Korean mini-series Hymn Of Death is a three episode series about stage writer Kim Woo-Jin, the pursuit of freedom in the face of oppression and stumbling into forbidden love. His counterpart for much of this romantic period piece is Yun Sim-Deok, a talented singer lacking confidence. As the two spend more and more time together, they begin to fall in love and what transpires is a tale of romance, wrapped up in a period drama set deep in the heart of Japanese occupied Korea.
The tale begins with Woo-Jin preparing his troupe for an upcoming play. Touching on themes of cross-dressing, class and other taboo subjects, the group worry that Woo-Jin could come under fire with the authorities for his provocative content. As the episode ticks by, a spanner is thrown into the works as the beautiful and incredibly talented singer Sim-Deok joins the group. What transpires is a tale that sees Woo-Jin torn between his duties as a husband in his arranged marriage and suppressing his growing love toward the singer.
It’s a beautifully written tale of love and tragedy, one that thankfully doesn’t drag on longer than it should. The 3 episode length is actually a smart move and one that certainly benefits this tale. While the supporting cast do well with their roles – especially Woo-Jin’s father late on – the rest of the cast fall by the wayside in favour of our two lead characters. Jin-Woo in particular plays this internal conflict perfectly and across the 3 episodes you really feel the turmoil his character is going through as he grapples with his duties and his heart’s desires.
In many ways the tale plays out much closer to a tragedy than a romance for much of the 3 hour run time. If it wasn’t for the ending (which I obviously won’t spoil here), the tale feels like it’s gearing up for a Romeo & Juliet-esque finale to play out. Alas, Hymn Of Death chooses not to follow this path and in many ways the series is all the stronger for it. Having said that, it is worth noting that the series tends to overdo its musical cues and montages to the point of it losing its effectiveness. Over the course of 3 episodes there were at least 4 occasions where Jin-Woo and Sim-Deok approached one another in slow motion or a montage kicked in. It’s not a deal breaker and one or two were nicely shot but it does become a little over the top by the time the final credits roll.
While Hymn Of Death is a romance first and foremost, the oppression and Japanese occupation of Korea plays heavily over the themes shown in the series too. Jin-Woo is the main protagonist for much of the run time but this finely balanced act of juggling romance with history and drama is very nicely implemented indeed. While the musical montages and a few of the dramatic elements don’t always hit the mark, Hymn Of Death is a beautifully written mini-series all the same, and one that keeps up the trend of showcasing quality Asian drama on Netflix.