MANILA, Philippines – We’re less than a week in to a Luzon-wide community quarantine (government is avoiding calling it a lockdown, but that’s how most people are referring to it). And my feed is filled with people who, forced to stay home, have already seen season 2 of the hit Netflix-produced Korean show Kingdom. There’s a gallows humor to how timely this show’s release is as we deal with our own real-life pandemic.
This piece is more for people who are thinking of watching it, or for people who have seen it and want something to share with friends who still need convincing. If you’ve already seen it, you don’t need me to tell you how awesome it is.
So broad strokes: Kingdom is a show about royal intrigue, political power plays, the impact these have on common people and…ZOMBIES. Set in the Joseon period (so roughly in the 1600s), we are asked to follow a rich set of characters that range from the highest rungs of political power to the lowliest of people struggling to get by. In truth its political commentary is as biting as its…zombie action.
My own personal barrier to starting Kingdom was the feeling that I had already seen way too many zombie movies/shows/comics/anything. Like how many times have I seen good zombie stuff? And how many times have I tried to watch zombie shows that kind of just wanted to play on the trend. They would add some tweak here or there, but they would miss the key component of the zombie story.
This key, at least if you follow the tradition established by George Romero, is that the zombies function as metaphors for some kind of social commentary. Where a lot of creators kept innovating was in the zombie movements, or the zombie action. Running zombies were scarier, but did they say anything different?
World War Z’s zombies that mimicked insect movement were amazing, but the book’s social commentary took a back seat to the action.
Kingdom gets both the zombie action and the social commentary right on the money. From the get-go it juxtaposes the palace machinations for power against the struggles of the people who are suffering from famine. It isn’t subtle about the imagery it uses here. In fact the aggressive visual style and sound design play up the near animalistic quality that the poor have when eating, which so nearly mirrors the zombies.
Where we left off with season one was a chilling revelation about the nature of the zombies in Kingdom. It flipped the rules established and set up a bold, even more frightening world for season two. So if you’re catching up on it just now, you won’t have to be like a lot of fans who had to wait months to see what would happen. And at this point, even if you are just starting to watch it, it’ll be easy to burn through. Both seasons only have six episodes each.
The slim episode count works for the show. It pretty much never drags, it’s always moving the story forward, there’s no downtime for the viewer, no filler to cover an order of a certain number of episodes (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead). In fact after burning through both seasons you’re left wanting more of this show.
The second season feels a lot more action-filled There are large scale battles with zombies, as well as some very cool smaller fights between human forces. There’s an eye-popping slow-mo battle with samurai (I won’t even bother to explain, you gotta see it). And if in earlier paragraphs I wrote about a fatigue with the genre, my love for it was revived here.
There are some sequences that are so visually thrilling (MINOR SPOILER ALERT: on rooftops, ON ICE!!!) that they make the genre feel new.
Couple the action with the superb writing and acting which has us caring about all these characters and either cheering for their victory or wishing their demise, and this show stands with the great zombie works. Beyond zombies, it also stands with the great fantasy/court dramas. While the show doesn’t help in easing my worries about the pandemic we are living through, it does at least give me some way to while away the time.
The only problem I have with it: I liked it so much I finished it too quick.
The second season of the show is now available on Netflix. – Rappler.com