Monday, 11 February 2019

Kingdom (2019 Netflix)

If you think that media has run out of ways to give us fun zombie stories, whoo boy are you wrong! If Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead had a baby, well it would look surprisingly less Caucasian than you think. I give you the period drama/zombie series Kingdom from Netflix!

This isn't actually the first zombie piece to make its way from Korea. That distinction in popular culture belongs to 2016's Train to Busan which premiered the South Korean zombie genre to Western audiences. Notable for lacking much of the intense gore that zombie films in the West would know, it focuses more on terror and the stress of always being on the run. Kingdom is a similar fair, but with a twist.

Set in the Joseon period, shortly after the the Japanese invasions of the 1590s, setting the story sometime in early 1600. We find the realm is in chaos. The king is deathly ill with smallpox, and his realm is run by his Chief Minister, Cho Hak-jo whose daughter is the young queen of the realm and is expecting a child. The chief ministers clan is unpopular, and events are kicked off by a series of notices proclaiming the king is really dead and Crown Prince Yi Chang should be elevated to the throne. Meanwhile, at a medical clinic at Jiyulheon, nurse Seo-bi is attempting to care for the multitude of sick and hurt while her master is away, and the political fall out of the capital effects her and the struggling populace.

The machinations of the Prince and Chief Minister culminate in the Prince fleeing the capital seeking out Seo-bi's master who was treating his father. Sadly, the master has intimate knowledge of the disease and the unsettling fact it brings people back from the dead. It also gives them a craving for human flesh, which Seo-bi finds out to her horror as the infection arrives at Jiyulheon.

From there the story takes a number of dramatic twists and turns, which will leave you both stressed and excited. The tension between the political drama and the encroaching zombie outbreak is well played, and compliments each story arc well. It also sends a brutal message about the ruling dynasty and elites compared to the poor peasants who begin to take the brunt of the zombie attacks. The aloof elites and haughty disbelievers think they can use the outbreak to their advantage, while the normal people are struggling to survive even day to day after a decade of war and high taxes. The zombies only make it worse.

Taking us away from the modern zombie outbreaks, you get a real sense of terror as you see people armed with only hand tools, swords, spears and bows and arrows struggling to cope with the zombie infestation. Every dead person adds to the ranks of the undead, and with only rudimentary firearms, its an uphill battle to contain the dead. Ratcheting up the tension as its always going to be hard to go for the brain perfectly when all you have is a pointy stick.

Aptly advertised by Joe Abercrombie on Twitter

It sums up the appeal of the show quite well.

The producers have gone all out to create an authentic feeling medieval Korean set and showpiece, with loving detail put into the costumes, sets, and characters. This, I think, adds to the power of the story by pulling us out of the usual modern setting and plunging us back centuries to when the world was less interconnected and familiar, but no less susceptible to the shuffling hordes of the undead.

That the characters are compelling and three dimensional also adds to it. The human element is more engaging, and feels less forced than anything you see on The Walking Dead, while giving deeper scope than regular zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead. The machinations of the politicians and lords add an extra layer of danger to the series. Ruthless politicians use the outbreak to try and contain their rivals while the Prince himself isn't above politicking and using people, and even those close to him might be giving him away in exchange for a price. You'll just fall in love with these characters and the stories they tell.

As historical fiction, with a zombie twist, it is superb. Definitely put this one on your to watch list!

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