When you recommend people a movie/television show and they ask, “What is it about?” As soon as the word zombie comes out of your mouth, they want another recommendation. But movies and television shows in recent history have drastically changed this trend. Movies like Train to Busan, World War Z and shows like the Walking Dead are providing the highest-tier of entertainment for viewers. Kingdom, for me, lies right at the pinnacle of this list.
When it comes to Zombie films or shows, everything narrows down to one question: When civilization falls apart, would you attempt to preserve what was left and hope for improvements or act in a merciless, selfish manner and try to become king of the ashes when everything burns? This conflict is usually depicted onscreen with a small group of people that battle their own private dilemmas and emotions as in the case of ‘Train to Busan.’ Rarely do movies and shows tell a tale in the wider canvas – as in ‘World War Z’ – but when they do, they do not take a panoramic view of the systematic process by which a society collapses. That is what makes ‘Kingdom” absolutely brilliant.
I couldn’t help but find similarities in the narrative style of ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ but ‘Kingdom’ has a much quicker pace.
Set in the midst of political battles and starvation after a long war, Kingdom begins by creating the setting of a nation that is rotting. This rot has been spread from the highest strata of society with the King being the first victim of this disease. Everybody in the imperial court is staying quiet about this tragedy, attempting to leverage the situation by acting in naked selfishness while claiming to implement the king’s orders. The crown prince, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), the offspring of the king and a concubine, is next in line for the throne, but he can’t claim it because everyone says his father’s not dying, just sick. The king’s age-inappropriate wife (Kim Hye-jun) is pregnant with a child who will become the new heir and her father is determined to become the most powerful man in the kingdom. But this is just the start to the problems faced by the crown-prince, Lee Chang. With so many characters and so many situations, the complex story is weaved together beautifully.
Season 1 was brilliant as a foundation. Not a typical, slow-paced first few episodes to set-up context but was exciting, suspenseful and gut wrenching right off the bat. Through season 1, the episodes got progressively better with numerous twists and turns that you, as a viewer, were not expecting at all. The scares build slowly, but the drawn-out scenes add to the suspense — even if you see what’s coming in the end. The show’s creators have pointed out that hunger is the theme of kingdom, and this shows, from the flesh-craving appetite of the undead zombies, the hunger for power in both the villain and the hero, and the desire to do good in a world gone mad. The characters are developed extremely well; the plot is powerful but it’s the visuals that stand out. The backdrop and scenery is always gorgeous, the shots carefully linger to highlight the expensive and elaborate costumes accompanied beautifully with an effective background score. All in all, it was the complete package, finished with a rustic but elegant touch.
It was kind of strange watching the second season as fears surrounding COVID-19 are on the rise. Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic is not an apocalypse but while this pandemic spreads to all corners of the world, the show is about the start of a zombie pandemic which is almost surreal. Season 2 was as good if not better than season 1, with even more effective twists and turns in the story-line, multiple moments that’ll make you go “HOLY SHIT!” all while still incorporating gorgeous landscapes and costumes, complemented with a powerful background score and gorgeous cinematography. It consists of so many sub-plots over so many different themes with the crumbling of society with class divisions playing a large role while malefactors seek profit in dominance and of course necrotic ghouls running rampant throughout the country. As the series unfolds each episode grows more action-packed and conventionally exciting, with season 2 especially exploring more of an emotional turn than in season 1. With the Crown Prince’s personal Guard, Mu Yeong, and the Queen especially, season 2 allows the viewers to really step into their shoes, while biting their nails of course. Overall, season 2 did not disappoint in any way whatsoever, from its lavish costume design, to grand palaces and vistas to the elaborate choreography, this season becomes a feast for the eyes, with cinematography that is absolutely stunning.
Kim Seong-hun has done brilliantly while directing this epic horror-drama, bearing the torch for all other movies or shows in this genre. The acting was quite good as well with every actor: Lee Chang (Ji-Hoon Ju), his chief guard Muyeong (Sang-ho Kim), physician Seo-bi (Doona Bae), Chang’s former mentor Lord Ahn Hyeon (Jun-ho Heo), and vengeful tiger hunter Yeong-shin (Kim Sung-kyu), putting up powerful performances but with such a powerful plot and visuals, this show will be remembered more for its story and visuals rather than the actors performances.
(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH – skip straight to the conclusion)
I did have few, minor complaints though; when the Crown Prince sets off to Mungyeong Saejae with his small group of soldiers at the end of season 2 episode 1, the background score suddenly changes to a pop-funky tune, which completely goes against the mood, the ‘vibe’ of the show, giving the prince more of a cult-zombie slaying hero feel which slightly disappointed me. This was soon returned to normal in the following episodes but at the end of season 2 episode 6, the screen pans to a zombie horror house with the same background score which ended the show on low for me. The scene ended by revealing the face of a female, who we do not know yet but appears to be the villain of the story that follows (hopefully, in a season 3). From political complexities with multiple sub-plots to cult, pop-funk ‘super-villain’ didn’t really hit the right note for me after this gorgeous epic. But hopefully, they won’t make this transition and will stick to the original atmosphere of the show. And in the garden, during the climax of the battle between the Prince and the ‘zombies’ why was there a sudden ‘bollywoodizing’ in the choreography with the Prince using his hands to hit the ice instead of another gun and then eventually awkwardly slamming the head of a ‘zombie’ to break the ice, but it didn’t take away much from the scene. However, these tiny aspects are nothing compared to the mountain of positives that this show boasts. Prince Lee Chang’s monologue in the last episode, especially – the delivery, the emotions, the complete circle that the story takes – was nothing less than brilliant. The background score too, overall, is brilliant (barring these two cases – for me) especially in the scene when the Queen walks towards the palace in her gorgeous, intricate costume to ascend the role of Queen Regent. You cannot help but stare in awe.
Overall, ‘Kingdom’ is a brilliant mix of the political structure of ‘Game of Thrones’ and the class of ‘Parasite.’ This show is a treat to watch, especially to those who were left unsatisfied with the end of ‘Game of Thrones.’ The end of ‘Kingdom’ does deliver a much more powerful end than the one ‘Long Night’ that we got. The show, though only 12 episodes, makes you experience so much and manages to keep you interested throughout. An absolute delight to watch; from story line, to performances or visual, my respect to everyone who worked on this masterpiece. Trust me, drop what you’re doing and watch this show now.
– Aryamaan Dholakia
Aryamaan’s Rating – 88/100