49 Days: Final Thoughts

First there were three and then there was none

I suspect your overall opinion of 49 Days will depend on your reaction to the last episode. If you’ve already seen it, chances are it made you do either one of these things: delete all the episodes from your hard drive and burn an effigy of the scriptwriter or put 49 Days on your list of dramas for 2011. *Spoilers everywhere* 

Like many people, I didn’t expect Ji-hyun to die and to be honest, I was still holding out for a miracle to happen up till the last moment. What’s perhaps more surprising is that I didn’t expect to feel so sad when she took her final walk down the hospital corridor. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I didn’t like her very much in the beginning and even though my dislike faded somewhat over the course of the drama, I was still ambivalent about her.

Heartbreak

Ji-hyun’s premature exit sparked off a huge emotional backlash among viewers (if you’ve been to the 49 Days thread at Soompi, you’ll know what I mean), with many calling it a harsh move on the part of the writer. At first, I was inclined to agree but after sitting on this awhile and watching some of the episodes again, I changed my mind.

It is always sad when a character you care about dies prematurely, but calling 49 Days harsh just because of this is a bit of a stretch. It would have been harsh if she had gone to her death knowing that Min-ho and In-jung had succeeded in ruining her family despite all of her and Han Kang’s efforts.[1] If anything, in facing the absurdity of her situation so bravely, Ji-hyun left the drama on a much higher note than if it had ended with a neat happy resolution.

Take a bow, Shin Ji-hyun. You did great.

One of the messages that this drama delivers is that it doesn’t matter whether you have 49 or six days or even a few decades to live. A life well lived is not measured by how long you’ve been alive but by what you do with the time that you have. And Ji-hyun lives far more meaningfully during her time as a traveler than in the 27 years that she’s been alive. Her experience forces her to take stock of her life and past actions and in the process, she learns that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say. In learning to look beneath the surface, she finds out who her friends are and what it means to truly love and be loved.

49 Days isn’t about Ji-hyun finding happiness with Han Kang nor is it about her finding three tears so she can live again. As she realizes over the course of her journey, the three tears mission is actually a red herring. There isn’t any need to go looking for them because if people love you, they will eventually cry for you without being prompted to do so. The 49 days that people are given is, as she realises, “a last gift” or to put it another way, a chance to make amends and right the wrongs in your life.

For Ji-hyun, her priority during her journey was a) saving her father’s company, b) getting him to go for surgery and c) finding Yi-soo for Yi-kyung. To say that her death renders everything she did meaningless is to miss the point of what she was trying to achieve.

Many bloggers have covered the carpe diem aspect of 49 Days so I won’t repeat what has already been said. Beyond the whole “live this day as if it were your last” message though, this drama also makes the point that choosing to live is not an easy decision to make. Anyone can go through the motions of living but to live well and meaningfully, especially when faced with a completely senseless situation like Ji-hyun’s, takes courage.

It would have been a lot easier for her to sit around in a fug of depression, as Yi-kyung does for most of the drama, but in choosing to keep her memories and maintain a happy front for those around her, she rises above her circumstances and shows not only her true mettle but also how much she’s grown as a person.

Love in the Time of Absurdity

Oh Han Kang, I’m sorry you have to go on living with a major case of blue balls but that’s what you get for being so stoic.

While I’m not bitter about the fact that they didn’t end up together, I do wish that Ji-hyun had told him what she had promised to say in episode 18. God knows Han Kang deserves this much for his ridiculously pure-hearted and single-minded devotion to her. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if he had told her to drop the damn charade and/or if they had yelled (and cried) at each other a little. Unfortunately, this drama isn’t big on overt displays of affection/emotion – I didn’t even get the showdown that I was expecting between Kang and Min-ho.

But this is just a slight niggle and as much as I like Han Kang, I can accept that 49 Days was never about him getting the girl. You might ask, as a lot of other people have, “What’s the point of moving mountains for her if she’s just going to die anyway?” But isn’t this what you do when you love someone? You don’t ask whether that person will love you back in return or stay by your side forever. You just do whatever you can to be there for them.

Do you stop loving someone just because you know that person doesn’t have much time left to live? Or does the brief time you have together make you cherish those moments even more?

Like Yi-kyung and Yi-soo, Ji-hyun and Han Kang were never meant to be together. If she hadn’t gotten into an accident, chances are she would have married Min-ho and died of a broken heart without ever getting to know Han Kang’s real feelings. Because of the 49 days she was given, they were able to cross each other’s paths again and share a connection that neither of them had thought possible in the first place. The time they had together might have been all too brief but sometimes it’s life’s fleeting moments that stay with you forever.

