'Kingdom': Netflix's Korean Medieval Zombie Epic Brings New Life to the Undead Genre
From South Korea, comes a gem of a horror TV series filled with political intrigue, social injustice and, yes, lots of gruesome zombies.
If you are wowed by Train to Busan (2016), the South Korean “zombies-on-a-train” blockbuster film, Netflix’s Kingdom will impress you just as much, if not more.
Beautifully filmed and well-scripted, the South Korean zombie epic series breathes new life into the undead genre, with a medieval setting and layering its zombie narrative with political intrigue, and class struggles, amid taut action, and scares.
Set in 15th century Korea's Joseon period, the story focuses on Crown Prince Ching who, after being prevented from seeing his ailing father, by unscrupulous palace officials, embarks on a mission to uncover the truth behind the king's mysterious illness. Upon arriving at the royal physician’s hometown, the prince witnesses a zombie outbreak, and is determined to stop the virus from spreading across the country.
Directed by Seong-hun Kim, and written by Eun-hee Kim based on her webcomic series, The Kingdom of the Gods,Kingdom is an exquisite horror gem that boasts compelling characters, stunning visuals and fascinating sub-plots, that keep the viewer intrigued and engaged throughout its six-episode run. And of course, having lots of terrifying zombies on the rampage is also a key attribute.
Here are but seven best things about Netflix's Kingdom:
1. Rampaging Zombies
Whether in royal robes or peasant rags, the zombies in Kingdom are ferocious and downright scary. If they are not chained, they run in packs and as fast as sprinters. The only relief for the living is that when the sun comes out (or so it was first believed), the undead dashes for cover, like vampires, and snooze until dusk, before all hell breaks loose again. Besides excellent make-up, director Kim revealed that the zombie actors underwent a two month training camp, so to master a zombie's jerky and menacing movements. Impressive.
2. A Heroic Prince With Skills
Despite being the trueborn son of the king and his concubine, Crown Prince Ching (played by Ji-Hoon Ju) is powerless against evil palace antagonists, and stands to lose his status as heir to the throne if the queen consort gives birth to a son. The quiet prince though gradually exerts responsibility and leadership qualities, as he tackles every challenge that comes his way. From organizing jittery villagers to set up defences against the undead, to slaying zombies (and human foes) deftly with his sword-fighting skills, Ching slowly but surely makes the viewer root for him all the way.
3. Other Compelling Characters
With enemies on every side, Prince Chang thankfully has a handful of people who believed in him. They include his loyal bodyguard Mu-yeong (Sang-ho Kim) who dares to tell the prince off whenever he’s wrong or afraid, village physician Seo-bi (Doona Bae) who is determined to find the cure for the zombie virus, and Yeong-sin (Sung-Kyu Kim), a disgruntled commoner who appears to be hiding a military past.These characters are compelling in their own way, and also on occasion provide much-needed comic relief amid a bleak tale.
4. Truly Evil Villains
Truth be told, the human villains in Kingdom are actually scarier than the living dead. With his conniving daughter as the pregnant queen and equally despicable son as head of the Joseon royal guard, Chief Minister Cho Hak-Ju (Seung-Ryeong Ryu) is the evil mastermind who set off the zombie plague, in order to seize the throne and attain sovereign power over the kingdom. No qualms in killing anyone who gets in his way, the tyrant sends chills down one’s spine each time he coldly issues a threat or warning to anyone who dares defy him.
5. Highlighting Sociopolitical Issues
Class struggle, a popular theme in South Korean cinematic works, is featured prominently in Kingdom where the rich live vulgar, lavish lifestyles, while the poor lack basic necessities such as food and water. As Yeong-sin informs Seo-bi, some villagers were so stricken with hunger that they had to resort to a cannibalistic diet (since they are banned from hunting deer in parks by royal decree). Using a zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for a corrupted society has been used effectively in Train to Busan and especially so in its animated prequel, Seoul Station.
6. Great Sets & Locations
With the story set in the Joseon period (1392-1897), Kingdom is beautifully shot in various South Korean historic locations that showcased much of the country’s grandeur past. There are authentic ancient palaces, stone-walled fortresses, and gardens blooming in rich autumn colors. One warning though: after watching Kingdom, you will never view South Korean palace ponds the same way again!
7. Gorgeous Costumes
Kingdom also boasts fabulous costumes. As costume designer Yoo-jin Kwon tells Variety, you can tell a character’s social status by the color of his or her garment. The royal family, for instance, wear red and black as the colors are considered royal being “the most difficult to produce using Joseon dyeing techniques.” The Joseon royal guard are also stylishly attired in purple military uniforms, and blood-red hats, while scholars are dressed in white as the color represents purity and integrity, said Kwon. Last but not least, while the rich are dressed in all sorts of colors, commoners are clad in off-whites, browns, and grays, as these are denoted colors of the lower classes.
Akin to a Korean “Games of Thrones meeting The Walking Dead", Kingdom is a top-notch zombie period drama that is grim yet thought-provoking, and socially conscious at the same time. With the season finale cliff-hanger featuring new reveals, it is great to know that season two has already began filming and is due out end 2019 or early 2020. Worth watching especially if you are a horror fan.
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Kingdom Season 1is now streaming on Netflix.