[Review] Kingdom: umpteenth zombie remake or a pleasant Netflix surprise?
The new Korean series Zombie signed Netflix arrives on the platform and it will shake up the codes of the genre. While Hollywood seeks at all costs to set up a modern or even post-apocalyptic setting of the world in which zombies appear out of nowhere for the sole purpose of devouring survivors, we are brought back in time to medieval times. Kingdom transports us to a Korea of yesteryear but don’t expect to make the trip alone, the living dead are on hand.
A new set of zombies, yes it might sound redundant but don’t be so sure. The theme may have been seen and reviewed, but that does not prevent us from detecting a touch of originality in Kim Seong-hun’s series. First of all, we are not in a post-apocalyptic future plagued by despair where zombies rise from who knows where to come and feed on the survivors. The series takes us to feudal Korea during the Joseon period. It is in this bygone era that monsters well known to the modern world will be born.
A temporal journey to the other side of the world
The subject is perhaps not the most original but the decor is atypical. Do not expect familiar shots, we are not in an American production and even if it can be confusing at first glance, we are quickly charmed by the beauty of certain scenes which reveal the splendor of the South Korean landscapes. The least we can say is that it’s exotic. After the surprise of the first twenty minutes of the first episode, my European gaze rocked to American series becomes familiar with these landscapes, these characters and these customs that I am not used to seeing on my screen.
If the scenery will make you travel, the era in which the story takes place will take you far from the era in which we live. It is difficult to date precisely the period in which the series takes place since we know that it occurs during the reign of the Joseons, but this dynasty was rooted on the throne for nearly 600 years. But, no matter what time of year, say goodbye to new technology and hello to horseback riding. This period brings us back to the time of saber fights which offer some pretty scenes. Fans of the genre may be a little disappointed. With too many cuts, the fight can then seem disjointed but novices in the field will see nothing but fire. This is not the heart of the series.
A scenario as rhythmic as it is well put together
The spectator is plunged into a kingdom plagued by corruption and famine. If we were to set the scene in a simplistic way, we would find the poor on one side and the rich on the other. No matter the time, the rich still have a disturbing way of ignoring the suffering of the people. The director has the art and the way to focus his camera in such a way that the meal scenes become as repulsive as possible. Something to cut your appetite! The way the rich devour – there is no other words – their meal while the villagers starve to death next door are scenes that are difficult to remain unmoved by. We can feel a thinly veiled criticism from Kim Seong-hun.
The series follows the story of a young crown prince (Ji-hoon Ju) whose father – the king – is ill. But impossible to know from what evil he suffers, a secret surrounds the disease of this one. The king is also locked in his room, cut off from the world and we quickly understand why. What he suffers from is not a disease that can be named. The sounds of a ferocious beast echo in the corridors of the royal palace. Terrible noises which terrorize anyone who dares to approach too close to the king’s chamber… unfortunately for the first victim. Assistant to the doctor in charge of the king’s strange case, the poor man will perish in the fury of what is hidden behind the bedroom door.
At the same time, Crown Prince Chang tries to find out what is killing his father at all costs. But his mother-in-law, pregnant with the baby who will deprive him of the throne, watches over the secret as over his own life. Indeed, if the king were to die before the birth of his child, the crown would go to the crown prince and not to his baby. But the prince does not intend to bow to the expectations of his mother-in-law. He sets out in search of the doctor who was treating his father in order to unravel the mystery surrounding his illness.
He then takes his bodyguard (Ryu Seung-ryong) after him and we are delighted because it quickly creates quite funny scenes. The prince, who grew up in a cocoon, has to face the reality of the world which gently amuses his fortune companion. The bodyguard then takes the role of the king’s madman. The comic scenes between the two characters help to lighten the mood and counterbalance a heavy atmosphere. However, the humor disappears as the episodes go on as the tone grows heavier.
During this time, the doctor who was in charge of the king’s care returns to his family in order to give a decent burial to his apprentice who unfortunately perished in the performance of his duties. But the patients at the Jiyulheon clinic are starving, and one of the residents has the unfortunate idea of cooking the dead in order to give it to the needy. The scene is disgusting but it is only the beginning … Once sated, they start having convulsions. A white foam then begins to come out of their mouths before they suddenly die. Symptoms that strangely resemble those of rabies … We understand better why when they pass from the status of inanimate corpse to that of undead.
A UFO on the zombie planet
We are far from the series of zombies without a scenario where the viewer is only trying to scare himself. The story is constructed in such a way that the viewer is held in suspense. The series is designed to push the boundaries of the genre and to integrate the codes of the thriller and the initiatory journey. The prince will not hesitate to put his hands in the mud. Alongside Seo-Bi (Doona Bae / Sense 8 ), he will never stop looking for the origins of the disease. The investigation into the mystery surrounding the king will quickly prove to be essential. From hypothesis to hypothesis, they will try to establish a plausible diagnosis.
So, do we see these zombies? Rest assured, yes, they appear but you will have to be patient and wait for the end of the first episode. We then discover the living dead quite classic in appearance. Blood flowing from their mouths, a blank stare and that monstrous and appalling noise they make when they go hunting. A particularity ? Yes, that of running fast. Very quickly. For zombies who wake up from the sleep of death, they are anything but crippled. Surprising at first glance, this feature increases the intensity of the manhunt scenes. Zombies are all the more dangerous when they are immobile, like a simple corpse during the day. It is only at sunset that they wake up with insatiable hunger.
The series plays more with the codes of suspense than those of horror. Don’t worry, zombies are anything but charming but you can feel a willingness to play on the viewer’s nerves. However, the more we advance in the episodes, the more zombie appearances multiply. Indeed, the epidemic is spreading at high speed, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid them. Expect to bite your nails, the series offers beautiful moments of suspense. And this is where Kim Seong-hun’s beautiful tour de force lies, she will always succeed in surprising you, especially in her long manhunt scenes. The surrounding darkness tends to make the atmosphere all the more tense. If we had to sum up the series in one word, it would be: unexpected. Never forget to get your back.