Recently, I got a recommendation for a Netflix show called Kingdom (thanks Gene!) Kingdom is 2019 South Korean television series written by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Kim Seong-hun. It’s set in Korea’s medieval Joseon period and focusses on the Crown Prince Yi-Chang (played by Ju Ji-hoon) who stumbles on a conspiracy after trying to find out what’s going on with his dad, the King. The King’s been hidden away, having fallen ill. The Queen won’t let anyone see him and it becomes clear that she bears no kindness towards the Crown Prince either.
Fair warning everyone, spoilers ahead!
In the course of Yi-Chang trying to figure out what’s going on, he finds out his dear old pops died a while back and the Queen and her father, the Minister Cho Hak-jo, enlisted the help of a doctor who injected a rare plant into the King. He “came back” but as a hungry undead monster. Due to some negligence on the doctor’s part, who just brought his infected assistant back to his home without any thought of contagion, the infection began to spread through the land.
The Crown Prince now must contend with flesh-hungry monsters as well as the political intrigue of his step-mom and the power-hungry Minister trying to kill him.
Currently there is only one season up, which I’ve just finished, but it is slated for a second season to begin filming soon.
At first, when I was checking it out on Netflix, I didn’t think I would like it. I’ve grown awfully tired of zombie films/movies. I gave it a go and immediately became hooked. There were several reasons for this:
- Period piece: this is set in feudal Korea so you get a little history lesson with your gore. The costumes are beautiful and the settings are awesome. This also adds in an interesting aspect of the lords vs. the peasants of the land and how the epidemic affects them differently.
- It’s not a post-apocalyptic world: this series starts with just one infected: the king. It does blow up as the infection spreads but it’s by no means a Walking Dead shitshow. This is super refreshing to see.
- Political aspect: the show isn’t all about zombies. The beginning plot is all about the Queen’s family wanting to kick the Crown Prince out of the running so they can place one of their own on the throne. Even as the epidemic gets ugly, the Minister Cho Hak-jo is still determined to finish what he started. Other zombie shows have attempted this but usually it is one band of survivors fighting off some pyschos, cannibals, power-crazed people, what have you, which can get mighty dull.
- Not your everyday zombie: I used the term “zombie” several times throughout this review, but the monsters in this show aren’t what you’d call your typical flesh-eaters. They sleep during the day, seeking out shadowy places to hide like vampires, and only come out at night (this changes near the end of season one, implying that temperature is more responsible for their stasis than the sunlight.) They do hunger for human flesh and the virus is passed on by their bite or by consuming tainted flesh which – in this time period – is apparently a very real issue. I thought it seemed pretty specific so I looked up Asian vampire lore. It looks like this may have pulled from the Chinese Jiangshi, which is a mix between a vampire and a zombie. The creature craves human flesh but needs to hide in the daylight. Of course, these vampires/zombie hybrids are a little different in that they move about by hopping because they have been stricken with rigor mortis. Hence, why they are known as the Chinese “hopping” vampire. I am guessing they took that part out least the monsters be more hilarious than scary.
- Tidbits of humour: despite being about very serious matters such as political intrigue and an undead plague, the show will lighten things up with some humour, especially in the character of Beom-pal, cowardly minister extraordinaire!
I binged the first season so I will need to wait until Netflix puts up the second season. I highly recommend you watch the series too, if you’d like a refreshing take on the zombie genre accompanied by a fascinating look at the Joseon period in Korea.
In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for my To Watch List, let me know!
x P.L. McMillan