I think writer So Hyun Kyung elevated her craft a notch in writing 49 Days. It was leaps more sophisticated and mature than the lightweight but charming Brilliant Legacy/Shining Inheritance, and much broader in depth and breadth than what I saw of Prosecutor Princess. Whether you like the ending or not, it’s hard to argue that this drama didn’t aim high and deliver the goods. We cried, we laughed, we raged, we pondered. In the end, and through it all, hopefully we all took away something more substantive than “oh, that was cool/fun/entertaining to watch.” I know I did, and for that, 49 Days is a winner in my book.
Episode 20 Recap:
Ji Hyun calmly explains to the stunned Yi Kyung about the bombshell she just dropped. When Ji Hyun had gone in for further tests after she woke up from her coma, the doctor who came in was none other than Scheduler. Ji Hyun recognizes him as Scheduler, leaving her stunned because of her knowledge that those who succeed in the 49 days quest is not supposed to have any memories from that time.
Scheduler teases her about her already forgetting him. Ji Hyun remembers him telling her that humans (which is what Ji Hyun is now that her soul has returned to her body) can only see a Scheduler if that person if about to die. Scheduler tells Ji Hyun that her memory of the 49 days is a cruel gift that has been given to her. Not the brightest bulb that Ji Hyun was, she nevertheless is quick on the uptake this time, asking if this all indicates that she is soon to die?
Scheduler confirms that his last scheduled elevator ride will be Shin Ji Hyun, who is (and always was) scheduled to die 6 days from now. Her destiny was always to die young, but the accident was the unexpected death which accelerated her demise by more than 50 some days. Ergo, she got the 49 day quest to come back to life. Unbeknownst to Ji Hyun (or Scheduler when he gave her the quest), even if she succeeded, she was always going to die 6 days later. Oh fate, you are such a bitch.
Because of how cruel this is on Ji Hyun, the powers that be are giving her the gift of the memory of her 49 days, and it will be Ji Hyun’s choice right now if she accepts the gift of her memories or not. Regardless of whether she wants to remember, she’s nevertheless going to die in a few days. He tells Ji Hyun that she can get angry or upset, and while Ji Hyun cries, she understands that anger or raging at the unfairness of it all isn’t going to change anything. Scheduler gives her a pat on the back with the sage wisdom that the one thing beyond human control always has been life and death.
Ji Hyun elects to remember her 49 days (wise choice sweetie), so this brings her to explaining to Yi Kyung why she is pretending not to remember. Yi Kyung bemoans the unfairness of it all, but Ji Hyun, who has had some time to process all shock, tells Yi Kyung to consider it another way. Without the 49 days, her dad would have lost the company to Min Ho and Ji Hyun might have killed herself from the shock of being betrayed by Min Ho and In Jung.
Because of the 49 days, Ji Hyun was able to change the path of destruction and protect the people she loved. During that time, Ji Hyun was able to learn the entire truth about how she lived her life, the good and the not-so-good, and reflect upon it. Without that chance, Ji Hyun would die in a few days never truly understanding her own life, making her existence in this world a fake one.
Ji Hyun is pretending not to remember because she wants to live the remainder of her days being the Shin Ji Hyun she has always been, cheerful and carefree. But she couldn’t pretend not to recognize Yi Kyung because they’ve shared a body. Yi Kyung brings up Kang, and how he knows about the 49 days, and asked Ji Hyun specifically to tell him how she feels after she wakes up. Ji Hyun refuses to tell him if she’s going to die, telling him that she loves him isn’t going to make it easier on him. Ji Hyun sees Yi Kyung’s fate and realizes that Kang, the person left behind, will need to learn to live for himself once Ji Hyun dies.
Kang visits Min Ho in prison, who asks if Kang is here to gloat about succeeding in bringing Min Ho down? Kang is happy that he doesn’t have to watch Min Ho destroy himself even further, to which Min Ho explains that the Kang Min Ho that Kang knew has been gone for quite some time now. Kang refuses to believe that, believing if Min Ho takes his punishment, he can return as the hyung Kang knew and respected.
