At first glance, “49 Days” has very little going for it, especially given that it features not one, but two pop stars as leading cast members. Mercifully, neither displays their questionable singing talents, and the film turns out to be far more entertaining than expected, mainly due to some unintentional hilarity and a return to the high camp style of 1980s Hong Kong horror.
Set against a historical backdrop, the story follows Lau Sing (Stephen Fung, recently responsible for the lacklustre “House of Fury”), a medicine man who leaves his family to head down the river and start a new business in the provincial capital. Unfortunately, a few years later, just as he is about to return to his family, he finds himself framed by the villainous Pang Sei (Raymond Wong, turning in a hilariously overwrought performance) for involvement in an insurance fire which kills seven of his colleagues.
Lau Sing is thrown into prison, where his only hope rests in the incapable hands of a young, criminally inexperienced lawyer named Siu Chin (Gillian Chung, one half of pop duo ‘The Twins’), and a moronic but honest prison guard (Steven Cheung of pop group ‘Boy’z’). Predictably, the trial goes badly, and Lau Sing is sentenced to death, but is given a last minute reprieve by the mysterious executioner, who tells him to return to his home town. Arriving back home with Siu Chin in tow, Lau Sing finds his house a tomb and his wife in a catatonic state, with evil forces closing in and threatening to take away all he holds dear.
The main problem with the plot of “49 Days” is that it can never make up its mind as to what kind of film it should be, and around the halfway mark the viewer is left wondering whether the box art suggesting it to be some kind of supernatural thriller has been part of an elaborate hoax. Although the horror elements do eventually materialise via a predictable twist which most will see coming from the very start thanks to the rather self-explanatory title, the film is basically a melodrama, with more in the way of domestic angst and prison scenes than scares.
Visually, the film looks nice enough, albeit in a tourist information video sort of way, with quite blatantly airbrushed sunsets and the like. The period setting is never particularly convincing, mainly since everything looks so clean and colourful. Even the supposedly deserted, decaying house set seems to suffer from nothing that a quick once over with a duster wouldn’t cure. The historical aspects of the film are further undermined by the patchy use of some rather pointless visual gimmicks such as split screen work, and Chinese characters appearing cartoon-like onscreen.
The whole affair has the distinct feel of a 1980s Hong Kong spooky film, in the manner of a decidedly poor relative to Tsui Hark’s classic “A Chinese Ghost Story”, packed with dodgy cultural references, neon lighting and inappropriate toilet humour. The soundtrack in particular, which sounds at times to have been composed using an electronic keyboard, only adds to this impression. However, this is by no means an unwelcome comparison, and is in fact quite refreshing in a genre which has come to be overbearingly populated by po-faced female ghosts.
More than anything, “49 Days” is, though undeniably nonsense, a lot of fun. Although it’s various plot threads never come together, revolving around far too many inconsistencies and inanities, the whole thing moves along at a merry pace, with plenty of action of one sort or another. Add in a few odd gore scenes and amusingly unconvincing characters, notably Gillian Chung as one of the most improbable lawyers ever committed to celluloid, and a cast whose idea of acting seems to consist mostly of eye-rolling and teeth-gnashing, and the end result is a piece of cheerfully entertaining trash, which should appeal to anyone with a soft spot for this sort of thing.
Kin-lun Lam (director)
CAST: Steven Cheung
Gillian Chung …. Siu Chin
Stephen Fung …. Lau Sing
Debbie Goh …. Suzy
Lap-yi Kau …. Lau Sing’s daughter
Ho-Yin Wong …. Pang Sei