Hymn of Death: Episodes 3-4
Events take a darker turn in this middle third of our story, as the ill-fated lovers face the reality of their situations. You would think that falling in love would be easy and joyful, but in those times and under family and societal pressure, Woo-jin and Shim-deok’s romance causes more pain than happiness. They’re swiftly approaching a breaking point, and will face decisions that will change their lives in drastic ways.
Woo-jin finds Shim-deok waiting outside when he’s released from jail, after having been arrested for a rebellious line in his troupe’s play. She cries when she sees that he was beaten, but Woo-jin says he’s fine and gives her a smile that leaves her flustered.
Shim-deok’s family happens to live nearby, so Woo-jin walks her home. Her parents are still awake and invite Woo-jin inside, and her curious younger brother Ki-sung asks what his relationship is with his sister. Woo-jin searches for an answer, but Shim-deok’s little sister Sung-deok grabs her brother by the ear and yanks him out of the room.
When they’re alone, Woo-jin tells Shim-deok that he likes her family, and that it must be difficult for them with her away in Tokyo. Shim-deok says his family must feel the same way, then she moves in closer to put some medicine on his cuts. She realizes that Woo-jin is staring and gets lost in his eyes for a moment.
When he feels better, Shim-deok says she wants to take Woo-jin somewhere. On the way, they see a lady wearing a fancy cloche hat. Shim-deok says she couldn’t wear one herself because they’re too modern and not very pretty, but Woo-jin says that he likes them.
They stop to look in a store window, where a record player is playing music. Shim-deok recognizes the song as “Waves of the Danube” by Ion Ivanovici, her favorite song, and Woo-jin says it’s beautiful.
They end up at an opera house, and Shim-deok tells Woo-jin that singing in front of a real audience was nerve-wracking, but it made her realize her dream — to be the best soprano in Korea, and perform on this stage. She asks Woo-jin if he would come see her so she wouldn’t be nervous, and he promises that he will.
Shim-deok’s stomach growls loudly, and she gets embarrassed and says she’ll buy dinner. At the restaurant, she asks Woo-jin about his own dream. He says he’s never thought about it, but that he’s happiest when he writes, and others read his writings. He says he’d like to write until his last day, but when Shim-deok says he can, he looks a bit sad.
After eating, they go back to the police station, and Shim-deok starts throwing pebbles at the building. Woo-jin grabs her wrist, asking if this is a joke to her — then brandishes the huge rock he’s holding in his own hand, HA. He hauls off and breaks a window, grinning with satisfaction.
He and Shim-deok run for it when the police come out yelling. Shim-deok has to stop and gasp for breath, but the police are close, so Woo-jin takes her by the hand and they keep going. They lead the police to an alley and duck behind a wall, and they both grow serious when they notice how close they’re standing.
Shim-deok realizes that Woo-jin is still holding her hand and tries to pull away, but he just grips her hand tighter. He leans down, and she tips her face up to his, giving him the green light to kiss her. But when he’s a mere inch away, Woo-jin backs up and walks away, leaving Shim-deok wondering what just happened.
While they wait for Woo-jin’s tram, Shim-deok suggests they speak banmal with each other since they’re the same age. Woo-jin says in jondae, “Later,” and Shim-deok says shyly that she has something to tell him when they get back to Tokyo.
Woo-jin tells her that he invited the troupe to spend the night at his home in Mokpo before returning to Tokyo. He asks her to please join them and she just smiles, then his tram arrives and he leaves. Shim-deok looks thrilled, but for some reason, Woo-jin seems troubled.
On her way home, Shim-deok sees a black cloche hat in a store window and she mutters that it’s really not pretty. But she’s wearing the hat when she arrives at the train station to travel to Mokpo, looking quite pretty in it. Woo-jin definitely notices, but after staring at her for a moment, he looks away with a guilty expression.
When the troupe arrives at Woo-jin’s family’s home, Shim-deok is surprised to learn that he isn’t poor like she’d assumed — he’s the eldest son of the wealthiest family in Mokpo. A beautiful young woman in hanbok greets Woo-jin formally, and Woo-jin introduces her to his friends. She addresses Woo-jin as “Husband,” and Shim-deok’s heart sinks as Woo-jin looks at her with regret.
That evening, the troupe has a silly little “disbanding ceremony” to commemorate the end of their tour. Shim-deok is called on to sing, but she’s still dazed and hurt, and to his credit, Woo-jin looks as if he feels terrible for doing that to her. She misses her music cue and claims to be hoarse, so Myung-hee lets her off the hook.
Nam-pa plays a duet on his violin with Ki-joo on piano, and during the song, Shim-deok quietly slips away. Woo-jin sees her go, but he doesn’t attempt to stop her. She removes the cloche hat and leaves it in her room, and takes her bag and leaves.
