Kingdom (Hangul: 킹덤; RR: Kingdeom) is a 2019 South Korean television series written by Kim Eun-hee (Signal, Signs, Three Days) and directed by Kim Seong-hun ( A hard day, the Tunnel) . It is Netflix‘s second Korean original series, which premiered on January 25, 2019.
The series’ second season is set to begin production in February 2019.[
The series is adapted from the webcomic series The Kingdom of the Gods, which was authored by Kim Eun-hee and drawn by Yang Kyung-il.
There is politics. There are zombies. This show is simply brilliant.
Every now and then the South Korean cinematic industry comes out with a piece of work that opens the rest of the world to Korean movies and dramas. From Oldboy and I saw the Devil to Train to Busan. But will Kingdom turn into a gateway show is yet to be determined. Given the audience reaction so far, they did green light a sequel, so maybe, maybe this is the show to finally break through to people who dont watch romantic Korean dramas.
After the domestic and international success of Train to Busan, Kingdom is Hallyuwood’s second offering to the zombie genre. Train to Busan was a trailblazer, as it seems, since it proved that it was possible to make a successful foreign zombie film. It is one of the highest grossing films of the country (12 to be exact, Along with the gods broke a larger number of records but was not that successful online) . While there had been movies with supernatural elements before, no one had out right adapted the typical zombie hoard trope that many western movies did. Mind you by western I mean movies from USA and Europe and not the western movie genre. TTB decided to give its characters more emotions than guns, and thats what separated it from other movies of its kind. It reminded me a lot of 28 days later in that aspect. It was however a fast paced movie and covered the onset of the zombie apocalypse.
Kingdom is similar to TTB in that aspect.
Set in Korea’s medieval Joseon period, it tells the story of a prince who embarks upon a dangerous mission to investigate a mysterious plague spreading across his country. The truth threatens the kingdom when he discovers that it is an atrocious epidemic in the form of zombies.
It follows its characters as they go through the creation and spread of the zombie apocalypse. Kingdom is more a drama about fighting the apocalypse than just surviving when the world has already gone to the shit.
Famed actor Ju Ji Hoon plays the Crown Prince. He is next in line to the throne after his father. He is shunned by his step mother, the second Queen. She is pregnant and hoping to give birth to a son to overthrow the Crown Prince. However, for the last few months the Queen’s family, the Cho household, seems to have taken over the rulings of the capital. The Crown Prince investigates this and finds out that something horrible has happened to the King and that the Queen and her father are simply keeping him alive, more or less, till the Queen gives birth. This sets off the plot in motion as the Prince searches for the Royal Physician, who treated his father, for answers. But the plague that had sickened the king soon spreads. The plague is said to spread either by feeding uninfected people the meat of the infected, or by a bite from the infected. In true zombie fashion.
Ju Ji Hoon is a fantastic crown prince. Though he is more or less required to look somber and he seems to have had a lot of practice given his K drama acting history. His role here, however, is a nice change of pace from his somewhat rougish grim reaper from Along with the Gods (for the first one at least).
Bae Doo Na stars as Seo Bi, a student/nurse/underling of the royal physician. She is the first person along with Kim Sung Kyu’s Young Shin, who learn about the zombies, their weaknesses and their habits. She is one of my favorite actresses of all time. And arguably my favorite Korean Actress (its a tie between her and Song YoonA). Though she has always, more or less played a serious somber role, I feel she always does a pretty good job. Even when she was the suave business lady in Sense8 or the headstrong police officer in Stranger (both available on Netflix), she embodies the role pretty well. Here she plays a somewhat aloof yet observant physician. Sadly she doesnt get to do much besides be the informant in certain situations. She is clearly there as the brains of the group. But despite not having any fighting experience, I am glad they avoid the cliche of showing men saving her all the time. She is not strong, but she can handle herself.
Ryu Seong Ryong plays the conniving, scheming Cho hak Ju. He is the Queens father and one of the King’s subjects. He orchestrates the king’s sickness and comes up with the scheme of making the king appear sick to the kingdom till his daughter gives birth. Ryu Seong Ryong is one the best actors to come out of Hallywood. His character is calm and collected in most situations, but as the Crown Prince starts fighting against him, he loses his cool. His son’s death is the last straw against him and he decides to move against the Prince. He is smart and shrewd and does not trust anybody. Not even his own daughter. Ryu Seong Ryong plays the Cho patriarch with wonderful subtlety and a constant haunting look in his eyes that makes him incredibly menacing.
