Story: Kang-rim (Ha Jung-woo) is a reaper who accompanies the restless spirit Soo-hong (Kim Dong-wook) through the underworld and defends him in front of hell's judges as he believes that the spirit wreaked havoc on earth because he was murdered. Also, Kang-rim sends his two companions Haewonmaek (Joo Ji-hoon) and Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi) to earth in order to find an old man who should have entered the realm of the dead quite a while ago. However, the old man is protected by a powerful household spirit (Ma Dong-seok). Having arrived on earth the household spirit, who under the name Joo-sin has taken on human form, explains to the reapers that it's not the grandfather he protects, but his grandson, who would be completely on his own if the grandfather would die. They come to the agreement to wait until the boy enters elementary school and in return Joo-sin tells the two reapers about their past. The household spirit was himself a reaper once and knows the two. Haewonmaek's and Deok-choon's memory have been completely erased and so they are dependent on Joo-sin's knowledge. He tells them that they have lived 1000 years ago and that Kang-rim knows about their past as well since his memory hasn't been erased. But why has he never told them about their former life?
Review: The first installment of this fantasy action drama managed to score with nice visuals and good action. Moreover, the fantasy aspect has been nicely
implemented so that sword-wielding reapers and courtroom drama could exist side by side. Still, a big problem was the fact that the interesting trio remained rather shallow in the end as there were merely hints at a greater background story. And it's actually this story the sequel is about, which means that the director makes good on a promise and thus earns the goodwill of the viewers. Problems lie somewhere else entirely. That the movie turns out to be less action-oriented may be easy to excuse, but the fact that the director tugs at the audience's heartstrings in an everything but subtle manner and furthermore wanted too much regarding a story in which everything is interwoven leads to a rather rough ride.
The movie is actually watchable without any prior knowledge of the first installment "Along With the Gods: Two Worlds". At the same time the movie picks up right where it left off in the first part. For this the director deserves some praise. Yet, Soo-hong, the brother of the paragon from the first installment, isn't nearly as interesting as he was in the prequel in which he was a vengeful spirit. It's too obvious that this isn't his story. And he even picks this up over and over again by making clear that things don't really revolve around him but Kang-rim. However, by doing so he steps out of the framework of his role and becomes the instrument of the screenplay. Accordingly, we can't truely warm to his character at any point. It's quite comprehensible that the director didn't want to rehash the same story along with all the court hearings, but to still implement them and put Soo-hong on the bench turns out to be quite the problem for the flick's narrative coherence.
When it comes to coherence there is a small problem in "The Last 49 Days" anyway. There are two stories told parallely. While we get a homage to "Jurassic World" in one scene as the heroes are chased by raptors we are catapulted back 1000 years to Goguryo in the next. The conflict with the Jurchen, the ancestors of the Manchu, is actually the movie's
true heart as Haewonmaek and Deok-choon lived during that time. We get to know what kind of link there is between the two. But that is just the beginning of the complex fabric of interwoven material. And this again leads us to the strongest point of criticism: There isn't one single story thread that isn't part of the big overall picture. This takes away any form of credibility in the story and gives it the appeal of a soap opera. You can't fight this feeling either since the emotional moments can't be called subtle at all. Everything is written out in full instead of giving the viewer some space to think on his own.
Ha Jung-woo ("Tunnel") can't bestow the kind of depth upon his character the screenplay allows the other protagonists to touch upon. We get to know way too late how he fits into the picture. His spotlight is thus taken by the trio of Joo Ji-hoon ("Asura: The City of Madess"), Kim Hyang-gi ("Thread of Lies") and Ma Dong-seok ("The Outlaws"). Ma is once again filling out the whole screen with his almost criminal natural charisma while the other two get new sides to them because of their background story. Especially Haewonmaek isn't just the goofy supporting character anymore, but even looks like a completely different character thanks to his past. You may be able to accept this, but the constant shifting between humor and drama, whereas the drama gets the upper hand more and more the closer we get to the finale, without a doubt aims at pleasing a wide audience.
There are once again some pretty neat CGI effects, but the realm of the dead isn't celebrated as much as it was in the first installment. That's fine as we don't get to see anything new anyway, but then again it's also a shame because there haven't been introduced some more ideas. The action scenes are scarcer as well, but it's also refreshing to see a filmmaker shift a gear down in this respect if the story doesn't motivate more fights. "The Last 49 Days" is entertaining and dives deeper into the characters. For this director Kim Yong-hwa ("Take Off") tries to shape his world into a perfectly self-contained microcosm. And that just doesn't work. Part three and four are already green-lighted and so we have to ask ourselves after this sequel, of which you can't say whether it's better or worse than the first part, what kind of stories Kim wants to tell in future installments.