I think I may have just shot myself in the foot when I said that I hoped 49 Days would simply be a good, but not great, drama, so I can be spared from becoming exceedingly addicted to it. Nowhere did I say that I wanted 49 Days to be BAD, but apparently the drama gods are capricious beings who like to torment me at their expense – because episode 1 of 49 Days turned out to be just that.
Episode 1 of 49 Days had a running list of “things not to do to make your drama boring and painful to watch”, said list containing a few glaring no-noes which were so bad it consumed the parts of 49 Days I did like. As such, I can’t recap this episode, because my snark would be through the roof. What I can do is bring a quick first impressions look at episode 1, and then see where episode 2 takes us. If episode 2 resurrects my interest and rearranges my opinion of this drama, I might just recap it then.
49 Days is the story of a sheltered rich girl Ji Heon (Nam Gyu Ri), who finds herself in a out-of-body experience after she’s is in a car accident shortly after she gets engaged to her fiancée Min Ho (Bae Soo Bin). The Angel of Death (Jung Il Woo) tells her that she gets a chance to return to the mortal world if she can get three people to cry genuine tears for her.
Ji Heon gets to inhabit the body of Yi Kyung (Lee Yo Won) during the day to accomplish her task. Rounding out this cast is Han Kang (Jo Hyun Jae) as the best friend of the fiancée and the ex-boyfriend of Ji Heon, and Seo Ji Hye as Ji Heon’s best friend/potential future fiancée interloper. This drama set up is creative if not wholly original, and holds a lot of potential. Too bad episode 1 drops the potential off a roof like a ten ton sack of bricks.
The biggest problem with 49 days is that the central protagonist is horribly miscast. Ji Heon, stuck between the living and the dead, with one chance to reclaim her life, represents the glue which holds the drama together. Everything flows from her accident and coma state, and the audience simply must care about her to even care about whether and how she succeeds in her quest (and affects the people around her in presumably positive ways).
As I had expected based on the trailers, Nam Gyu Ri is absolutely, positively, without a doubt a dreadful actress in this drama. She’s incapable of connecting with the camera AT ALL, so she ends up staring vacantly at whatever direction she’s acting towards. She has no clue how to properly emote, and her plastic face remains painfully placid or scrunched up into artificial expressions of whatever feeling she’s trying to convey. Plus she’s wearing circle lenses, which should not be allowed onscreen – she can wear it day or night offscreen, but not when she’s in character. It’s jarring and distracting.
The worst part is that the wardrobe department completely had a collective brain freeze when it decided to dress Nam Gyu Ri in outfit after outfit which emphasizes her ridiculously gigantic fake boobs. Combined with her bad acting and the fact that her boobs take up half the screen anytime she’s in a scene, a good portion of episode 1 of 49 Days was thus flushed down the toilet.
To me, Nam Gyu Ri is the opposite-Seo Woo. Both are clearly all manufactured, but the former can’t act while the latter can. I don’t care if an actress wants a full face job and boob implants, because as long as she can act, I’m supportive of her talent and respectful of her decision about her own body. I’ve rarely been so bothered by an actress before, and Nam Gyu Ri pushed all my dislike buttons with her gallivanting performance in this episode.
From Nam Gyu Ri’s dreadful acting, the malaise seems to spread outward and suck all the life out of most of her co-stars. Nam Gyu Ri has no chemistry with any of the three male leads, and she had plenty of scenes with each of them in this episode. Bae Soo Bin seems to be mailing in his performance (you’re not in Dong Yi anymore, my cutie pie BSB!), and I just want to shake Jo Hyun Jae and tell him to wake up since he doesn’t appear to remember that he’s back onscreen again (thought he looks fantastic – welcome back, JHJ, I missed ya).
What happened, my boys? Please for the love of my sanity, can you two start acting in the next episode? I can’t explain why it’s happening, but nothing is clicking with any of the performances, save for Jung Il Woo, who I will talk about later. Seo Ji Hye is completely wasted so far, her natural grace and understated performance going towards a character I can barely remember her name, ferssakes!
Lee Yo Won is the wild card so far. She spent the entire episode 1 without a line of dialogue until the very last scene. She also played Yi Kyung as a woman who is in fact a walking dead person, someone who has lost all will to live some time ago. She has a death wish, and Lee Yo Won was convincing as a depressed and suicidal character.
Thus far, she has had no interaction with any of the other characters. All she did in episode 1 was mope on screen and then walk in front of an oncoming truck to try and kill herself, which failed and resulted in the car accident that sent Ji Heon into a coma. Since Yi Kyung is so dead inside at the outset of the drama, I can’t validly critique her performance until I see how she handles channeling Ji Heon’s perkiness after she is possessed.
Jung Il Woo was the only actor and character to shine in episode 1. His Angel of Death was cool and collected, and his performance was precise and illuminating. He brings the character to life not just with dialogue, but with his screen presence and great body and facial language. He’s the sole hope and reason for me to check out episode 2.
So far the direction has been snappy, though the abrupt editing needs to be smoothed out. The hammy music needs to go (I don’t need to be told to feel sad, feel happy, feel anxious, music director of 49 Days), and the all-around horrific wardrobe choices for Nam Gyu Ri makes me want to upchuck in my mouth.
But I’m saving my harshest criticism for the screenwriter, who I felt did nothing in episode 1 except set up caricatures without any real depth (the rich girl, the fiancée, the ex-boyfriend, the frenemy best friend, the suicide girl). Nothing in this drama rings genuine. I spent the entire episode feeling like an outsider standing in front of a carefully constructed window diorama display. It’s pretty to look at, but has no beating heart.
Don’t tell me it’s a fantasy soul-swapping concept, ergo it has supernatural elements. I get that, but a great story, whether sci-fi or autobiographical, succeeds or fails on the same principle – does it make you care? The writer doesn’t ground the fantasy in real emotion, which is where she lost me. None of her characters feel real, so all the feelings emoting from the screen rings false to me.
This is still just episode 1, of course, and plenty of dramas I’ve liked or even loved had a shaky start and eventually settled down. The drama is pretty enough to look at, but it feels so glossy and manufactured so far. Like Nam Gyu Ri. I hate to pick on the poor girl, but she pretty much was a major reason why the first episode of a drama I was so anticipating turned out so dreadful. Her and her bOObs.
I can honestly say that both episode 1 of Royal Family and The Thorn Birds were much better than episode 1 of 49 Days, even though neither made me want to keep watching the drama (if you’re curious – I think Royal Family is currently the best Wed-Thurs drama offering). Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, with a limitless reservoir of hope, because I refuse to accept that 49 Days can go anywhere else but up.
The ratings for today’s three-way battle (now that Sign retired and took with it the lead) reflects this role reversal – Thorn Birds recorded 9.1%, Royal Family came in at 14.4%, and 49 Days debuted with a low but not devastatingly low 8.6%. If 49 Days doesn’t improve tomorrow to the point where my interest in it is revived, I’ll probably not write about it anymore, since life is too short to watch and then rant. I’m happiest writing about dramas I love and sharing the happy with people.