The show also stars, Kim Hye Jun as the second Queen, eyeing the throne but settling for becoming Queen regent. Kim Sang Ho as Moo Young, the Crown Prince’s trusty bodyguard. Kim Sun Kyu as Young Shin, the mysterious and overpowered sharpshooter. Heo Jun Ho as Ahn Hyeon, the Prince’s mentor. It also stars Jun Suk Ho as Beom Pal, more or less for comedy relief. The cast does a wonderful portrayal of the characters. The best part about the show is, no one is who they seem to be. There are secrets revealed in each episode, some bigger than others. There are lies and deceit throughout the story. Politicians finding the inspiration to kiss their superior’s ass as the world burns around them, yet gladly climbing over them when their own life is in danger. The aristocracy pretending that this plague is not their problem and wrongly assuming that they will be safe. There is a very good instance of an lady refusing to burn her son’s zombie body because she feels it is beneath her social status. The class divide shown in the show is wonderfully woven through the calamity. Though it might be that some people might not understand things pertaining the Korean culture and more to the time period, but keeping an open mind is more than enough to enjoy the show.
The show has a considerable amount of intrigue, given how it is a zombie horror show. The show also relies a lot on show dont tell. You do need to pay attention as several plot seeds are sown much earlier than they are revealed or brought attention to. A lot the secrets are obvious yet can be missed easily. The writing is brilliant and engaging. It is also paced very slowly. The events take place in the span of about a week (I think). Yet the story flows so organically, there is never a dull spot in the show. The scale of the zombie plague multiplies constantly, making sure the tension is high throughout. There are several giant action pieces. The show infact, went over budget, several million dollars (each episode costing more than 1.78 million USD) . There are cuts in each scene, but nothing is too difficult to follow. There is enough time between each action scene to give the story time to breathe and move forward without it just being a mindless gore fest. Much like TTB, there is gun less fighting against zombies. This also makes sense given the time period that this show is set in. I think using a medival time period also gave them the freedom to not having to navigate around using existing technology to save lives. The show also gets bloody and brutal justifying its 16+ rating. Even the children are not safe, something movies and dramas usually avoid dealing with.
I do have complaints with the show though. First of all, who thought it was a genius decision to dub this show the way they did. I highly recommend watching this with English subtitles and Korean audio. I really feel the English audio is quite terrible. The voice actors have a heavy Korean accent. So unless they got the original actors to do the English subs (something I am yet to confirm), the audio just comes off as a mockery of Koreans. Like I’ve seen other movies dubbed in English, and they don’t all have a clear American accent. But this one is quite difficult to understand and more so with them trying to sound archaic. I am usually of the opinion that subs are better than dubs. I always find that dubs are not enough to truly do justice to the actor on screen. Same with this drama. There is some spectacular acting. But with the dubs it just comes off as a parody. The only reason I am discussing this in detail with this show is because this is the first time I have seen a Korean drama dubbed in English.
Fun fact – the first foreign film I ever watched was Korean. I was in seventh or eigth grade. And the TV had the movie The Host on , dubbed in my native language. Albeit, back then I thought it was a Chinese movie (cmon, I was quite young and my school geography was limited to rock sediments in my own country). I saw it dubbed and I liked it. But in hindsight, I really wish I had seen the movie with the original audio. Cause the movie felt like a trite and cheesy horror comedy.
I also wish the show was better lit. The zombies only come to life at night, and so most of the action is set at night. Again, given the time period, it actually makes sense in the show that the actions scenes would not be well lit, especially scenes set in a forest, away from civilization. But I still wish they would have improved it at least a little bit. Sometimes its hard to tell whats zombie and whats human. Given the ending it is possible that we will get brighter action in the next season. I still wish the show was just a little brighter.
A zombie movie is a tricky genre to make. Imagining a calamity in the present world is complicated because humans have already come up with several ways to save lives and get rid of the zombies. Though the western media still manages to make the calamity a possibility. But in reality, the infected would be quarantined very fast. I feel writing this story in the Joseon era was smart. Credit to the writer. It is also difficult to the zombie horror trope without a giant horde of zombies clambering at you. So major props to the extras and makeup artist on this show.
I was a little worried about how they were planning to the end the story, but the ending we got is the best I could have asked for. I am still a little skeptical about the sequel (after the disaster that was Along with the Gods 2), but the crew and cast in this show, both on screen and behind the screen, is pretty strong. Maybe after the second season for this, we can finally get a second season for Signal (another action thriller South Korean show, I highly recommend).