Drama Drop: The History behind ‘Hymn of Death’


Title: Hymn of Death 사의 찬미

Language: Korean

Episodes: 3

Release Date:November 27- December 4 2018

Starring: Lee Jong-Suk, Shin Hye-Sun

This Netflix original is short and sweet. With only three episodes, you can finish the drama in an evening- just be sure to grab a box of tissues and a cozy blanket before you begin!

The Plot

The story begins when Yun Sim-Deok a soprano singer, meets and falls in love with playwright Kim Woo-Jin wile at university. Things become complicated when Sim-Deok discovers that Woo-Jin has family commitments and responsibilities that do not allow them to be together. Fed up with their obligations, the two tragically decide to commit suicide (no spoilers here- that is literally how the show begins!)

True Story

While the incident is famous in Korea, not many westerners know the history behind the drama- and that it is based on a TRUE STORY.


Yun Sim-Deok (윤심덕) is remembered as Korea’s first soprano singer.

Born in Pyongyang on July 25, 1897, Sim-Deok was privileged enough to study at Kyongsong Women’s Teaching College in Seoul 1914. Education for women at such a high level was unusual during the time. Sim-Deok was eager to further her studies and became the first Korean to study at the Tokyo Music School in Japan where she met Kim-Woo-Jin (김우진).

Sim-Deok had her first debut as a soprano in 1923 and while she was admired for her talent, she was unable to make a living by singing western classical music. This forced her to change course and sing pop and fold music in order to support herself.

She famously committed suicide with Kim-Woo-Jin on August 4, 1926 at the age of 29.

Sim-Doek’s most famous recording was “In Praise of Death” (the first Korean pop song) in 1926 that she recorded with her sister accompanying her on the piano. The piece is set to the tune “Waves on the Danube” by Ivanovici.

Here’s the original 1926  recording:

For comparison here’s a modern rendition of the song:


It is difficult to find details on the life of author Kim Woo-Jin in English.

No matter how hard I look, I can’t seem to find anything on him- though I would love to insert some of his writings here for you to read!

If you are interested in reading about Kim U-jin on Karel Capek you can find an article written by Sdenka Kloslova in Vol 32, Issue 1, Pg 84 of the Korea Journal

If you can understand Korean though- this documentary published in 1997 looking into his life may be helpful !

If you know or can access the history surrounding this author (or can translate) let us know! We would love to learn more about him!

The Period

I must admit that I am no expert in Korean history- if you were as confused as I was, I went and did some research for you, so here’s a little context for the Drama.

TLDR? Check out the highlighted sections for info directly relating to the Drama

  • Japan attempted to establish diplomatic relations with Korea which were refused. In frustration, Japan began considering war against Korea
  • Japan sent warships to threaten Korea to sign a treaty of commerce and friendship, which it did resulting in the opening of Busan, Wŏnsan, and Incheon to Japanese trade.
  • The increasing Japanese presence in Korea disturbed China who sent troops to Korea.
  • China then forced Korea to sign a trade agreement which led to similar treaties signed with the United states (1882), the UK, Germany, France and Russia who quickly established foreign missions in Seul.
  • This led to rapid modernization in Korea. Many officials and students were sent to the West, China and Japan to study technology and ideology to bring back to Korea.
  • After Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War, the Treaty of Shimonoseki of April 1895 recognized Japanese hegemony in Korea.
  • Encouraged by Russia, the Korean government attempted to push out the Japanese
  • The Korean Emperor secretly sent an emissary to the International Peace Conference at the Hague in 1907 asking for help.  This plea was ignored however and by 1910, Japan dispersed the Korean army and took full possession of Korea
  • Japan set up their government in Korea. Koreans lost freedom of assembly, association of the press and the freedom of speech. The Japanese school system was enforced and as an attempt to assimilate Koreans, the Japanese language was forced onto the people while Korean language and Korean history were no longer allowed to be taught.
  • March 1 1919: The March First Movement, was a nationwide anti-Japanese peaceful protest in which approximately two million Koreans took part. The Japanese responded with brutal violence arresting 46,000 while 16,000 were wounded and 7,500 were killed.
  • Students and Intellectuals attempted to inspire the Korean people with ideals of patriotism and democracy. This was done through western-styled newspapers and through the creation of Korean novels and poems which grew in popularity
  • A big anti-Japanese Rally occurred again in Seoul in 1926
  • A Nationwide student uprising occurred in November 1929
  • Constant uprisings and WWII led to Korea’s independence in 1945 ending 35 years of Japanese rule.