Kang respected Min Ho for becoming more than his environment. Min Ho explains to Kang why Min Ho always liked Kang, and he did genuinely like him as a dongsaeng. It was because Kang was also scarred by his parents, but unlike Min Ho, it didn’t destroy Kang, who was able to leave it alone and not carry the burden around. Kang was able to remain innocent and kind. That is not something that Min Ho could do. Kang tells Min Ho that Ji Hyun is doing fine, and Kang will help her recover. Min Ho doesn’t want to hear anymore about it.
Ji Hyun is back home with her parents and they are enjoying a meal together. Ji Hyun wants a regular meal but is told the housekeeper went all out and made a lavish spread. The only thing Ji Hyun’s mom made was the bean paste soup, to which Ji Hyun replies that it’s the one thing she wants to eat the most. Ji Hyun mom thinks eating with Ji Hyun is a dream, and her father wants to see Ji Hyun smile more. Ji Hyun is please she can make both her parents dreams come true.
Ji Hyun comes to visit Yi Kyung, bearing a picnic basket and walking the same route spirit Ji Hyun walked everyday. Yi Kyung comes out to wait for her, telling Ji Hyun that she used to wait outside for Yi Kyung. The girls head inside and make kimbap together. Ji Hyun says Yi Kyung’s kimbap tastes much better than hers, and feeds Yi Kyung a bite. Ji Hyun wishes she could spend more time with Yi Kyung, who tells her this is not the time to worry about Yi Kyung. Ji Hyun tells Yi Kyung not to worry, because soon she will be surrounded by good people.
Kang is in his office (I’ve never seen the man do any work in it, so maybe it ought to be called his man cave instead) when the manager tells him that Ji Hyun is here to see him. Kang asks why she’s not in the hospital, and she says sneaked out because she wants to go somewhere with him. They go on a drive, with Ji Hyun confessing that she never had the experience of making kimbap and going on a picnic with her boyfriend. Kang wonders when he became her boyfriend, and if Ji Hyun likes him then she should confess.
Ji Hyun asks to borrow Kang’s MP3 player for the picnic. Kang teases her for borrowing his blanket, his car, his MP3 player, what next? Ji Hyun asks to borrow him – she wants to borrow him as a boyfriend for a day. Kang’s a little taken aback, but agrees with his own request that he gets to borrow Ji Hyun for a day as his girlfriend. Aw yeah, borrowed love, is sweet but so sad. Seriously, I’m already tearing up.
At the picnic site, they eat the kimbap and joke around. Ji Hyun says this is to thank Kang for taking care of her parents while she was in a coma. He eats one and feeds her, then taking out his phone and snapping pictures of her. They are pretty much re-enacting Yi Kyung and Yi Soo’s picnic date. After eating, Kang takes out his cellphone and scrolls through pictures he’s taken of today’s picnic. He compliments himself and teases Ji Hyun.
While teasing each other, the bracelet falls out of Kang’s pocket and Ji Hyun is surprised to see it. Ji Hyun finally gets to share her past memories of his mom with him, confessing that she was actually quite close to Kang’s mom. Kang’s mom made some food for teenage Ji Hyun to eat one night, and discussed Kang’s issues with her. Ji Hyun asks why Kang dislikes his mom, and his mom confesses that she refuses to give him some answers he wants. His mom’s belief is that some misunderstandings (i.e. Kang’s belief that his mom had an affair and divorced his dad) was better left not cleared up because otherwise it might lead to more pain.
Kang understands that right now, Ji Kyung once conveyed his mom’s thoughts to him, and he appreciates it. He repeats the same words back to Ji Hyun, who realizes that Kang remembers what she said to him when she was Ji Kyung. Kang takes Ji Hyun to a fountain, telling her that if she makes a wish it will come true. Ji Hyun makes a wish, and Kang thinks back to a conversation with Yi Kyung.
