Kingdom (Korean Zombie Series)

 

I cannot speak highly enough about this show, and I want to watch it again before the 15th (before I’ll be binging Umbrella Academy). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, zombies, and political intrigue, then this is your show. The fact that all the political intrigue takes place in Korea’s past is completely irrelevant, because you will enjoy the ride. You will especially enjoy it if you watched the movies, Train to Busan, or Seoul Station, because this is from the same creators, although it is unknown if the movies are part of a trilogy, with the show.

Now, I can’t say for certain, but it is possible that Kingdom is a prequel to Seoul Station, which takes place in present day  Korea, and involves a zombie contagion spreading among the homeless. Train to Busan is about a zombie contagion that takes place among a crowd of middle class commuters, in the present day, in another area of Korea, simultaneous to Seoul Station.

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Kingdom takes place in Korea’s ancient past and is about a zombie contagion that spreads among the populace, after the King becomes infected. While the peasants fight for their lives, the Crown Prince attempts to do his best to help save them while the rest of the nobility fight among themselves for access to the throne.There’s some neat character arcs in the series. When we first meet the Prince, he is attempting to see his father, who has been incognito. What he doesn’t know is The King had been turned into a zombie by  the medicinal use of a small purple flower, that grows in the mountains.

The current Prince is next in line to the throne, and he is indolent and kind of lazy. He’s spent most of his time enjoying himself rather than learning statecraft. There is a rival clan that wishes to put one of their own on the throne because a daughter of that clan is the King’s pregnant wife. Most of the time at court, is spent driving away the Prince, and pretending the King is still alive, but in seclusion, until that woman’s child is born, as that child will have precedence to the throne over the current Prince.

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As the crisis with the zombies deepens, we watch as  the Prince steps up to care for his people in their time of need, which parallels the journey made by the lead character in Train to Busan, who goes from a selfish man, who nearly gets one of the other passengers killed, to sacrificing his life to protect them. Several times the Prince risks his life to save peasants, including several children. He steps up to be as courageous, and smart, as the peasants believe him to be. The other officials, whose job it is to take care of the villagers, turn out to be a lot less so.

Each iteration of these stories addresses the  issues of classism and poverty from three differing points of view, so I can’t talk about Kingdom without talking about the previous two films, because even if the films are not part of a trilogy, they are connected by their themes. In Seoul Station, the entire contagion begins among the homeless , when one of the men in that community, dies  and resurrects. His brother tried get help for him, but kept getting rebuffed  by people who had nothing but contempt for him. If he had been able to get medical help for his brother, the situation would not have evolved the way it did.

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In Kingdom, the villagers in the outlying areas are starving to death because the local officials are neglectful in their duties, being more concerned with their pleasant lives, than if people are dying. When one of the bodies the King has fed on, is shipped home to one of the villages, someone chops up the body, and puts it in a stew, which the starving peasants eat. For the record, most of the bodies the king has fed on, don’t resurrect because they have been immersed in a pond on the castle grounds.

One of the interesting things about these zombies is they only resurrect during the day. It isn’t until later that we find out why that is, but until then, since no one believes in their existence until its too late, no one takes the opportunity to get rid of the bodies before nightfall.  As soon as the sun rises, the zombies fall down, and appear to be dead. The bodies that have been dumped into  the palace’s pond have also not resurrected, for some reason.

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The homeless man, in Seoul Station, spends nearly the entire  movie running for his life, after having met, and saved, the life of the young woman at the center of the film. She too is a member of the underclass,  a sex worker with no real home of her own, after she breaks up with her boyfriend. Neither of them have anywhere to go, so must stay out in the streets, trying to avoid the zombies. At one point, she and the old man have simultaneous emotional breakdowns about wanting to go home, and not having one to go to.

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Every opportunity people have to help them, they don’t,  including the police. The two of them get attacked or turned away. Some of the characters declare that the old man smells bad. The young lady makes a less than favorable impression, as she spends most of the movie in her bare feet, after she loses her impractical shoes. No one will help either of them because they are considered smelly, or  dirty, or  worthless. The movie isn’t just an indictment against the existence of homelessness, but an indictment against the classist snobbery that does nothing to help them.

In Train to Busan, you have another class of people, the middle class, riding a train, when a contagion occurs. You have businessmen, grandmothers, high school students. In other words, respectable people. The kind who were looking down on the primary characters of Seoul Station. Trapped in an environment no one can escape, they are shown as being selfish, full of contempt for those they think are less than, having no loyalty to one another, yet  acquiescent to any form of authority.

The man with the most power and respect is openly malicious  towards the other characters, at one point, expressing a rage filled rant towards a teenage  girl he regards as stupid. At several points in the story, he gets people killed because he wants what he wants, and in his mind that takes priority over whatever those “lesser” people want. So once again we have the themes of classicism and selfishness and snobbery. All the other characters learn to be selfless too late to save themselves, as they really get  the chance to band together. The lowest person on the class scale is the wrestler and his wife, both of whom start the story as giving and altruistic people. There is also a homeless man in this movie as well. He dies too, but he does so giving his life to save others, just as the wrestler does. This same level of personal growth is shown in The Kingdom, when  the Prince rises to the occasion, to become a true leader who makes smart, brave  decisions for the welfare of the villagers, and  always from a place of empathy.

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In Train to Busan, two old women, sisters, are watching news footage of the zombie attacks on TV and, mistaking the attackers for rioters, they both express disdain for “those people”. After one sister gets infected, the other gets everyone in her train car killed, after she opens a door to let her sister inside. Her selfishness, (because she certainly isn’t thinking of the welfare of the others in the car), is what gets everyone killed, which is an interesting turnabout, as it was the people of that train car who selfishly kicked  some of the other survivors out of that car, at the commandments of the selfish businessman.

In Kingdom, the ruling officials in the area, at every opportunity to save the villagers, elect to save themselves. During an uprising of zombies, a fleet of boats is burned, leaving only one boat left. The officials and members of the local nobility, decide to take the one boat for themselves, after promising to evacuate the villagers. Unknown to them, one of  the infected has made its way onto the boat. They are all killed, and their boat destroyed, when the contagion breaks out.

While the movie is full of Game of Thrones style intrigue, its still fairly easy to follow, although you will probably not remember any of the character’s names. Even though its a series, rather than a film, it’s every bit as intense as the first two films, with the quiet moments only serving to build up the tension before the next attack, which everyone knows is coming, so a lot of daytime events have time limits on them. It is a very intense show, with lots of running, fighting, and bare escapes. Yes, children are endangered in this movie, some of them are killed (offscreen) and there are child zombies.There are also some really good plot surprises, as well, so if you’re watching this  because you find the plot intriguing, you will be satisfied. The movie is both subbed and dubbed, so those of you who hate reading subtitles can listen in English, and vice versa.

I cannot recommend this movie hard enough to anyone who is a fan of zombie movies and shows.

Kingdom is a six part TV series available on Netflix.