The South Korean television fantasy drama 49 Days (2011) is a fascinating mix of theological themes. It was inspired by the Buddhism "Bardo" that a soul usually wanders the earth for 49 days (an intermediate state lasting at most "seven times seven days") and then moves on to the next life. This drama also contains references to Shamanism (ideas such as reincarnation and karma) as well as some Christian concepts. Some unusual ideas briefly make an appearance but are insignificant in comparison to the top three. For example in one episode there was a newspaper article referencing a coma patient that awoke after 20 years (well past the 49 days). Although the conditions of the coma patient in the newspaper article were not expanded upon it might lead the viewer into thinking that there was a "walk-in" (a concept where a body is replaced with a new soul).
In this series Death is never far away and the preferred term is a "Scheduler" (not Death). The "Scheduler" assigned to Shin Ji-Hyun (Nam Gyu-ri) is a soul that was once human but has no memory of living (and no sympathy for the recently deceased), just the duty to carry out the scheduled assignments as they come for the nearly complete 5 year term. Some of the Schedulers assignments are easy; where the soul is ready and willing to go to the better place. Other assignments are tougher and the Scheduler needs backup to drag the wicked soul kicking and screaming to the other place. Since this Scheduler’s term is nearing an end, the once fully suppressed human emotions and life memories are slowly coming back and are causing plenty of trouble. The Scheduler desperately wants to follow the rules and avoid any penalties that could extend the 5 year duty (or worse). The comic relief comes in when the Scheduler finds himself starting to feel human compassion for Shin Ji-Hyun which compels him to break the rules for her more often than not.
This drama series is very complex with six primary cast members. I did a little research on this series before taking the plunge and went into watching it with the impression that I just needed to stick with it and get past the first episode. After all it’s a long series consisting of 20 episodes. But what I actually experienced was that I didn’t feel hooked on the series until nearing the end of the third episode. The first three episodes set up the foundation for the drama about the intertwined lives of the primary cast so that the rest of the episodes could then build upon the relationships of the characters. Central to the story is Ji Hyun’s 49 day quest to obtain genuine tears from three people that truly love her so that she can live again. Lots of rules to the quest come into play including the rule that tears cannot be from family (because family gives unconditional love by default). The last three episodes are the best because they resolve the lingering questions from the earlier episodes.
I really liked how the 49 Days story pulls together so many different themes. Foremost are friendship, forgiveness, betrayal, sacrifice and true love. Loud and clear in this drama is that having a handful of close and dearly loved friends is a precious commodity whereas a multitude of loosely associated so-called-friends is frustratingly sad. Central to most good drama’s is something that is desperately wanted but is always just out of reach. That’s what plays on your heartstrings and which makes this series a really emotional roller coaster ride. The main cast and support cast are wonderful and I found myself deeply connecting with each of the characters as the story unfolded. Woven into this beautifully dramatized script are inspirational life lessons on how to deal with death (once a loved one dies) and how to live (the living must go on living). It’s a tearjerker with lots of twists. Just get past the first three episodes (which I thought was dry) and you’ll really get pulled in.
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"After a car accident shatters her storybook existence, comatose Ji Hyun is given a second chance at life when a reaper from above intervenes. But there’s a catch: Ji Hyun has 49 days to find three people who will weep genuine tears of grief for her." – Netflix
"What if you got a second chance to live? Would you be able to find three people who truly, genuinely loved you? Those are the questions posed in this supernatural, romantic drama. Shin Ji Hyun (played by singer-actress Nam Gyu Ri) lives an idyllic life – she’s a rich, beloved daughter, a soon-to-be-wife for a perfect man, and has supportive best friends. However, a car accident cuts her life short before she’s supposed to die. A Scheduler (played by Jung Il Woo with perfect comedic timing) arrives to tell her that she has 49 days to collect three tears from three people who truly love her – family excluded. Since she is only a wandering soul, she can possess the body of Song Yi Kyung ("Queen Seon Duk’s" Lee Yo Won), a deadbeat young woman who experienced her own tragedy five years before. Ji Hyun begins her quest to collect the tears, thinking that it will be easy. Little does she know that betrayal is around every corner, and life is not as simple or sunny as she naively thinks. Written by the brilliant writer of "Shining Inheritance" and "Prosecutor Princess," 49 Days is a beautiful melodrama that deftly balances the supernatural and the comedy." – Hulu