Turns out Yi Kyung broke her silence and already told Kang the truth about Ji Hyun’s impending demise. Kang tears up to Yi Kyung, saying that his biggest wish is to see Ji Hyun alive. Back at the fountain, Kang closes his eyes and makes the wish that Ji Hyun can stay by his side forever. We see that Ji Hyun made a different wish, she wishes for Kang to be able to forget her. Afterwards they smile at each other.
Ji Hyun is at the hospital with her parents, and she cheerfully banters with her mom and dad about how she is happy to have this chance to be their daughter. Ji Hyun suddenly doubles over clutching her stomach in pain, and then she collapses. Ji Hyun’s parents are frantic with worry, calling her name and summoning the medical staff.
Ji Hyun’s spirit opens her eyes, and leaves her corporeal body. Scheduler is there waiting to greet her, dressed in a black suit, professional and courteous. He reaches out his hand and helps her up, telling her that she did well this time. Ji Hyun looks back and sees her father sobbing as he holds her body. Ji Hyun is ready to go, and tells Scheduler to take her away.
They walk down the hallway towards the elevator basking in a beam of white light. Scheduler waves his hand the doors open. Ji Hyun bravely steps inside, and as the doors close, she smiles through her tears as she sees Scheduler doing the same.
The doctor informs Ji Hyun’s parents of the reasons for Ji Hyun’s death – she died of a major artery bursting, which had been a ticking time bomb after the injuries she suffered in the accident. Ji Hyun’s mom wail over her covered body, and Kang comes running in to see Ji Hyun covered under the white sheet. Both In Jung and Min Ho receive the call that Ji Hyun has passed, and both are shocked and stunned, with genuine tears falling from their faces.
At Ji Hyun’s wake, Seo Woo supports Ji Hyun’s mother as everyone cries for Ji Hyun’s unfair and untimely demise. In Jung attends but does not show herself. Yi Kyung and Kang are there, and both cry for Ji Hyun. Kang, with Seo Woo next to her, buries Ji Hyun’s ashes with a tree. Yi Kyung stands to the side and watches. Min Ho sits inside his cell and sobs bitterly.
Back at home, Ji Hyun’s parents visit her room, noting that it is so clean. They realize Ji Hyun must’ve cleaned it thoroughly, with a realization that perhaps their daughter knew her time was up. Both parents are grateful that Ji Hyun woke up to spend the few remaining days with them.
In his man cave, Kang is resting and is shocked when he thinks that he hears Ji Hyun’s voice calling his name. Kang looks around and discovers a box with Yi Kyung’s belongings. Inside is a note from Ji Hyun, written as if she were Yi Kyung, asking that Kang might become Yi Kyung’s friend, the way Kang was Ji Hyun’s friend.
Kang takes the box to Yi Kyung, who doesn’t recognize the contents of the box. Looking through the items, Yi Kyung finds a key to Yi Soo’s music studio. Yi Kyung realizes that she hasn’t even cleaned up Yi Soo’s belongings this entire time. She goes to the studio with Kang. Inside the room, she uses the key to open up a locker. She finds a dirty kid’s backpack which belonged to her, but she had thrown away. Yi Kyung surmises that Yi Soo probably brought it back. Inside the backpack is a pink kid’s shoe.
We get a flashback to high school Yi Kyung and Yi Soo right after their cherry blossom lane date. Yi Soo takes her to to the bank to open an account in Yi Kyung’s name. Yi Soo had secretly saved money for their pension, putting the money he earned into the account. He tells her that she is his guardian, the reason for him to live. He reminds her that she is the most important person to him. Yi Kyung holds the bank account statement and cries. Yi Soo is sitting beside her and crying with her, but she can’t see him. He tells her to be strong and stop crying, even as he cries.
Kang arrives to visit Ji Hyun’s parents, who are arguing. Her dad is yelling at her mom for keeping pictures of their dead child. Kang sees the pictures, wondering who the little girl is. He’s told that the little girl was Ji Hyun’s older sister Ji Min. One day at the train station, Ji Hyun wandered away. Ji Hyun’s mom told the older sister to stay put and went to retrieve Ji Hyun. When she returned, her older daughter was gone. The family twice received ransom calls, and both times they brought the money but never met anyone to get their daughter back. After that, there was no further communication.
