49 Days

Film review by Lee Alon

Years post the HK film biz's first batch of pseudo-scary, rather lame attempts at wooing people with wishy-washy ghost tales, the same insipid shortcomings still often dominate. 49 Days places itself firmly in the company of such mediocrity, demonstrating the case for how better technology often fails in alleviating symptoms pertaining to simple story and common sense.

In a vein similar to that of classics “Ghost” and “The 6th Sense”, 49 Days relies chiefly on an interesting but obvious twist to bring it together halfway through, in addition to deploying the requisite quota of redundant, convoluted mysticism. It revolves around the theme of the dead having the opportunity to sort things out within a given timeframe (49 Days) before they have to depart the living world, but the only such temporal restraint you'll be eager to figure out is when the awful thing'll end at long last.
Eclipsing everyone else in the production is handsome Raymond Wong (Love Undercover, The Lion Roars, PTU) who delivers a wicked performance as the backstabbing friend Pang Shi and who gets to exit the stage in a modest blaze of acting glory. Pang Shi works with 1920's entrepreneur Lam Shing (Stephen Fung), a successful millionaire in an undisclosed city making his very honest fortune selling traditional medicine a la Wong Fei Hung. Everything goes well until one fine day Lam Shing is accused and convicted of a crime he of course didn't commit. Languishing in the local crook depository, only cadet attorney Siu Chin accepts the ignominious fate of standing up for Lam Shing. She's played by Twin, Gillian Chung, definitely one of the prettiest faces in the world of entertainment today, but sadly not much more judging by this sad release. Chung's character suffers from an oversized portion of comic relief, plus dabbles in lifting themes from My Cousin Vinnie.
Eventually she seemingly arranges for Lam Shing's escape from incarceration, and they manage to make it back to his old homestead where he had left his wife and child four years previously to make a success of himself. Now it is eerily deserted like a disused Shaw Brothers lot. Here is where the so-called horror element kicks in, but if this scares you please seek professional help, you're in no shape to handle modern society. Amid horrible voice-overs the fatigued story trudges on, with at least some highlights shining through. Despite a conspicuously short legal-process bit, the prison itself has some excellent imagery, and the movie overall benefits from a technically polished veneer. And even though the mood picks up somewhat after the prison break, its all for naught as sentimental opportunities, including clearly useful ones like the family reunion, are poorly done.
The latter part of the film mainly concerns Lam Shing meeting his young daughter Ling Qi (newcomer Qiu Li Er), another addition to the parade of  annoying, noisome little girls following in the shaky footsteps of the over-hyped “The Ring”. There is then a lot of mumbo-jumbo about fate and victims destined to act on their yuan fen, or pre-scripted karma. Not the most revealing nor intriguing of prospects, let us tell you, even though one of the instruments of this mechanism is the impressive veteran director Lawrence Mon, here both executioner and protector, plus the guy taking it upon himself to clue the cast (and us) in to what's going down in 49 Days.
Above other considerations, 49 Days takes its own sorry self too seriously. Sure, certain moments exhibit good graphic effects (particularly when we see magical candles exposing the whereabouts of ghosts), and to their credit continuity throughout retains a solidly consistent state. Probably the biggest boon for most comes in the gorgeous form known as Gillian. Classy beauty like this doesn't come along too often, and every chance to behold its magnificence has to be OK at the very least, even if it’s a vapid flick like this one.
49 Days misses hardly any fortuitous moment to strip itself of remaining credibility, belonging in no tradition one could point to. Pathetic action, laughable scares, all consolidate into a package even Ace Ventura's take on UPS couldn't dent further. It would be so easy to take the cynical route and come up with 49 flaws here, but let's avoid that. Instead, here’s hoping Gillian graces another project as soon as possible, and this time perhaps one requiring more than just her cosmetic presence. As for 49 Days, pretend you didn't see it. Boo.

Rating: 4/10

Directed by Lam Kin Lung
Starring Stephen Fung, Gillian Chung, Raymond Wong, Lawrence Mon, Qiu Li Er
2006, Cantonese, 95 minutes

Contact Lee Alon here

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Michael: 8.0
Brian: 5.5
Sarah: 6.5