The rest of the troupe leaves in the morning. Ki-joo wonders why Shim-deok left a note saying that she suddenly had to go home, and Nam-pa shoots Woo-jin a pointed look, saying that she must have had a good reason.
Woo-jin goes in the house and finally faces his father, who’s very unhappy that he’s been writing literature and “running around with clowns.” He orders Woo-jin to remember that he’s the eldest son and heir to the family business, and Woo-jin’s fingers curl as he meekly agrees.
Woo-jin’s wife, Jeom-hyo, brings Shim-deok’s hat to Woo-jin. She asks him not to do things his father hates and to dedicate himself to the family business as soon as he finishes school. Woo-jin asks Jeom-hyo if she finds it exhausting to live a life all mapped out for her, but she says she’s never thought of it that way.
Four months later, after Woo-jin returns to school, Shim-deok finds him to talk. She says she’s going back to Korea in two days and wanted to say goodbye. As they walk, a young newsboy runs through the street tossing newspapers announcing that Arishima Takeo, the author whose book Woo-jin was reading when Shim-deok first met him, committed double suicide with his lover (she was married, and her husband discovered their affair).
Troubled, Shim-deok asks why the forbidden lovers didn’t just end their relationship. Woo-jin says that the loneliness they’d faced must have been terrifying. Shim-deok replies that you eventually forget, and she holds out a hand to Woo-jin. He takes it, wishing her well, then watches her walk away.
Five years later.
Having graduated school, Woo-jin now works for Sangseong Unlimited Partnership, his family’s company. One day he sees a photo of Shim-deok in the newspaper announcing that she’ll be performing at the theatre where she’d dreamed of singing on stage, and he remembers his promise to attend.
While getting ready for her performance, Shim-deok thinks she hears Woo-jin’s voice calling her name. But there’s nobody there, and she tells herself that of course he won’t be there. She sings for a packed house as memories of Woo-jin flit through her mind.
Halfway through one song, Shim-deok spots a familiar figure on a balcony, leaving the theatre. She abandons her microphone, runs to the lobby, and keeps going out to the street, looking desperately for Woo-jin.
She finally catches up and calls out to him, and he turns around. For the first time, he utters her name, “Shim-deok.”
Shim-deok asks if Woo-jin has a few minutes to talk, but he stops her and says she should change out of her ball gown so she doesn’t trip. When she’s back in her clothing, they walk together, and Shim-deok says that she’s kept in touch with Myung-hee, who tells her that Woo-jin is too busy to answer his letters.
Woo-jin says that Myung-hee always asks in his letters if he’s still writing, but he can’t bring himself to reply that the only writing he does these days is signing documents. Shim-deok thanks him for remembering his promise to see her sing, and he smiles, joking that she didn’t seem nervous enough to need his support.
Shim-deok admits she’s not nervous, but that seeing him made her heart race, and she worries he might leave. She says she’d thought she’d forgotten him, but seeing him in the audience proved that she’ll never forget him.
Tears fill her eyes, and Woo-jin steps forward to hug her. He says they’ll leave things at this, and Shim-deok’s hands come up to hug him back. Before they part, Shim-deok tells Woo-jin she’ll write to him — and unlike Myung-hee, she expects him to answer, because she loves his writing.
While cleaning Woo-jin’s desk, his wife Jeom-hyo finds Shim-deok’s hat, which he never returned, and his poem wishing he were a child again.
Although Shim-deok gets some work as a singer, she’s not getting good work, and she struggles to support her family with the little she earns. She’s told that many people can’t relate to classical music, and it’s suggested that she try singing songs that the people find more familiar.
She writes to Woo-jin as promised, but she lies that she’s doing well and getting lots of jobs. He writes back, telling her that he writes whenever and whatever he can. He occasionally visits her hometown, and the more time they spend together, the deeper their forbidden love grows.
One day, Woo-jin’s parents tell her that the son of a wealthy family wants to marry her. She refuses, but she can’t tell them that she’s in love with a married man. Her father is too sick to work, and he asks her to do this for him, as the man has promised to financially support her family.
Distraught, Shim-deok puts away the letter she was writing to Woo-jin and runs out of the house. He takes a call from her and rushes the Mokpo train station where she’s waiting for him, and she flings herself into his arms. She says she came because he wrote that he missed her, and he gives in and hugs her back.
They walk on the beach, and Shim-deok says that she came because Woo-jin’s father scolds him every time he goes her her hometown. She asks him to hold her and beg her not to leave, and Woo-jin asks what’s really going on. Shim-deok tells him about the marriage offer, and how the man’s family has offered to take on financial responsibility for her family.
She says that if she’d told him she was having money problems, he’d have given her what she needed, but she’d have felt ashamed. She begs him to ask her to run away with him, crying now, but Woo-jin can’t make himself say the words.
Woo-jin walks home after seeing Shim-deok off, and he finds Jeom-hyo waiting to tell him that his father wants to speak with him. Woo-jin says he wants to be alone for a bit first, and Jeom-hyo asks in a tense voice if he plans to be up all night writing again.
