Hymn of Death is slightly watery and challenging, but it provides an excellent story and another narrative about the downfall of Joseon, and this time through music.
My extended coverage of Korean Netflix series continues; first I battled with Mr. Sunshine for two months, I am currently covering Memories of Alhambra on a weekly basis, and now I’ve been touched by Hymn of Death, otherwise known as, via IMDB, Saui Chanmi.
It’s strange that I am covering the latest Korean series to arrive on Netflix because it is intricately linked to the demise of Joseon, which I discussed at length during my weekends of consuming Mr. Sunshine which ended in tragic circumstances. As usual, The Netflix Original leaves a footer, explaining that the events that took place are not an actual reflection of what happened, however, the audience understands the circumstances of the downfall of the proud nation fully.
Hymn of Death follows Kim Woo-jin (Lee Jong-suk) a genius playwright who is determined to show his art during the time that Korea is under Japanese occupation. Politically, his latest play has connotations to the recent ruling, meaning he is treading the line with his creative work, and risking the well-being of others. Kim Woo-jin explicitly states early on in the series that he welcomes his work as a fond reminder of Joseon and that it is his last crumb in holding onto his pride for the nation.
In his vicinity within the same theatre group is Yun Sim-deok (Shin Hye-sun), who turns out to be Joseon’s first soprano, immediately catching the eye of Kim Woo-jin in the initial episode. Like Mr. Sunshine, the developing romance is evident, as the two purposefully form a bond, but through art rather than the politics that are slowly catching up beneath them.
Hymn of Death is whimsical, but its intentions grow like a bubbling melodrama awaiting a tragic result to the entire story. Yun Sim-deok marks Kim Woo-jin as an inspiration, yearning for compliments while she sings her socks off. Their polarising attempts to connect makes this series, as Kim Woo-jin specifically forms his relationship with Yun Sim-deok at arm’s length, building the tension between both characters.
Like all stories involving Joseon, there is always tragedy afoot, and if you are patient with Hymn of Death, you shall be awarded a beneficial emotional impact. There are moments where the brutal consequences of Japanese rule are shown, with Kim Woo-jin’s first taste of imprisonment and interrogation for censoring a play but also throwing in a line that breaches that censorship.
Hymn of Death is by no means the same breadth as Mr. Sunshine. However, it’s excellent storytelling providing another glimpse of history that I was unaware of 12 months ago.