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49 Days

(left) Stephen Fung and Jess Zhang, and (right) Gillian Chung and Steven Cheung.
Chinese: 犀照  
  Year: 2006  
  Director: Lam Kin-Lung, Tsui Siu-Ming  
  Producer: Tsui Siu-Ming, Amy Lee Fung-Ming
  Cast: Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Gillian Chung Yun-Tung, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Jess Zhang (Cheung Sai), Kau Lap-Yi, Steven Cheung Chi-Hung, Wong Yat-Fei, Lo Meng, Debbie Ng Tin-Yu, Sit Bun
The Skinny: A passable and passionless timekiller for those who squeal at the sight of one of the Twins. 49 Days is okay for junk moviegoing, and possesses the occasional inspired moment. Still, this is ultimately a wasted opportunity and yet another underwhelming Hong Kong movie.
by Kozo:

People who contend that the Twins are better apart than together will likely want to nix 49 Days from their list of evidence. A period supernatural thriller, 49 Days possesses some flashes of interest, but the overall feeling is one of time-killing dullness. Stephen Fung stars as Lau Sing, a Chinese medicine practitioner who heads down the river with a bunch of neighbors to start a Chinese medicine business. In doing so, Lau Sing leaves his wife (Jess Zhang) and daughter (Kau Lap-Yi) behind, with the hopes that their future fortunes will be solved by his fledgling business. Flash-forward a few years and Lau Sing is now a minor success. But it's not all wine and roses; Lau Sing is betrayed by supposed buddy Pang Sei (Raymond Wong, in an epic bit of overacting), who burns down Lau Sing's business and frames him for the murder of his colleagues and friends.

Lau Sing unfortunately has zero chance at justice, but he does have a couple of allies. Number one is his dopey prison guard (Steven Cheung of Boy'z), who offers to get Lau Sing a lawyer to plead his case, and hopefully save Lau Sing from execution. Lau Sing's savior turns out to be Siu Chin (Gillian Chung), a neophyte lawyer who's so adorable that she can't convince the court - much less a paying audience - of her seriousness. Lau Sing gets sent up the creek, but a minor stay of execution occurs. For 49 days, Lau Sing will get the chance to reunite with his family, but only if he hightails it home right quick. He does so with Siu Chin in tow, and finds that his family home is now a desolate mess, with only his attitude-heavy daughter acting fully functional. His wife is in a state of perpetual shock, and there's even a creepy stranger (Lo Meng) wandering around. Even worse, Pang Sei returns to try to claim Lau Sing's home and sell it for cash. Can Lau Sing stop the bastard before his overacting destroys all of China?

49 Days is a difficult film to talk about because doing so threatens revealing spoilers - which shouldn't be that big a deal because the film's poster and English title spoil plenty on their own. A Chinese funeral lasts 49 days, but of more relevance is the Buddhist belief that the span of time between a person's death and their next reincarnation is - you guessed it - 49 days. Basically, Lau Sing is fast approaching an inexorable fate, and his ability to stop Pang Sei's villainy is obstructed by the ineffectuality of his metaphysical state. Yes, we're using large words to disguise the film's plotline, though if you bothered to read this review, you probably aren't that afraid of film spoilers. In that case, we'll reveal the ending: good triumphs, and evil is sent packing. Plus, Gillian Chung is as adorable as one expects her to be, and possesses absolutely zero guile in her role as the cutest lawyer ever. If you've ever wanted to see Hello Kitty as a lawyer, this may be the closest you'll ever get.

But if it's good filmmaking and not cuddly lawyers that you're looking for, then you're out of luck. While possessing an intriguing setting and some interesting details, 49 Days is only barely average, and is so forgettable that audiences leaving the theater may ask themselves what movie they just saw. The film simply lacks the intensity required to affect in any lasting way. The plot twists aren't surprising, the atmosphere is less scary than sullen, and the loud comedy relief is only distracting. Wong Yat-Fei shows up in a hammy supporting role, and his obvious attempts at comedy are only marginally enhanced by that kid from Boy'z. Gillian Chung is predictably adorable, though her winning screen presence is more an extension of her Twins persona than a result of any actual acting. Stephen Fung is bland, and Raymond Wong goes so over-the-top as the heinous Pang Sei that he seems to be auditioning for the Waise Lee role in a remake of A Bullet in the Head. Only Lo Meng brings any charisma to the screen, but that's probably because he was one of those kick-ass guys from The Five Deadly Venoms. Presumably audiences would enjoy it more if actor cred wasn't based on a previous film, let alone one that's nearly three decades old.

Those looking to kill time with one of those pesky Twins may end up being more charitable towards 49 Days. As disposable time-killing junk, the film does possess its minor charms. The minor cultural details are intriguing, such as the use of rhinoceros horn as a (Warning: possible spoiler!) ghost-seeing agent. Also, the climax manages a few tense moments with its scenes of child peril and nifty ghost/human interaction. Still, the movie could have been so much better. The setting and some minor plot devices recall Tsui Hark's forgotten classic Love in the Time of Twilight. Like 49 Days, that film possessed an early 1900s setting, a relatively dark storyline, and a blurred line between the living and the dead. But Love in the Time of Twlight was enlivened by a charming romantic subplot, clever staging, and a giddy pace that made it feel like a better film than it probably was. 49 Days could have used some of Tsui Hark's cinema panache; even making the film a knock-off of Chinese Ghost Story would have been a welcome diversion. 49 Days was directed by a different Tsui, namely former kung-fu star Tsui Siu-Ming, whose eye for cultural detail helped make the 1990 pic Bury Me High into an entertaining action romp. But that's an older, better Hong Kong film, and the fifth enjoyable HK flick that we've just mentioned. Enough nostalgia! It would be great if getting misty about HK Cinema's golden years could make 49 Days a better film. Unfortunately, it doesn't. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales Film and Video Distributors
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen