Thy ‘Kingdom’ hath come

Kingdom” is an exhausting viewing experience.

The first ever Netflix-produced Korean drama requires you to pay attention to every second it plays on the screen. The story has enriched itself with details that is revealed in perfect and patient pacing—a narrative that is intensely gripping, heightening its viewers’ senses with the atrocious politics it tries to depict.

There’s no denying that “Kingdom” is indeed an addition to the long list of Korean period dramas. But what makes it different is its effort to build the political landscape of the era. While it shows a power struggle, it gives time to communicate the difficulty of the times, the frustration of the people, and the battle of politics versus philosophies.

Although it paints the royals as the wronged heroes and the manipulative politicians as evil almost instantaneously, there is balance to its opposing parties. The characters all show conviction, and they strike with boldness only to mask their weaknesses.

Prince Yi Chang (played by Ju Ji-hoon) is initially motivated by self-preservation. He has committed high treason against his own father, gathering support from scholars and high officials as he fears the deposition of his title as crown prince of medieval Joseon. 

As the king falls ill due to smallpox, Prince Chang suspects that the power-hungry Cho clan has concealed his father’s death to ensure their control of the kingdom. He sets for a journey to prove their maliciousness. But, really, it was a move in his ongoing battle against injustice, his fight for the right to the throne.

His pilgrimage to the south will prove to be more than a test of character for a man who would be king. Prince Chang now has to outlast a swarm of the deceased, but he doesn’t let his principles get compromised. He shows the kind of leadership he wants to put into place. That’s where the emotion of the entire series ties itself—the prince’s struggle to be divergent, his wish to become a leader that does not abandon his people.

Nothing less of a masterpiece should be expected from the tandem of “Tunnel” director Kim Seong-hun and “Signal” screenplay writer Kim Eun-hee. The two make you anticipate for plot twists, but create redirections that are beyond the imagination. On top of that, Seong-hun gives us beautiful cinematography, fierce battles, and fervid action, all delivered in layers of intrigue.

The added dimension of “Kingdom” being a zombie thriller doesn’t focus on survival. The series separates itself from the genre’s weakness by elaborating the history of the undead, not merely dismissing it as an unstoppable disease. It provides an interesting origin, one that temporarily satiates curiosity and speculation.

“Kingdom’s” version of the living dead still has the instinct to feed on flesh. They have a distinguishable stench and they move like a beast—only to pretend as unmoving corpses in the daylight. As the land is stripped off of its bounty due to a recent war, people are forced to feast on the flesh of neighbors that have starved to death. The apocalyptic plight roots itself in cannibalism.

This genre forces the story to have its own heroic pursuits, yes, but “Kingdom” also uses the undead to dig into the makings of humanity and society. It uses the plague of the undead to trace the problems of society back to the leaders of the nation, how these figures had their own monstrosities eclipse their eyes. It is a monstrosity planted by greed.

Its final scene will draw you in. There is a ground-shaking scramble as new truths are revealed, but the crown prince remains static as death approaches. It’s funny how the 6-episode series eases the notion of unbearable deception, only to leave its viewers betrayed as the show abandons them with a handful of unanswered questions.

Like I said, “Kingdom” is exhausting to watch. That is until you find yourself begging for more.

“Kingdom” is now streaming on Netflix

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