Saturday, July 24, 2021

Netflix: Review of KINGDOM: ASHIN OF THE NORTH: Origins of the Obsession

July 24, 2021



In January 2019, a Korean mini-series "Kingdom" premiered on Netflix about a zombie infestation of Joseon during the medieval times. Written by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Kim Seong-hun, "Kingdom" was a meticulously mounted and elegantly shot period piece with lavish sets, costumes and makeup that effectively merged political maneuvering, medical mystery and zombie horror into one electrifying mini-series.

Season One started with unscrupulous court officials deciding that the deceased King should be secretly given the extract of a so-called "resurrection plant" to bring him back to life while waiting for the Queen Consort Cho (Kim Hye-jun) to give birth to a son. However, this concoction actually turned the King into a ravenous monster every night. The current Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) together with physician assistant Seo-bi (Bae Doo-na) investigation about King's mysterious ailment. 

Season Two, the Queen Consort was determined to hold on to power as she corralled pregnant women in the palace waiting for a boy to be born, even as the zombie infestation spread all over the country and even within the palace grounds. Meanwhile, Seo Bi discovered the cure for the zombie disease which they were able to use stem the further progress of the plague. The final scene was set seven years later in a remote northern town where a mysterious woman kept zombies stored in crates. 

This third installment was a feature-length special episode tracing the history of that mysterious woman seen the in final frame of Season Two. She was Ashin (Kim Si-ah / Jun Ji-hyun), born to a discriminated tribe called Seongjeoyain in the north. A perceived act of treachery by Ashin's father Tahab (Kim Roi-ha) caused his tribe to be raided and massacred by rivals. Ashin survived the attack because she was out looking for a legendary plant which she hoped could revive her dying mother. She grew up with revenge firmly on her mind. 

Shot with the same atmosphere of tension, intrigue and terror by director Kim Seong-hun, writer Kim Eun-hee expanded her mythology further backward in time to root out the very origin of how the resurrection plant became as widespread as it did causing the zombie apocalypse depicted in the first two seasons of "Kingdom." While the first half of the film was slow burn with a lot of expository talk, the second half, when the zombies came out and went into action, will definitely make series' fans very happy. 

These stories could probably have been told in flashbacks in Season Three, when Lee Chang and Seo-bi confront Ashin. However, they decided to tell Ashin's story separately to get it out of the way first. This move promises that the Season Three will only deal with the ongoing events, and not spend precious time on complex back stories. We now know exactly who Ashin is, why she was obsessed with the downfall of Joseon and understand how she came upon using the resurrection plant to put her plan of revenge into action. 8/10. 


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