All the fans were waiting for the release date of Kingdom 3, one of the most popular zombie dramas of recent years. But while we waited for the season, we had Kingdom: Ashin of the North; a long-running special episode that promises to shed more light on the origin of the resurrection plant and the zombie horde it spawned, invading late 16th century Korea and undermining the nation’s socio-political balance.
And this is how we approach with curious longing to the ninety-minute special dedicated to Ashin, the mysterious woman played by Korean star Jun Ji-hyun who wreaked havoc in the apparent conclusion of the adventures of Crown Prince Lee Chang, on the cliffhanger of the season finale of Kingdom 2.
Ashin of the North takes that provocation and reduces it to its minimum expression, retracing Ashin’s story from his childhood to reveal an inexorable path of revenge that we now only hope will be fully developed in the third season of Kingdom. The Netflix special is thus in effect a prequel to the first season, also tasked with formally introducing the discovery of the resurrection plant and the mythology behind it.
Yet at the same time, Ashin’s story is the perfect entry point for those who are completely unaware Kingdom, which makes this special enjoyable for anyone, given its prequel nature that will allow newcomers to get closer to the adventures of Crown Prince Lee Chang and the threat of the undead to the Joseon kingdom with more information.
Although Netflix’s first Korean series has accustomed us to relentless and insatiable hordes of the undead, Ashin of the North In its first half, it turns out to be in reality a full-blown socio-political drama, showing all the contrasts and injustices that arise from the struggle for power and the maintenance of it; a bit like the social picture that emerges from the first seasons of Kingdom, where the rise of the undead turns out to be almost a consequence of the injustice bestowed by the powerful.
The Japanese invasion of southern Joseon has undermined the strength of the region, and the Pajeowi, a Jurchen tribe from the Manchurian plains in the far north of the region, pose a real threat now that Joseon’s military forces are weakening. It was decided to keep as a point of balance a clan of Seongjeoyain, which has lived in the Jeoseon for more than a century. This population lives in a bubble of intolerance, being formally Jurchen and therefore considered traitors by their Manchurian neighbors of the same name, and are in fact outcasts in the eyes of the Jeoseon, where they have been allowed to reside.
Ashin is part of this delicate community caught between two fires, and will soon face the political balances that regulate life on the border, marking the end of Ashin’s innocence after the discovery of a group of murdered Jurchen in a forbidden zone blow up the wick of disaster. The difference with the main series is here represented by the fact that the protagonist is for all intents and purposes an antiheroine trapped in the development of her very personal revenge project.
Although horror atmospheres and action scenes materialize mostly after the first hour, Kingdom: Ashin of the North is revealed as an integral work that manages to combine a round script – not without flaws, especially in the exposition of the sociopolitical reality – with a staging that may not reach the splendor of the regular series, but which is undoubtedly within reach. the height and fully convinces by the variety of settings, the successful photography in the plans and in the color palette and by some flourishes of direction that emphasize current moments. All this is reinforced by an excellent scenography and an even more surprising wardrobe that reveals the care put into the project.
Kingdom: Ashin of the North it is a smart and successful operation. On the one hand, it’s a great entry point for newcomers to Netflix’s first Korean series; on the other, it is an extension of the narrative that adds important pieces to the final scenes of the second season, projecting them on a broader horizon that could give a new breath to the regular series. Add to this a rigorous staging and attention to detail that, combined with the excellent acting of the cast and a compelling script that, however, has some flaws, makes this special a welcome addition to the Kingdom canon.
Where to see Kingdom?
The series and its special episode are available on Netflix.