Ji Hyun doesn’t know she has an older sister because she was too young when her sister was kidnapped. Kang reveals that he saw the same backpack and shoes as the older sister was wearing in the pictures. Kang takes Ji Hyun’s mom to visit Yi Kyung. Yi Kyung believes her mother abandoned her, but she takes out the backpack to show Ji Hyun’s mom. Mom looks at the backpack and opens it to see the scribbling inside the fold and the shoe. She recognizes it as belonging to her kidnapped daughter, the shoe has a star that mom embroidered on herself.
Yi Kyung is Ji Hyun’s long-lost sister. Mom cries when she realizes that her other daughter is alive. Yi Soo is there and is crying as well, realizing that Yi Kyung has a family. We flashback to Ji Hyun’s walk to the elevator with Scheduler, when she asked him about where her other two tears came from. It’s clear that Yi Kyung’s tear can’t count because she was related to Ji Hyun.
We flashback again to In Jung’s attempt to kill Ji Hyun. As In Jung looks at Ji Hyun’s body, she suddenly sees her own horrific reflection in the window and realizes what a monster she almost became. In Jung recoils in horror at how far she has come, and stops herself at that moment. She kneels before Ji Hyun and cries, asking for forgiveness, genuinely repenting for all her wrongs. When In Jung got up, she was just trying to touch Ji Hyun’s face when Kang arrived, and mistook her action for trying to kill Ji Hyun.
In Jung visits Min Ho and tells him that she couldn’t do it, just like Min Ho pushed back the takeover deal once he found out that Ji Hyun’s dad was sick. In Jung prods Min Ho to consider that he is also feeling guilty and regretful, but Min Ho says that he wished he didn’t do that. Now he’s so far gone he’ll finish it no matter what. In Jung tells Min Ho to stop lying to himself, he is feeling guilt and wants to stop.
In Jung visits Min Ho’s mom and asks her for the envelope that Min Ho entrusted to her. In Jung needs that envelope, because otherwise Min Ho will become a worse person than his own dad. In Jung mails the envelope. She walks outside and cries for Ji Hyun, wishing she could go back to a time when she was just friends with Ji Hyun. So In Jung becomes Ji Hyun’s third tear, and Ji Hyun is happy to confirm that she was always right, she knew In Jung always genuinely loved her.
Yi Kyung sits in her room and cries, looking at a baby picture of herself and Ji Hyun. If she knew Ji Hyun was her sister, she would have allowed her to use her body more. She would have helped Ji Hyun more. Scheduler sits there crying with her, and realizing that this is what his sunbae was hinting at.
At the conversation with Scheduler Grandma, she asks him if his original wish remained unchanged – to give Yi Kyung the ring, tell her he loved her. Grandma tells him such a gesture would be of no help to the person left behind. In giving back his memory earlier, it allowed Yi Soo to change what he wanted to spend his day doing with Yi Kyung. Because Yi Soo saw how horribly Yi Kyung had been living, he changed his wish to asking her to forget about him.
On his last day, Scheduler goes to see Yi Kyung, telling her to live a good life with her parents. He reaches out to touch Yi Kyung’s face, but he stops himself. Wearing a dapper suit, Scheduler walks through the garden until he finally disappears. Yi Kyung eats good food in her apartment as she’s reading something on a computer. Kang stands at the banks of the Han River, understanding that Ji Hyun came back to make things right and put things back where they belong. He looks up and tells Ji Hyun to be happy wherever she is at.
Two years later, and we see In Jung. She is walking out of an office when she sees teenage Seo Woo, In Jung, and Ji Hyun running past. She remembers a more innocent time with her two best friends. High school In Jung, Ji Hyun, and Seo Woo are being punished and kneeling in the hallway. Ji Hyun’s stomach grumbles, and In Jung secretly feeds her and Seo Woo food. Both take a bite of the choco pie, and the feed the other half back to In Jung. In Jung smiles through her tearful memories.