When he finally goes in, Woo-jin’s father says that the office called him to say that Woo-jin wasn’t there today to sign an important document. He brings up Woo-jin’s frequent trips out of town, assuming that Woo-jin is hanging out with the theatre troupe, and he forbids Woo-jin to leave town again.
Woo-jin says numbly that he doesn’t need to go anymore. He goes to his desk and opens the box where he keeps Shim-deok’s letters. He re-reads one, in which she wrote about how much it hurts to read his letters, because she misses him so much.
Meanwhile, she meets with the man her family wants her to marry, KIM HONG-KI (cameo by Lee Sang-yeob). He visits her family, and Shim-deok has to be prompted to walk him to the road. Hong-ki tries to hold her hand, but she yanks it away, then apologizes and explains that she’s not ready.
Hong-ki says that he’s embarrassed, but since he likes her more, he’ll be patient. After he leaves, Shim-deok looks down at her hand and imagines Woo-jin taking it. She smiles up at him, but he soon disappears.
Some time later, Woo-jin’s father is given a letter that was sent to their home but addressed to Kim Soosan (Woo-jin’s pen name). He finds Woo-jin drinking a bit heavily after a difficult work day, and he tosses the literary magazine that was delivered on his desk.
He says that Jeom-hyo told him Woo-jin comes straight to his home office every day to drink and write all night. He reminds Woo-jin that he forbade him to write, yet he’s been writing anyway, and even had his writings published in magazines. He accuses Woo-jin of rebelling against him, but Woo-jin stays calm.
He says that he’s done everything his father wanted — get married, attend agricultural school, and work for the family company. He asks exactly how he’s rebelling, and his father nearly has a stroke at his nerve in talking back. Getting emotional now, Woo-jin says that he’s his son, but he’s also a human being with free will and his own thoughts.
His father stammers that Woo-jin dares to raise his voice, and Woo-jin bellows, “YES!! Yes, I did raise my voice at you. I am begging you to let me breathe! Others are sacrificing their lives for Korean independence, but I’m living like a coward, as you wish. I am utterly ashamed, so I wanted to confess my mortification through my writing. At least through my writing, I wanted to do something!”
He grabs a handful of his writings and says that putting his thoughts on paper helps him breathe. But he flings them across the room and asks, “Father, do you want me to live, or die?”
Shaken, Woo-jin’s father says that Woo-jin is drunk and leaves the room. Woo-jin gives in and cries, but then he looks up with hardened eyes and asks again, “Do you want me to live or die?”
From Leaving Home, Kim Woo-jin’s award-winning literature, June 21, 1926:
Father, with a whirlwind in my heart,
For the first time in my life I chose to go against your will.
This episode was so much sadder than the first, but then, I knew it would be. This is a story where we know the ending ahead of time, so it was inevitable that we’d have to watch Woo-jin and Shim-deok’s love cause them some pain. I wasn’t expecting them to have such a long separation, or to struggle so hard against their feelings when they were able to be together, but I do respect them for trying not to cross that line.
Woo-jin especially attempts to pull back whenever he feels himself getting dangerously close to committing physical adultery, but neither he nor Shim-deok can help what’s in their hearts. It’s difficult to watch, because I don’t condone physical or emotional cheating, but it seems pretty clear that Woo-jin only married to satisfy a criteria of his father’s and that he’s never loved his wife. Still, he’s a good person for trying to be faithful, even when Shim-deok gets too emotional and begs him to just run away with her.
I knew that Woo-jin was married (it’s a true story after all), and I can even understand why he didn’t tell Shim-deok for a long time — honestly, it shouldn’t have been an issue at all, and wouldn’t have been if they’d simply remained friends. I do appreciate that he tried very hard to avoid falling for Shim-deok, and he stopped himself before taking things too far with her before telling her the truth. But the way he let Shim-deok find out that he’s married, by inviting her to his home and letting her be blindsided by meeting his wife, was pretty cruel. Woo-jin knew at that point that Shim-deok had feelings for him, and he had plenty of chances to tell her that he was married and avoid her being shocked and humiliated in front of the entire theatre troupe.
But I can’t be too angry with him, because as this episode progressed, you could see Woo-jin dying inside little by little. He’s no longer the cheeky guy who teased Shim-deok over noodles and stood up to the police. He’d harshly shocked the woman he loves with the knowledge that he’s married, then his father forced him to take over the family business as soon as school was over, regardless of what Woo-jin wanted. At this point, Woo-jin literally has nothing to live for, with the two things he loves most out of reach. It’s no wonder he finally broke and yelled that he’ll die this way, because his soul is literally dying under the constant pressure. Woo-jin already lives so much of his life internally, but with the reminders that he’ll never have anything he loves, his eyes just look dead and hopeless, and it’s heartbreaking.
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