49 Days (Hangul: 49일) is a 2011 South Korean television fantasy drama series, starring Lee Yo-won, Jo Hyun-jae, Jung Il-woo, Bae Soo-bin, Nam Gyu-ri and Seo Ji-hye. It aired on Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) from March 16 to May 19, 2011 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 21:55 for 20 episodes.

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Adored by her parents, admired by her friends, and days from marrying her fiance, Min-Ho (Bae Soo-bin), Ji-Hyun’s (Nam Gyu-ri) life seems to be storybook perfect . Meanwhile, Yi-Kyung (Lee Yo-won) is in an existential crisis following her boyfriend’s tragic death. She works third shift at a convenience store, sleeps in the afternoon, and often spends what little time she has left in the day contemplating suicide.

One fateful day interweaves the two characters’ stories as Yi-Kyung attempts to kill herself by walking into oncoming traffic. A bystander saves Yi-Kyung by pulling her out of harm’s way at the last moment, but a massive pile-up ensues from her actions. Ji-Hyun is driving nearby and fails to brake upon approaching the collision site, crashing into a semi. Ji-Hyun crawls out of her car in a daze until she shockingly finds her body being carted into an ambulance. A motorcyclist seems to be the only person who can see her. The cyclist calls himself ‘the Scheduler’ (Jung Il-woo) and claims to be an angelic being charged with guiding souls to their final destinations.

Ji-Hyun leaves the cyclist to follow her body and watch as the paramedics attempt to revive her. Upon reaching the hospital, Ji-Hyun meets ‘the Scheduler’ again. He explains to Ji-Hyun that since it was not yet her scheduled time to die she is to be given a chance to recover from her now vegetative state and live. The offer is contingent, however, on completion of a mission. Ji-Hyun must gather a total of three teardrops from people whom truly love her. She is additionally required to recover each tear from three individuals none of which may be a relative and do so within the next seven weeks. Ji-Hyun immediately thinks of her fiance and two best friends and is certain she will live again. Ji-Hyun then finds herself in the body of the suicidal Yi-Kyung for which she will remain for the duration of her quest.

Ji-Hyun proceeds by seeking employment with the restaurant owned by her high school friend Han Kang’s (Jo Hyun-jae) family. While working Ji-Hyun’s memory begins to return to her. Before the accident Ji-Hyun had visited her best friend to show her the bridesmaid dress Ji-Hyun had chosen for her. Ji-Hyun’s elation is muted upon arrival as she discovers her best friend and Ji-Hyun’s fiance sitting intimately together in a car. Ji-Hyun leaves in shock, unable to confront them in the act. Hence, Ji-Hyun was driving on the day of the accident to confront them about the betrayal (her driving skills impaired by her emotional despair). Ji-Hyun now realizes that it won’t be as easy to find three people who genuinely love her as she once thought.

Main Cast

  • Lee Yo-won as Song Yi Kyung/Shin Ji Min: a despondent night-shift worker who lives in a run-down apartment alone. Yi Kyung is shown to be untalkative and always with a downcast or stoic expression on her face. It was initially revealed that Yi Kyung is an orphan whose younger brother is dead. She partly contributes to Ji Hyun’s almost fatal traffic accident as she unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide.
  • Nam Gyu-ri as Shin Ji Hyun: a happy-go-lucky and unfailingly kind bride-to-be. From the start of the series, Ji Hyun evinces deep feelings for her seemingly perfect fiance, and strong attachment to her friends. Ji Hyun also reveals that she is nicknamed “Optimistic Princess”, as asked by Scheduler whether she always remained sanguine about her life.
  • Jo Hyun-jae as Han Kang: one of Ji Hyun’s best friend when they were in high school, although they are no longer as close as before due to an unfortunate incident. Han Kang is depicted as calm and collected, who secretly deeply cares for Ji Hyun’s well-being.
  • Bae Soo-bin as Kang Min Ho: Ji Hyun’s seemingly perfect fiance who possesses good look and admirable talent. Min Ho initially showed strong romantic feelings towards Ji Hyun as he was apparently emotionally shattered upon receiving tragic news of Ji Hyun’s accident. Nevertheless, Min Ho’s character develops throughout the series as a malicious and manipulating man who aims to lay his hands on the Shin’s heritage.
  • Jung Il-woo as Scheduler/Song Yi Soo: a happy-go-lucky guy who has been working as the Scheduler for almost 5 years. He does not retain any memories of his past; thus, he rarely evinces any sympathy towards humans. Nevertheless, after meeting the troublesome 49-day traveler Shin Ji Hyun, his perspective has changed, and he himself has violated the rules to help her myriads of times. It is later revealed that his real name is Song Yi Soo, and that he volunteers to become a scheduler to realize his final wish.
  • Seo Ji-hye as Shin In Jung: one of Ji Hyun’s best friend. In Jung is first shown to be altruistic and caring about Ji Hyun, as she lends her own shoes to Ji Hyun, accepting walking barefooted on the street so that Ji Hyun arrives to her engagement on time. However, is is later revealed that In Jung is having an affair with Min Ho, and that they are scheming a conspiracy to acquire the Shin’s heritage.

Supporting Cast

  • Choi Jung Woo as Shin Il Shik (Ji Hyun’s father)
  • Yoo Ji In as Ji Hyun’s mother
  • Bae Geu Rin as Park Seo Woo
  • Son Byung Ho as Oh Hae Won
  • Moon Hee Kyung as Bang Hwa Joon
  • Kang Sung Min as No Kyung Bin
  • Yoon Bong Gil as Cha Jin Young
  • Kim Ho Chang as Ki Joon Hee
  • Jin Ye Sol as Ma Soon Jung
  • Lee Jong Min as Go Mi Jin

Theological Themes

49 Days explores interconnectedness of all things, such as fate, exorcism, and other spiritual topics. This TV series was inspired by the Buddhism “Bardo” that a soul usually wanders the earth for 49 days and then moves on to the next life, thus frequently referencing relevant Shamanism (once a majority religion of Korea) ideas such as reincarnation and karma. Location names also have theological rhythm–Han Kang’s restaurant Heaven and Mountain Destiny, where Ji Hyun and Min Ho first meet. However, forgiveness, betrayal, true love, and the quantity of three –reminiscent of Trinitarianism— (Roman Catholic themes) are central to Ji Hyun’s obtaining the genuine tears. These themes are recurrently exploited throughout the drama under the manifestation of the relationships of the characters. When Ji Hyun asks whether the Scheduler is male, he answers that such discrimination is not practiced in the afterworld, a concept in Matthew 22:30. The Scheduler also mentions that “knock and the door will be opened to you,” echoing Matthew 7:7. The “unutterable secret of the heavens” (천기누설) that Scheduler speaks about is similar to the mysteries of the kingdom of God that “man is not permitted to tell”(2 Corinthians 12:4, Mark 4:11, Matthew 13:11). Ji Hyun’s last name, Shin(신), means “God” in Korean.