***

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I didn’t expect to like 49 Days this much. It’s just one of those dramas that grew on me and this is largely due to its tone and contemplative nature. It’s by no means perfect and some parts could have been handled with more finesse but I’d rather have a drama that has its heart in the right place than one that delivers a happy ending for the sake of it.


[1] If you think this drama is harsh, I recommend watching Funny Games (or even L’appartement) to see what a truly harsh ending is like.

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5 comments

  1. I can’t lie – I hated that Ji-hyun had to die. I was in a fug of depression myself after watching the last episode :(

    ‘Like Yi-kyung and Yi-soo, Ji-hyun and Han Kang were never meant to be together.’

    I never considered this because I always assumed, the way their romance was building steam, that they were meant to be. But I guess if you think about it, the signs were already there, which makes their 49-day romance (or is it shorter than that?) even sadder. Oh boo. Now I’m feeling sad again.

    1. Yeah, I can understand where you’re coming from. It was a very sad scene.

      “Oh boo. Now I’m feeling sad again.”

      Oops! Sorry bout that!

  2. Dear Ellely,

    After watching the ending of 49 days I felt kinda empty thus went on this mad-googling phase trying to read all comments possible regarding the ending – to get some sort of fulfilment. And it’s been difficult, there’s not many English reviews out there on this series so I’m glad I found yours. I’ve been locked up in my room for nearly 2 days watching the series, so I was taken aback with the surprising ending. I find the ending very refreshing for Korean dramas, but the emo-wants-happily-ever-after-girl inside of me feels that stories are meant to provide people with some sort of artificial happiness.

    I liked how they killed Ji Hyun and did not provide any sense of hope for the scheduler to be together forever with Yi Kyung, it’s a clever story but despite the sadness I wished they would try to initiate some sort of romance and happiness in another couple, which in the midst of Ep 20 – I thought that’s one of the most sensible things to do, to put Han Kang & Yi Kyung together. You make people cry, but you also make people – WIN WIN situation for the viewers. And the sister storyline didn’t feel that great of a void being left.

    I know this is long, but point is after reading your post… I feel so much better and it’s a wake up call. You’ve summed up everything I like about this drama when you said :
    “As I mentioned in my earlier post, I didn’t expect to like 49 Days this much. It’s just one of those dramas that grew on me and this is largely due to its tone and contemplative nature. It’s by no means perfect and some parts could have been handled with more finesse but I’d rather have a drama that has its heart in the right place than one that delivers a happy ending for the sake of it.”

    Thank you very much for making my day, to feel that watching Korean dramas is actually worth of my time. Thanks!

    1. Hello Afifah! I’m glad to know that my post made you feel better. Believe me, it took me days to get over the ending. Oh, and please don’t apologise for writing a long comment. I love lengthy comments!

      “I liked how they killed Ji Hyun and did not provide any sense of hope for the scheduler to be together forever with Yi Kyung”

      I didn’t mention this in my post but I like that the drama resolved the Yi-kyung/Yi-soo situation the way it did. If Yi-kyung hadn’t spent 90% of the drama being all depressed, I wouldn’t have minded if the drama had reconciled them. But in this case, it was essential for her to move on because reconciling them would have sent out a really questionable message – that Yi-kyung’s happiness is dependent on her being with a guy. If that had happened, I would have deleted all the episodes from my hard drive immediately.

      I didn’t really mind the sister revelation all that much. Yes, it could, like a lot of people have said, been handled with more finesse but after watching the earlier episodes again, I think knowing they’re sisters actually makes the scenes between them that much more poignant.

      Well, I’ve finally caught up with The Greatest Love. If you need something to cheer you up and you haven’t started on it yet, I recommend giving the drama a try. Dokko Jin is insane and I mean it in the best possible way^^

  3. Since the it was open-ended, I hoped that they would make a sequel (or, i hope, in that filipino remake, they make a different/alternate ending).. like maybe after 3 years when Min-ho is out of jail, his reunion w/ In-jun.. and then Kang and Yi-kyung would find respective people to love where the souls of those people would be Ji-hyun and Yi-soo’s, but instead of letting other actors (the body of those people) appear frequently, they would just appear a little bit like maybe reflections in mirrors and the actors Gyuri and Il-woo would be the one appearing in our tv-screens. (If you watched american tv show Ghost Whisperer, you’d get what I mean)

    p.s. I’m watching Heartless now strarring Gyuri.. just because I felt she had less screen time in 49 days hehe.. and I’m like youtube stalking her now hehe.. I was mesmerized by her voice especially when she was singing/crying in the last episodes.

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