was bad, but for some reason, it didn’t bother me as much. And also, starting with the second episode, she started taking the back seat and Lee Yo Won given a prominent role. And unlike Nam Gyu Ri, I liked LYW’s acting.

      • Softy says:

        Ohhhhh – I get it now – so that’s why ppl were guessing that. Wow- you guys are quick to put two and two together. I guess I was too giddy from being so happy this finally started – been waiting for this drama since you posted about it ages ago. This whole guessing game about the scheduler reminds me of skks when ppl were guessing about yeorim’s background – you guys were right back then so I bet you may have something here. No matter what happens, I think I will keep my initial reaction and love this drama like crazy 🙂

  6. ditdut says:

    (Possible Spoiler Alert!!!!)

    Hmm, I remember reading somewhere very early on in the drama production that the reaper was Yikyung’s little brother. The fact that reaper doesn’t seem to recognize Yikyung and all this talk about him being her past lover might mean that I heard wrong.
    (/spoiler)

    I wasn’t immediately sold in episode 1 because the acting was really subpar. I found Bae Soobin barely improving time and time again, plus Nam Gyuri was pretty awful. And I declare myself the first in line to have Jung Ilwoo’s baby, but I thought he was awkward and slightly missing the beat. But by episode 2, with more Seo Jihye thrown in, I came to like it. Lee Yowon’s great playing off two completely opposite personalities, and it’s a lot of fun to see her switching around. My only gripe right now is that I kinda wish Jo Hyunjae’s role wasn’t so… conventional. It would’ve been better if he wasn’t so obviously set up as the k-drama romantic hero.

    • blue says:

      (**Spoiler Alert**)

      Ooh, the reaper being Yi Kyung’s brother is an interesting idea. My curiosity got the best of me, and I just visited the SBS website to see if I could find anything on it. On the character profile for Yi Kyung, it says that she lost her will to live after the loss of her lover. So if the Scheduler is in fact linked to Yi Kyung, I think it is as her former lover, unless the scriptwriter decided to change it from the original synopsis.

  7. wap says:

    you are one very observant recap-per! 😛 and reading your blog makes me understand those things that were lost in translation. thanks!!!

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