In Jung visits Min Ho, the first time in two years he’s been willing to see her. She tells him that his mom is doing better. He tells her to stop, she doesn’t owe him anything. She promises to wait three more years until he is released, she was the reason he became this way. Min Ho tells her that he made his own choices, and he tells her to live her own life. In Jung says that she is learning to live her own life. Min Ho realizes that he’s wrong so many people. In Jung tells Min Ho that in three more years, she believes he can learn to forgive himself.
Kang is working at a construction site and gets testy with a foreman about the construction not going according to his design. He gets a call that the manager and his wife are expecting a baby. The wife is visiting Heaven today because it’s Yi Kyung’s last day at work. We see that Seo Woo is dating the male waiter, and are super lovey dovey with each other.
Dr. Noh comes to visit Yi Kyung. Dr. Noh promises to visit Yi Kyung at Haemi Island, where she is headed to manage the resort for her dad’s company. The other female waitress is interested in Dr. Noh, and is pleased to hear confirmation that Yi Kyung and Dr. Noh really are just friends. Yi Kyung thinks Dr. Noh isn’t merely any friend, during her darkest days, Dr. Noh extended a hand to her and helped her crawl out of her despair. Dr. Noh is like Yi Kyung’s life saver.
Kang comes back to Heaven and asks Yi Kyung to bring some food down. Kang realizes that it’s Yi Kyung’s last day, wondering if they should have a farewell party. Yi Kyung is having dinner with her parents tonight. At dinner with her parents, mom still can’t get over the joy of finding her other daughter, and the parents wonder if it was all fated, since Yi Kyung studied tourism and hotel management in school.
Yi Kyung and Kang go together to visit two trees planted side-by-side, the graves of Ji Hyun and Yi Soo. Yi Kyung talks to Ji Hyun in her mind, telling her that Kang has been working hard like Ji Hyun wanted, and has been a good friend to Yi Kyung. She thanks Ji Hyun for paving the way for her to work at Heaven and be so loved by everyone.
Kang voiceovers to Ji Hyun that most people live their lives like they aren’t going to die one day, even though they know death can come anytime. Because of Ji Hyun’s 49 days, Kang is living his life like it’s his 49 days, making every moment count. Because of Ji Hyun’s 49 days, everything has changed.
Yi Kyung and Kang lay flowers on Yi Soo and Ji Hyun’s memorial trees. Kang says “here lies the two most precious people in our lives”. Yi Kyung responds “these two people changed our lives and then left us in a beautiful way.” Kang and Yi Kyung remark that the days spent with Yi Soo and Ji Hyun allows them to keep living like each day is precious and could be their last day. Yi Kyung and Kang say to Yi Soo and Ji Hyun, respectively, “I was happy because I had you in my life.”
Thoughts of Mine:
I applaud Writer So for creating her story and telling it the entire way through. She didn’t pander to audience clamoring for a happy ending, she stuck to her guns and delivered the story she wanted to tell. Oh, I love happy endings, I adore fairy tale happily ever after, and I’m always sad when my OTP doesn’t get their white picket fence, one dog, and three kids ending. But being sad that the ending wasn’t rainbows and unicorns doesn’t negate the fact that I loved the ending because it was narratively consistent with the story being told.
In episode 1, I would have never expected Ji Hyun to die and the ending bittersweet. But 19 episodes later, that was indeed the story that Writer So had created, therefore the ending was fitting, even if it made me cry and feel pangs of sadness and misery. If Ji Hyun and Yi Soo learned to accept their fate with a smile because their lives were worth it, then I see my accepting of this logical ending because the journey of watching 49 days was worth it. The ending didn’t betray the story, which was never a rom-com with a guaranteed happy ending. The drama was about death, and lest we think it morbid, the drama was instead hopefully, teaching us how life can be lived with purpose even in the face of death.
