Following the epic success of part one, the vast majority of the team returns in yet another action-packed installment in the celebrated webcomic adaptation which shared much of the success of the original. Expanding the mythos of the story while enhancing the action and spectacle, writer/director Kim Yong-hwa’s celebrated sequel arrives on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital from WellGO USA on December 11.
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Attempting to settle the turmoil, Gang-lim (Ha Jung-woo, from “The Handmaiden”) decides to put the other guardians Hae Won-maek (Ju Ji-hoon, from “Asura: City of Madness”) and I Dong-chun (Kim Hyang-gi, from “Thread of Lies”) on trial in order to achieve full reincarnation. While he becomes tasked with preparing a trial for the rogue spirit, they arrive in the real world to deal with an insolent human, protected by the special spirit Seong-ju (Ma Dong-seok, from “Champions”) who are looking after the man and his grandson. As the two sides carry out a plan in both worlds in order to return to the Afterlife realm together, a series of secrets about their pasts before they died stalls their plans and forces them to utilize their skills in order to save everybody, when a rogue god of the underworld tries to ensure that it doesn’t proceed.
While this doesn’t match the first entry as a singular whole, there are aspects that do top part 1. One of those is that ‘The Last 49 Days’ decidedly favors the spectacle sequences in the Afterlife realm. These go for much bigger and more grandiose sequences than what came before and really add some fine action for the film. The opening, picking up where the last one left off with the Guardians facing the spirits in the desert afterlife, opens this one rather nicely, while later sequences offer even more spectacle. Kim Yong-hwa was able to add in dinosaurs to the mix with two spectacular scenes, first in a fishing boat against a massive creature swimming alongside it and then later when a pack of creatures chase them across the swirling desert formations, all gorgeously photographed by Kim Byeong-seo.
That spectacle is carried over into the trial sequences. Much like the original, these are vibrant, exciting and visually stimulating which is great with the repeat settings once again. Visiting the ice cavern, the hellish tea house and the lava pit in ‘The Last 49 Days’, the film provides a great overall look that tops the scenes from the original. Visual Effects Directors Kang Jong-ik, Jung Sung-jin and Choi Wanho together provide a truly special and standout series of visually-impressive settings that allow for a cohesive connection between the two films. As well, these settings also give the space a rather impressive location for the action or just the more dialog-charged trials that take place here.
However, it’s in the trial here where the film somewhat stumbles slightly. The entire purpose of the film is a complete bait-and-switch, with the reveal found at the very end of the film. Rather than attempt to have the Guardians complete a new task even more perilous than last time, especially considering that one ended with them attempting treason against the Afterlife, instead writer/director Jong-hwa turns that around into a discovery of their origins as humans. This revelation that the trial will really be for the guardians’ leader Gang-lim, who has a special connection to the other two members, pretty much undoes the point of the film by forcing us through the journey all to suddenly turn it around in the final minutes of the film.
The other problem with the revelation is the preponderance of cliches it brings about in the rest of the film. Learning about the history of their connection in the past through the flashbacks to their days back in the wilderness, is a picture-perfect example of the Korean mentality to cliche. Splintering the main story into two separate plot-threads which pile twists, contrivance and coincidence into the storyline results in minute-long flashbacks before jumping to one of the other storylines, creating the opportunity to see where everything else is going. The outcome of these scenarios becomes obvious rather easily once we start getting further into the storylines rather than just simply going straightforward. On top of that, these are so packed with emotional high-points that it becomes tedious after a while and many lose their impact because everything has one and it’s not that surprising anymore. However, none of these issues severely distracts from the film as a whole.
While ‘The Last 49 Days’ does fall a little short of the original, there’s still more than enough on display here that it still is a massively entertaining and enjoyable entry if looked at in the right mindframe. Give this sequel a chance if you’re a fan of the original or looking for something else beyond the normal spectacle-styled action films, while those not won over by the original won’t find much new to enjoy here.