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Kingdom, Another Hallyu Leader

The popularity of the Netflix original series Kingdom, which returned for its second season earlier this year, is alarming. In Season 1, all of the knots that seemed to appear out of the blue were solved in Season 2 and sublimated into strengths, which is one of the reasons why Season 2 has been widely praised. It is captivating the world with its novel Korean theme of a zombie series set during the Joseon Dynasty. Kingdom ranked ninth on the popularity list of IMDb, the global movie and drama information site, beating 10th place Game of Thrones. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to introduce Kingdom, which is writing a new chapter in the history of Netflix's original Korean Wave.

About Kingdom

Introduction to Kingdom

Kingdom is Netflix's first self-produced Korean drama and a zombie mystery thriller set during the Joseon Dynasty. It is based on the cartoon The Kingdom of God. Kingdom is the work of writer Kim Eun-hee, who wrote the hit dramas Sign , The Ghost , and Signal , and director Kim Sung-hoon, who directed popular films such as A Hard Day and Tunnel. This collaboration by these talented two caused a sensation even before the series was initially released. The cast of notable actors also received much attention as actors Ju Ji-hoon, Ryu Seung-ryong, and Bae Doo-na have taken part. As of March, Kingdom season 2 recorded a 100 percent freshness index on Rotten Tomatoes, a website specializing in film and drama ratings, where the movie Parasite previously received a 100 percent rating. Another rating website, IMDb, has also given Kingdom an 8.9 rating, indicating that it is gaining huge popularity among the public.

Plot *Spoiler Alert*

After the two wars, the impoverished Joseon Dynasty suffered a rapid decline in its royal power and continued hereditary politics. In the drama, Cho Hye-won’s family appears to be in power, and at the peak, there is Cho Hak-ju. His daughter is a queen, and his son is a high-ranking official. The king is already dead, but he is a zombie because of their scheme whereby they cannot continue to have ruling power if the king dies. Meanwhile, the crown prince Lee Chang is being kept in check by them and is powerless. A servant who was handing medicine to the zombie king died after being bitten by the king. The crown prince had snuck into the palace to see his father and witnessed the strange scene, so he then goes down to Dongnae to find out the truth. When he arrives at Dongnae, a plague, which is carried by those who have eaten the body of the dead servant bitten by the king puts them in a hell-like chaos, turning them into zombies. He tries to patch up the mess and begins to weather the crisis with a nurse and an unidentified man he met there.

Season 2 features more stories about politics and power in the same context as the previous season. Existing powerhouses are infected with the plague inside the palace, and later Crown Prince Lee Chang, who was at the center of political strife, also abandoned the throne and left Hanyang, now Seoul, the capital of the country. The figure of the scholar-officials of Season 2 is more like those who are virtually intoxicated with power than politicians. They are indifferent to the spread of the epidemic in Gyeongsang Province and are only interested in the succession of the throne. Eventually, nobles in Hanyang are all infected and killed by the plague that they initially thought was not their concern. In order to prevent further power struggles, the crown prince Lee Chang abandons his right to inherit the throne and wanders around the country to chase after the secrets of this plant called ‘Saengsacho ’.

The King in Zombie State (netflix.com)

The Success Factors of Kingdom

What Is Different from Previous Zombie Films?

Kingdom is based on and includes many common elements of the famous genre. Zombies in Kingdom are much faster than the zombies in the popular zombie series The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead zombies are scary when they approach people, but if people can run quickly, they can run away from zombies because they move very slowly. However, the zombies of Kingdom literally sprint towards people. The speed is faster, so the intensity of the collisions is stronger as well. When you see a zombie running toward the camera, you can feel more immersed and more fearful and thrilled. In the movies Curse of the Dawn and World War Z, the usual formula where zombies move slowly has already been broken. In Kingdom, however, the filming composition is also differentiated. Unlike most zombie movies and series, which are mainly filmed from a bird’s eye view, Kingdom utilizes the first-person angle to give the zombies a more realistic feel.

Also, there are political plots and dramas, like in the Game of Thrones. Usually, in zombie films the main focus is zombies and their actions, while Kingdom has a solid storyline base that could even make the drama continue to flow without the element of zombies. That is how well plotted it is. They feed the plant Saengsacho to the king, making him neither dead nor alive because they have to delay the king's death in order to extort the throne. The story of Cho's family, which is plotting such a huge scheme, and the officials who neglect the people, as well as the crown prince Lee Chang’s struggle to make things right raises tension. It feels like a well-made work with a solid plot-based format, rather than a storyline-free stimulus and action film.

K-beauty in Kingdom

Korean sentiment is also unique to foreign audiences. An- hyun’s loyalty to the king, even when facing death, and Confucian values of human affection, which were revealed in the clash between loyalty and filial piety showed by the crown prince Lee Chang, are added to the plot. Points that have drawn attention from overseas include Joseon period palaces, hanbok, gat, and official hats. Among them, the element that is concentrated on the most is the gat. What Koreans consider to be part of the familiar costume of historical dramas has become a hot item for them. On the United States (US) Internet shopping mall, Amazon, “Korean drama Kingdom Hats” are being sold. Not only the characters in the series, but also the zombies in the Joseon Dynasty era clothing create the unique zombies of Kingdom. One well-made drama has made the absorption of Korean traditional culture easier for foreigners.

Traditional Korea Costume in Kingdom (theworldcracker.com)

Japanese culture has long been recognized as representing Asia from the perspective of the US and Europe, as there is an expression, “Wapanese”, which refers to the phenomenon when Westerners are absorbed by Japanese culture. In recent years, however, the Korean Wave has also shown a trend in Western society to replace Japanese culture, and Kingdom has also helped accelerate this trend. For Westerners who have just become interested in emerging Asian cultures, Japanese culture standards, such as ninjas and samurais, will be put on the same level as Korean cultural aspects from the Korean Wave. In terms of culture, Kingdom is playing a significant part in the ever-growing flow of Hallyu gradually replacing Wapanese or, at the very least, expanding its spatial breadth.

고수연  suyunkoh@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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