There's great comfort to be found in falling in love with a television show that stretches onwards and onwards, especially around this time of year. Alas, Hymn Of Death, a new show coming to Netflix this weekend, is not one of those shows. The entire series is only three episodes long, and Hymn Of Death will not return for Season 2, giving itself the same irreversible conclusion as the true story that the series is based off of. But it's captivating nonetheless, especially for American viewers who might not be aware of the real story.
Hymn Of Death tells the true story of Yun Sim-deok, played by Shin Hye-sun, Korea's first ever professional soprano singer, and its name is a reference to her most famous song, "사의 찬미," or "In Praise Of Death." Hymn Of Death tells the story of her romance with playwright Kim U-jin, played by Lee Jong-suk. The story is so popular that it has been adapted to various mediums before Hymn of Death, including the 1991 Korean film Death Song and Han So-jin’s novel “In Praise of Death.” The reason that Hymn Of Death exists as a mini-series with a conclusive ending and not as a television series is because, likely every re-telling of Yun Sim-deok's life, they're forced to include the tragic ending of her tale.
Per the Korea JoongAng Daily, Yun Sim-deok and Kim U-jin committed suicide in 1926 while on a ship that had been taking them from the Japanese city of Simonoseki to Busan. The two, who were both 29 at the time of their death, jumped into the Hyunhaetan Sea. Following her death, Yun Sim-deok's songs, especially the macabre "In Praise Of Death" become incredibly popular in her home country as well as Japan. Hymn Of Death follows the two young artists' lives prior to their death, while Kim U-jin was an up-and-coming playwright who had an arranged marriage, and Yun Sim-deok was a young singer attempting to have her talents recognized in Seoul.
While the main story focuses on the love story between the two, it's also a snapshot of what life was like in 1920's Korea under Japanese occupation, which had been placed into effect in 1910 wound not end until the conclusion of World War II in 1945. While the occupation allowed for an exchange of culture, as evidenced by Yun Sim-deok's popularity in Japan, where she received a scholarship from the government to study in Tokyo, the occupation was also deeply detrimental to Korean culture.
Per the History Channel, schools and universities did not allow for the speaking of Korean language, and public locations and films were pushed to communicate in Japanese. Yun Sim-deok's story is tragic, but her legacy is that of an undeniably Korean artist whose artistic endeavors survived the occupation that defined much of her life. Hymn Of Death may not be a long series, nor will it return for future episodes, but fans of Korean drama and the history of Korea will not want to miss out on this biographic series.