On August 4th, 1926 at around 04:00, talented singer Yun Sim-Deok and up-and-coming writer Kim Woo-Jin jumped into the Hyunhaetan Sea from the bridge of a ferry directed to Busan. Their true story, immortalised in literature, film and TV, is one that fascinates audiences and speaks of endurance and hope. Thanks particularly to Netflix’s most recent adaptation The Hymn of Death (사의 찬미), Yun Sim-Deok and Kim Woo-Jin, portrayed respectively by Shin Hye-Sun and Lee Jong Suk, have become for modern viewers the Romeo and Juliet of Korean history, giving life to a love that transcends barriers and obstacles to become eternal.
Yet, there is more to be uncovered in their story, a story that relies on the powers of art and entertainment to break boundaries and change lives. Both Yun Sim-Deok and Kim Woo-Jin are trapped in roles that are prescribed by external forces —their controlling families, their responsibilities toward those they love, and the Japanese imperial power that rules over their home country of Korea. However, both youths in their own ways seek to lighten their burden by finding refuge and solace in their artistic production. Singing and writing liberate the characters from social constrictions and allow them to fully embrace what they love and desire. Though fleeting, the abandonment that these forms of entertainment allow offers a chance to shine in the face of adversity.
There is a latent potential, the show seems to argue, that comes from the choices we make in producing and consuming entertainment. That is why when an initially disillusioned Sim-Deok asks Woo-Jin ‘what good will music and plays do? They have no power,’ the young playwright’s response sets the record straight: ‘You’re right. However, I’m only trying to hold onto my country in my own way. Our country is being trampled on, but I want to show that our spirits are still alive.’ Woo-Jin is as aware as anyone that his programme of plays won’t change history, but that’s no matter to him, for what can be changed, what will indeed be changed, is people’s feelings towards the choices that they can make. Theatre and music give these young people a reason and a way to fight against odds that are brutally stacked against them.
Entertainment for Woo-Jin is indeed a form of escapism, but one that serves as a way to express his true self and be freed from a society that has already determined the path he should follow. As Sim-Deok herself comes to understand by the end of the show, ‘It’s fine even if we can’t change anything. The fact that we’re trying something with hope is what matters.’
Featured Image Source: ©Variety, 11.08.2019, www.variety.com
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