Goodbye to “The Walking Dead”, Hello to “Kingdom”
The zombie genre is a little outdated, but just when it seemed to be in dire need of revitalization from the common gore, Netflix released its first South Korean original show, “Kingdom.” Written by K-drama star writer, Kim Eun Hee, and directed by the equally popular director, Kim Sung Hoon, the duo’s synergy proved to be successful. “Kingdom” is an adaptation of the webcomic series, “The Kingdom of the Gods,” and has been streaming on Netflix since Jan. 25, 2019. Netflix set the release date for Season 2 before the first season was aired, which hinted at the all-the-more success of this new Korean zombie show.
“Kingdom” is a historical period piece which takes place in Korea’s medieval Joseon period. Taking the lead in the story is the Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-Hoon), who finds himself in the middle of a political conspiracy after his father becomes “ill” (the beginning of the show alludes to the king actually being reawakened as a zombie). The Prince becomes aware of the zombie virus and works with neighboring villages to keep the outbreak from spreading to the then-capital of Joseon: Hanyang.
Many of the characters in “Kingdom” are not simplistic or one-sided, and the Crown Prince is no different. Each conflict that comes by pushes the Prince to become a wiser leader, someone who is different from the main antagonist -- Cho Hak Ju (Ryu Seung-Ryong) -- who is functionally the king. As a viewer, this strong growth in Lee Chang’s character allows us to both root for and connect with him. The small bits of humor incorporated in the show also help ease the tension and gore of the grim storyline.
Not only is “Kingdom” about zombies and a Game of Thrones-like concept of struggle for power, but it is also a story about class struggle and starvation. The writer, Kim Eun Hee, said, “I wanted to tell a story about hunger. When you watch the media portrayal of zombies such as ‘World War Z’ or ‘The Walking Dead,’ the zombies have no humanness to them; they’re creatures left with one desire: hunger for human flesh. Although zombies are scary, I felt a sense of pity for them, as I thought it’s not really the people’s fault they became zombies. It’s the situation they’re put in, the desperation that sometimes drives them to do the inevitable, that turns them into zombies. I wondered what was at the core of the hearts of these desperate people.” As the villagers are driven to the point of starvation where they are considering eating a human being, Kim’s point is clearly illustrated -- the zombies are sad creatures with nothing but hunger left in them.
The director, Kim Sung Hoon, also said, “What I thought was interesting about Kim Eun Hee’s narrative of the zombies is that it takes place in an era relatively unknown to other countries. What better era to show that the zombie virus doesn’t care if you’re from a wealthy background or a poor background than in the Joseon Dynasty of South Korea, where the gap between the social classes was as wide as it could be?”
“Kingdom” does a superb job in presenting a socially conscious horror story. The poor are trapped in a hierarchy of power, as the wealthy and the royal prosper. “Kingdom” is not just a story about zombies; it is about survival, class struggle, the corruptness of power, love and friendship, and the point of desperation and hunger that ultimately turns the people into the pitiful creatures. This is by far the most compelling work to come out of the zombie genre, possibly surpassing the Korean zombie movie, “Train to Busan,” which was recently made available on Netflix. This six-episode season leaves audiences wanting more and hungry for the next season, which is in mid-production and set to air sometime late 2019 or early 2020.