Something cheery sounding is just what’s needed as we slide into another year of global chaos. Hymn of Death is the obvious contender, broaching the topics of freedom versus spirit-crushing oppression and the heartache that comes with the pursuit of proscribed love.
Appalling as it undoubtedly was, if something mildly positive (although admittedly trivial) has been salvaged from Japan’s vicious occupation of Korea in the early 20th century, it’s that it has allowed Seoul’s television creatives to corner the market in fetching period dramas.
Hymn of Death, on Netflix, is the latest meticulously realised example, and thankfully its makers have avoided the temptation to overreach themselves, instead restricting the story to a miniseries of three one-hour episodes.
Korean undergraduates studying in 1920s Tokyo return home for a 10-city tour, staging a play that riles their unwanted guests by lamenting the absence of freedom. Targeted by the snarling Japanese police for daring to speak out, writer and theatre director Kim Woo-jin (starchy, intense, patriotic) falls for stellar soprano Yun Sim-deok (irascible, delicate, determined) despite his best intentions – Kim already being trapped in an arranged marriage.
Lee Jong-suk plays the writer, Shin Hye-sun the singer and together – after an artistic-temperament-fuelled, antagonistic start to their romance – they bring back to life their tragedy-laden historical characters in finely pitched performances of frustration and restraint.
HBO Asia takes you inside the fascinating world of Taiwan’s young mediums
If you’d like to know just how chaotic (or otherwise) next year will be, you might discern some clues from HBO Asia’s spellbinding documentary The World Behind the Teenage Psychic. Still warm from its debut on HBO Go, it’s now available, in all its chilling strangeness, from HBO On Demand.
Filmed in Taiwan, the hour-long Mandarin documentary is a second bite at the cherry for the network, having been inspired by HBO Asia’s own hit original drama series, also in Mandarin, The Teenage Psychic.
The real psychics (if they may be so described) are sometimes disconcerting in their spiritual abandon, but it’s not easy being the mouthpiece of the Lotus Prince, a Taoist god, when he’s in a bad mood and self-flagellation is called for. Such is the lot of the medium Ming Yi Zhang, 18, one of the go-betweens straddling the astral planes that apparently lie between Taiwan and the heavenly spheres.
From the temples of New Taipei City to the Keelung Ghost Festival to the island’s mountainous interior, the documentary peels back the meaning and import of the colourful, multi-denominational rituals associated with a life beyond so that you can almost smell the incense. As a bonus, the guest star is Qian Na Lee – of The Teenage Psychic fame – whose family business is funerals and who is more qualified than most to expound upon life and death.
The latest news channelled from The Teenage Psychic offices, incidentally, is that the series will return for a second run in 2019. In the meantime, enjoy the conceptual challenges posed by The World Behind…
The Chinese folklore force is strong in this one.
Amazon Prime’s look into the food that fuels pro cyclists might help you eat more healthily
And because next year will be different, and because this time you really will ditch all those extra Christmas kilos, here’s a chance to catch up on a unique sporting series, one combining the planet’s toughest endurance contest with … gourmet cooking.
Eat. Race. Win. reveals how elite Australian cycling team Orica-Scott (now known as Mitchelton-Scott) was fuelled during the 3,540km of the 2017 Tour de France at the skilled hands of chef Hannah Grant.
Chapeau (as they say in cycling) to Amazon Prime for staying the course. And you? On yer bike.