February 26, 2019 – Jurmane Lallana
In early Korea, a corrupt political clan rules the land and controls the king like a puppet—check. A dashing prince attempts to overthrow them and win the hearts of the people—check. Swords clanging, arrows swooshing, and gunpowder exploding every episode—check. Oh, and did we mention hordes and hordes of grotesque, flesh-eating zombies? Combine all these together and you get “Kingdom,” 2019’s surprise hit from Netflix.
“Kingdom” is that type of show which friends recommend to you, and you’re like “Okay, I’ll watch it if you say so.” And then when you get to finally watch it, you’re like “Woah. I need to recommend this to as many friends as possible because I have feelings.” In that moment, a cult following is born. To be fair, “Kingdom” deserves such loyalty, with an intensity that doesn’t subside until the ending credits of the 6th episode roll out. It’s a fresh take on a mostly Western-dominated zombie genre.
Here’s a list of reasons why we think “Kingdom” is so successful in captivating audiences:
The blending of K-drama, zombie, and period drama works. As far as we know, promotions-wise, Netflix isn’t pushing “Kingdom” as much as its other newly released titles like “The Umbrella Academy.” However, there’s a similar number of people posting about it on our social media feeds, generating interest from word-of-mouth reviews. The backbone of its success seems to be the intersection of different genres that have solid fanbases. If you’re a fan of K-drama, the show’s concept alone can get you hooked. If you’re a zombie fan, then you’d be curious to know how the zombies are in the series. Finally, if you’re a fan of shows set in the past, then you’d be excited about how a zombie outbreak would devastate the Joseon dynasty during the 17th century.
Spreading of epidemic is unique. Most of the time, pop culture shows the start of a zombie outbreak is a result of a failed medical experiment (an effort to make the ultimate soldier, radiation, etc.). Franchises like “Resident Evil” and “28 Days Later” (and to a certain extent “Train to Busan”) fall under this category.
However, there are times when there’s no explanation given at all and zombies just appear out of nowhere, like in Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead. In Kingdom, not only does it start off with an attempt to resurrect a dead body, but it also spreads not through a bite, but through one of the most unnerving ways possible: ingestion of an infected corpse. The moment physician Seobi (portrayed by Bae Doona) realized that the patients at the clinic were happily eating the dead assistant of the doctor, your skin will crawl. It’s a lot to take in since it brings together cannibalism and zombie outbreak in one swift motion. Wow.
(RELATED STORY: ‘Kingdom’ is Korea’s version of ‘Game of Thrones’)
The terror is put to the extreme, and the helplessness is so real. What makes “Kingdom” so terrifying is that it’s set in the olden days–modern technology is simply not available. Instead of guns, they have swords and arrows. Headshots are almost impossible, and beheading is the go-to kill move. You have to be quite skilled and close to pull it off. Thankfully, the afflicted have several weaknesses, such as fire, water, and sunli—Oh, wait. Never mind that last part. Instead of cars, they have horses and wagons.
That wagon-gate scene when they were passing through the forest was extremely stressful, so much so that it caused us, the audience, to break a sweat ourselves.
Intro is an educational experience. When we watch shows, we tend to take the intro music for granted. Although artistic, it’s usually abstract and doesn’t really tell much about the story. However, “Kingdom” takes a more proactive approach and reminds us over and over again at the start of each episode how the King was originally infected—the process is right there for us to see! In fact, we find out that the resurrection plant was used on the King even before Prince Chang does.
Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-Hoon) is a likable protagonist. Brave and perceptive, he tries to do what he can to save the kingdom even though the stacks are against them. He’s someone who can rally troops (even if accused of treason). Despite all of this, he has a long way to go in becoming the true leader of the people. His arrogance and elitist views sometimes still get in the way, and loyal royal guard Muyeong (Kim Sang-ho) is there to nudge him along during bouts of hesitation. It’s interesting to see how he will avenge all the scholars who died to keep him alive.
Romance takes a backseat in Kingdom, making it a unique K-drama hit. Although popular K-dramas such as “Descendants of the Sun” (2016) and “Black” (2017) have exciting plots, the developing relationship between the leads is still one of the main drivers of their stories. In “Kingdom,” our hero Prince Chang is not romantically-linked to any character, and is just dead set on solving the zombie epidemic plaguing the country. Actually, the only “courtship” that happens in the show is between cowardly Magistrate Cho (Jun Suk-ho) and determined healer Seobi, and it’s honestly more for comic relief. Because of this, the male demographic more inclined to see some action would easily be invested in watching Kingdom.
The length of Season 1, and signs of things to come. A friend said that the only thing wrong with “Kingdom” is that the first season is too short. With only six episodes with each running for less than an hour, we would have to agree… to a certain extent. The fact that it comes as a short series makes it very easy to binge and integrate during your week.
“Kingdom” can either be your lunch break buddy (if you can stomach all the gore while you’re downing your meal) or something you watch right before you go to bed (if it’s cool for you to have zombie-filled nightmares).
Given the positive reception, we are almost assured of a Season 2 anyway, and “Kingdom” desperately needs one because the season ended with a cliffhanger.
Now that the zombie epidemic is widely known, we have many questions: How will the living defeat the dead? Is one of our lead characters going to be eaten for breakfast during the attack at Sangju? Will everyone know about the queen’s deception? Who is the spy among the Prince’s merry band of misfits? More importantly, will Seobi and Magistrate Cho live long enough to become a couple?
There are so many answers that they should answer come the next season. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy our regular, zombie-free lives, and pray that no real outbreak happens anytime soon.
Photos courtesy of Netflix. “Kingdom” is now available for streaming on Netflix.
A BANKER TURNED SOCIAL MEDIA ANALYST, JURMANE LALLANA THRIVES ON MAKING SENSE OF WHAT'S IN FRONT OF HIM. HE BELIEVES THAT MOVIES AND TV SHOWS ARE ESSENTIALS IN LIFE, JUST LIKE FOOD. CATCH HIS THOUGHTS AND MUSINGS ON HIS BLOG AND FACEBOOK PAGE.
REAL PEOPLE, REAL STORIES. WE COVER PERSONALITIES WHO ARE WORTHY OF MAKING THE HEADLINES. PROFILES, LIFESTYLE, CULTURE, ARTS, LITERATURE, ENTERTAINMENT—TELLING STORIES THAT MAKE US FEEL AND CELEBRATE LIFE. WE ARE ALIKE. FOR STORY PITCHES, PERSONAL ESSAY, LITERARY, AND ART SUBMISSIONS: EDITORIAL@ALIKE.COM.PH