Flying at a healthy distance below the radar, Netflix is set to debut their first original Korean series, Kingdom, this weekend. The creative team includes director Kim Seong-hun and writer Kim Eun-hee, who have expressed in interviews their gratitude to the streaming giant for taking a chance on their show. They’ve had Kingdom in various states of development since 2011, but due to the strict PG-esque standards of Korean TV, they were unable to find a proper outlet for their vision of a beautiful-but-bloody tale – until now.
WARNING: We have attempted to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but minor spoilers for this episode of ‘Kingdom’ do lie ahead. Continue reading at your own risk!
RECAP: In 15th-Century Korea (the Joseon period, for you scholarly types out there), the feudal system is strong, but as always, ambitious men yearn for more power. Through an as-yet-unknown occurrence, the King has fallen ill, and the public has not seen him in public for weeks. Rumors begin to swirl that the King may actually have died, but as the audience is shown in the opening scene, the truth is actually far more macabre.
The King’s mysterious illness, you see, seems to have turned him into a foul-smelling, beast-like man who has a penchant for attacking the servants – and possibly munching a bit on them as well. The Crown Prince has been forbidden to see his father by the Queen, who is not his mother; even though he was born of the King and a concubine, the Crown Prince is first in line for the throne… for now. The young Queen is pregnant, you see, and should anything happen to the Crown Prince, the unborn baby is the full-blooded heir to the throne.
The Crown Prince suspects something is not right with the King, so he hatches a plan to break into his father’s chambers in the palace to see for himself. With the help of his personal guard (who, in great comic relief, seems more concerned about what’s for dinner than anything to do with breaking and entering), the Crown Prince learns that something is definitely not right with the King, and a doctor that recently visited the palace from a faraway village may hold the answer.
The Crown Prince and his guard set out to find the doctor, not realizing that the doctor has not only returned to his village, but he may have unwittingly provided a means for the mysterious plague to start afflicting the general population en masse…
- Let this serve as an advance warning, in case you hadn’t figured it out already: Kingdom, being a Koran production, is subtitled in English with all actors speaking their native language on-screen. This, in my opinion, in no way detracts from the story we’re being given, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to be aware of going into your viewing.
- Kingdom is gorgeously filmed, and everything on-screen highlights the amount of attention the episode has been given. The palace scenes all feature the intricate designs found in the structures of the period; the costuming is bright and appears extremely period-appropriate with the amount of design and “flair” varying greatly depending upon a character’s social stature; and wide shots of the scenery and locations all look stunning.
- Hand in hand with these accomplishments: the gore and action are definitely present, and this speaks volumes to why a streaming service like Netflix was clearly the best home for Kingdom. Korean TV is notoriously censored, and a series like this simply would not get a chance to find the audience it deserves in that situation. The undead folks, although kept mostly in the shadows in this episode, are creepy and spooky, and the blood flies freely on-screen – particularly when the ego-inflated royal guardsmen decide to exert their power and cut off the head of a peasant or two at a whim.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: This episode is an incredibly strong start for Kingdom. It’s far too early to judge the entire series, of course, but things are off to a great start here, and the fact that the first season is only six episodes long may actually be to the show’s benefit. We’ll be reviewing each episode individually, so be sure and check out the reviews of the rest of the season here on ScienceFiction.com as well!
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Ju Ji-hoon as the Crown Prince
Bae Doona as Seo-bi
Ryu Seung-ryong as Jo Hak-joo
Kim Sang-ho as Moo-yeong
Kim Sung-gyu as Yeong-sin
The first six-episode season of ‘Kingdom’ is released on Netflix on January 25, 2019.