So we end the drama without either set of OTP’s getting their happy ending, nor an alternative pairing of Yi Kyung and Kang, which would have been bizarre unless it happened with a considerable time jump. But I’m okay that even with the time jump, Kang and Yi Kyung didn’t get together, because it just wasn’t meant to be romantic between them, regardless of the wonderful chemistry between Jo Hyun Jae and Lee Yo Won.
The entire main cast of 49 Days has to be commended for doing such a great job, individually and together as a group. Each actor had chemistry with the others, in degrees and types, and the off-screen camaraderie really extended to the on-screen comfort and natural flow of the performance. While Nam Gyu Ri was the sole weak link, and remained to the end a less sophisticated actor than the other five, she improved so much and brought Ji Hyun to life in a way that made this a success in my book.
I’m just a little bitter that the writer had at her disposal Jo Hyun Jae’s luscious lips and didn’t give the man a kissing scene. Grrrrr, I must lodge a complaint about the waste of a perfectly delectable pair of kissers that are going to grow rusty from the lack of use. But Lee Yo Won truly shone in her performance, which it not brilliant in any way, but a very solid outing for her, and one that was elevated by her having palpable chemistry with all three of her leading men.
I disliked the ending twist that made Yi Kyung the real life long-lost sister of Ji Hyun, though a throwaway line by the parents early in the drama about their “remaining child Ji Hyun” made this less of a unsuspecting left hook. I felt like even without the real life blood ties, Yi Kyung would have embraced Ji Hyun’s parents and been a pseudo daughter to them. Writer So needs to better set the scene for this type of twist rather than drop it in the last episode.
I went back through my top 10 list (faves and what I consider the best), and both are littered with sad endings, some of which are rock falls down type endings. In fact, the first three K-drama reviews I wrote are of dramas that didn’t have a happy ending, and yet I loved those dramas to pieces because it was bold, brave, and affected me from watching it. That is what 49 Days has done to me. Unlike folks who prefer to keep hoping Ji Hyun wouldn’t die, from about episode 15 onward I felt like Writer So kept increasing her hints and laying the groundwork for Ji Hyun to die. The how and whys were still unclear, but I had a gut feeling about the ending.
I don’t think Ji Hyun’s death negates the purpose of this drama, nor was her death for the purpose of turning her into some token sacrifice. In the fantasy life-and-death world of 49 Days, Ji Hyun was always supposed die on X Month, Y Day, Z Year. The car accident simply accelerated her death by 50-something days earlier, hence she got the 49 day quest. Her quest was never about coming back to life, it was about making things right in her own life.
In terms of love, it also gave her the opportunity with Kang that she would have NEVER EVER gotten otherwise. Without the accident she would have married Min Ho and then plop, died some days later, when her time to leave arrived. The accident was actually the blessing, not the curse. 49 Days must be watched under the basic premise that Shin Ji Hyun’s death was always supposed to happen when she died in episode 20. Everything before that was the unknown, the things that could be changed. But her death itself could never be changed.
The 49 day quest is a chance for someone who was not supposed to die, but accidentally died, to have a chance to come back. But for someone who’s time had come, like it did for Ji Hyun in episode 20 (however it may seem just SO UNFAIR), there is no miracle second chance to circumvent that. Which is why everything happened for a reason, and Ji Hyun was the person who had a chance to change the world around her in the 49 days she was given. And she did, oh how courageously she did do just that.
Without the accident, Ji Hyun would have used those 49 days before her death to live in happy oblivion the way she always did. But through the accident she gained knowledge, wisdom, and fortitude, becoming the heroine that I stood up and applauded at the end of the drama. Ji Hyun was the heart, soul, and wisdom of this drama, teaching everyone around her through her own struggles what it means to appreciate life and bravely face death. Bravo to 49 Days – a drama that started off choppy but found its bearing, taking me on a journey that was poignant, thought-provoking, agonizing, and ultimately, memorable and uplifting.