With Netflix’s push into the international market, a new Korean series, Kingdom, will make its way into the “Netflix Original” category. Kingdom will be available in 190 countries this Friday, and will add a twist to the historical category, putting zombies into the mix.
Based on the 19th century Joseon Kingdom, which spanned from 1392 to 1910, the series focuses on an area of the kingdom that was plagued by wars and famines, which led to its demise. The historical records that serve as the setting of this story can be found in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, particularly the part stating: “In the fall, a mysterious disease began to spread from the west, and in 10 days, tens of thousands of people died in Hanyang [present-day Seoul].”
Despite its historical basis, director Kim Seong-hun (Tunnel) chose to appeal to the masses by adding a horror thriller element of undead plague victims. The lead is a prince played by Ju Ji-hoon, popular for his roles in The Spy Gone North and Along With the Gods. He must fight accusations against him that he betrayed his father, the king, by seeking information about this mysterious plague.
Ryu Seung-ryong (Masquerade), who plays a corrupt politician in the series, shared his thoughts on the Eastern and Western fusion of the show: “Our piece fuses together a local tale with a Western genre in a way that could resonate with a lot of people in different ways. It seems Korean content has been quite largely exposed to non-local viewers but I think [Kingdom] will also promote many other hitherto unknown aspects of Korean beauty.”
Indeed, director Kim wanted to not only combine Eastern and Western culture and ideas, but also add his own twist on horror. “Whether these plague victims ran or moved slowly — which is a trait that could be very important to zombie fanatics — is really only so important in terms of narrative significance. For example, I really thought about how, if they ran, whether such a dynamic athleticism could be utilized to crank up the horror factor,” Kim remarked.
Kim Eun-hee, writer of the series, had originally dreamed up the idea back in 2011. A huge zombie fan herself, Kim claimed she wanted “to tell a story about hunger,” but not just physical hunger. “I wanted to portray people who were mistreated by those in power struggling with starvation and poverty through the monsters. Hunger is the most universal human instinct,” Kim explained, adding that it “portrays a void in the heart, or hunger for power.” This led to her desire to portray the zombies in a unique way, going beyond physical hunger. She gleaned a sort of emptiness from the Western zombie films, noticing that “they have been castrated of all other desires other than hunger.” For this reason, she chose to create zombies with insatiable hunger in the most human ways, not just as animalistic cannibals.
Netflix has already agreed to a second series of Kingdom. Director Kim explained that the plan was for it to be a three-part series. “The first season will end at a very opportune, climactic moment,” Kim explained. “I am looking forward to the next season as well.”