Director: Kim Seong-hun
Starring Ju Ju-hoon, Ryu Sueng-ryong, Bae Doona
Based on the webcomic The Kingdom of the Gods, by series writer Kim Eun-hee, Kingdom marks the second Netflix acquisition of a South Korean TV drama, and an impressive retooling of the zombie genre as it looks into the world of medieval Korea’s Joseon period.
The old king is dying, and a power struggle between his illegitimate son (Ju Ji-hoon), and pregnant new queen (Kim Hye-jun) threatens to plunge the country into civil war. More troubling still is the rumours that the king may indeed already be dead, and the queen’s family are hiding this in an attempt to cling to their newly acquired power. As these factions vie for control, there are reports of a mysterious disease from a remote village, one that sees people mindlessly crave the flesh of others, withstand wounds that would kill a mortal man, and shun the touch of the sun. As the crown prince investigates these reports, he finds a link to the ailment that is plaguing the king, and a threat that could spell the end of all life in the kingdom.
Kingdom resurrects the zombie genre by perfectly melding it with Korean feudal drama. Simply put it’s a little like The Walking Dead meets Game of Thrones, but without the White Walkers meandering about for seven seasons before even making it to the god damn Wall. That’s an over simplification, and certainly doesn’t do justice to how well Kingdom has meshed these two genres to produce something that is tense and dynamic. The way the dominoes fall to trigger the oncoming zombie apocalypse is marvelously thought out, often sparked by political power plays, understandable desperation, or the best intentions gone wrong. Over the course of six episodes, Kingdom packs a lot of surprises, as complex court intrigue plays out against the background of a world ending threat.
Both zombie horror and the stately world of the court are brought vividly to unlife by Kingdom, proving itself equally at home with gore and splendor. However it is in those zombie sequences that Kingdom demonstrates its visceral energy. These are not the shamblers of a Romero film, nor the single runner of 28 Days Later. Instead they are a rampaging horde, a wave moving at full pelt towards its victims. These zombies are quick and dangerous, with some interesting differences to the traditional portrayal of their Western counterpart, changing up the rules we are familiar with. All of which is done with a grand sense of scale, and a general reliance on practical effects over their computer generated counterpart.
Best of all, not everything is as it appears in Kingdom. The virtuous have secrets, the villainous have legitimate concerns. At face value, what can be seen as a simple dialectical power struggle between two factions, has more depth and nuance behind it. What does constitute power, and what sacrifices must be made to maintain stability?
The result is beautiful, and terrifying, setting up of a world that is on the verge of toppling, and an exciting season to follow.