‘Kingdom: Ashin of the North’ was released on Jul 23, and damn, it was so bloody (literally) good.
The one-off special episode of South Korean TV series Kingdom tells the story of Ashin (Jun Ji-hyun; younger role by Kim Shi-ah), a girl from the Northern village of Seongjeoyain, where her father Ta Hyeop (Kim Roi-ha) is the chief.
Without much major spoilers, Ashin – who was introduced in the final episode of season 2 in the Kingdom franchise – becomes the sole survivor when her entire village is killed off and begins her journey of revenge.
As someone who has never watched the Kingdom franchise before, I was initially confused with the Korean terms used, such as the names of the people groups and borders. But that could be easily overlooked with a compelling storyline and beautiful cinematography.
If anything, the one-and-a-half-hour episode felt like a full-fledged movie and the use of Jeju Island as the filming location further emphasised that. The stark contrasts when shifting scenes from the dark forests to the snow-white winter landscape was a nice literary play on the different emotions Ashin felt at different points of the show.
In hindsight, the cinematography truly reflects the trials that Ashin had to go through from a young age, which delivers an overall moody and dark energy. It helps that the choice of lighting throughout the show was ominous and mysterious, whether a red glimmer by an indoor fire or a hazy backdrop at dawn. I was truly in awe.
The solid performances of Jun Ji-hyun as the adult Ashin and Kim Shi-ah as the child Ashin are also worthy of praise. I was moved to tears at her heartbreak of losing her loved ones, and her determination to save her father at his deathbed.
Both Ji-hyun and Shi-ah’s acting allowed me to empathise with Ashin and admire her grit at the same time. But more than that, I couldn’t help but root for Ashin in her quest for revenge.
The show brought home one clear message: that inhumanity, left unchecked, will turn into a breeding ground for even more inhumanity.
Another thing the show did well in was the use of zombies as part of Ashin’s revenge plan. The acting (and CGI) of the zombies were top-notch, and oh-so-scarily real unlike some seen in horror films. Although there were no jump scares, I was kept to the edge of my seat every time a zombie appeared onscreen.
The zombies actually showcase the sinful reality of human beings in comparison. Killing people is all that matters for zombies as they are literally driven to do so. But when humans kill each other, they do so knowing the value of a human life. I can’t help but wonder if Ashin had just the slightest tinge of regret over what she did – perhaps it may be addressed in season 3 of Kingdom.
With the abundance of such rich life lessons immersed in the show, I think that Kingdom: Ashin of the North should not just be viewed as a mere prequel to the series but one with a real socio-political message: that those in power must never abuse those they rule over.
If you’ve not watched the first two seasons of Kingdom like me, then I recommend starting with Kingdom: Ashin of the North. (And then you’ll know what to binge watch after!)
Kingdom: Ashin of the North is now available on Netflix. The special episode is directed by Kim Seong-hun and stars Jun Ji-hyun, Kim Shi-ah, Kim Roi-ha, Park Byung-eun, Jung Suk-won and Koo Kyo-hwan as the main cast.
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