To learn more check out this link

The Romance

TO be honest, this Drama is EXTREMELY TAME. Don’t get your hopes up because there is one and only one kissing scene. While modesty is one of the charms of Kdrama- this one really builds up the chemistry and tension- and leaves you a little dissatisfied.

EVEN SO, it was a nice, short little drama that I really enjoyed.

I loved the struggles of the young author, and the history involved in the series.

I had a fun time and learned something new!

If you have an empty afternoon and are ready to shed a tear- this Drama is PERFECT !

Also, its on Netflix which is really convenient. Next time your browsing your suggestions, look it up!

As a teaser, enjoy this little clip from the drama:


Have you seen this Drama?

What did you think?

What is your favorite Lee Jong-Suk Drama?

Let us know in the comments below! We want to hear from you!


8 thoughts on “Drama Drop: The History behind ‘Hymn of Death’

  1. Pingback: Looking For a New Drama?

  2. Kamilly Vitória Saturnino Andrade

    Actually this is my favorite K-drama. I watched it about 10 times and I always cry in every episode. I’m Brazilian and since a kid I want to become a writer and I’m working hard. Maybe one day I’ll be remembered in history. Who knows… I really want to learn Korean because they seem to have a lot of harmful books. Pray for me ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is SUCH a lovely drama! It is amazing what a difference literature can make! I also wanted to become a writer- never give up on your dream!
      Yes Korean is such a beautiful language. Learning a new language would be a great skill to learn especially now if you have some free time because of the pandemic!
      Sending you encouragement and best wishes!! ❤


    2. Frankie - female

      Lee Jong Suk is a wonderful actor and for him to act the way he does in various dramas and movies, there must be within him a beautiful, warm and tender heart to begin with.
      This exquisite love story, although seemingly calm, I think is a sign of the times when people were not as open about love as they are now.; let alone illicit love. Their love ran deep and wasn’t showy. Lee Jing Suk’s portrayal was superb.
      To my mind, this tragic love story wasn’t lustful. It was, however, as deep and passionate as it could possibly be. I wonder how LJS felt after playing this heart wrenching role? Does one fully recover from something like this?
      I see LJS as a particularly special person. A warm, humble and tender heart shines through in so many of his actions. How can you not love him??
      He appears to be the type of person who needs someone special who will know how to love him. He needs assurance of that love being fully reciprocated, as do we all. It is after all, a life time
      Such maturity at a tender age is the mark of a superb human being, hence a gifted and talented actor. Emanates from the beauty within.
      After playing a role such as this, perhaps one needs to be even more sure of marrying the right person so as to fulfil one’s needs and wants in life.
      If I knew then what I know now, my life would certainly have been different. Maturity comes at different times for different people, and for different reasons. Some people wouldn’t change a moment in their life; I would change much.
      I believe that as women, we have a great responsibility to keep the home fires burning. We are the cig in the wheel if home life.
      Korea has some wonderful treasures, and Lee Jong Suk is one of them. He is a true gem!
      This movie has truly touched my heart, and I wish I could live my life over again to more FuLLY enjoy the treasures life has to offer.
      Korea is producing wonderful talent. Being of Central European extraction, I came across Korean movies and dramas by sheer accident. After watching a few of them, my mind was opened to many aspects of loving and living. I realised what I was missing out on, but also realised what I have already enjoyed in my own life, especially after watching this drama.
      If it weren’t for these wonderful Korean writers I wouldn’t be the way I am and where I am now as a woman, I would be a superficial person in my understanding of the world around me.
      Every person on this earth has a love story to tell, be it good, bad or unfortunately ugly and tragic at times.
      I believe that all of this is coming about
      because of Korea’s long and sometime tragic history.
      I haven’t spoken about the actress because it was LJS who tugged at my heartstrings throughout this drama. I will leave that for someone else to analyse.
      Thank you to the writer, producer, director and in fact, everyone concerned in creating this jewel of a mini drama. It has made a difference to my life.
      PS I am now learning the Korean language and I have developed a love of all things Korean including the food.
      I visit Korean restaurants in Sydney, Australia and I’m having a grand time. I am now searching out a Korean community that I can be a part of.


  3. Jo Hejna

    This was exquisitely sad and romantic. What a world they lived in that drug deep love to death. I understand their decision but wish it could have been different for them. Love like theirs should give life.


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