GORE IN THE STORE
KINGDOM SEASON 2 ****
Starring Ji-Hoon Hu, Doona Bae, Seung-ryong Ryu.
Horror, South Korea, 18.
Now steaming on Netflix.
Released early last year the first season of Kingdom was an entertainingly unique mix of Korean period drama and zombie horror. Bringing the two wildly different genres together was an involving plot packed with royal intrigue and infighting with generous servings of action in each episode. There were also some pretty spectacular hats.
For the viewers who caught it then it has been a long wait to see the resolution of the cliffhanger that concluded that ambitious first season. After a brief flashback which uncovers how entwined the roots of the zombie outbreak, and the plot to bring down the Royal Chang family are we spring back into the action. While it never attempts to reach the gory heights of that other televisual zombie phenomenon THE WALKING DEAD, the action in Kingdom manages nevertheless to grip the viewer.
A large part of what makes this work is the character work that has been laid down in the previous season. Our heroes, the fugitive Crown Prince Lee Chang, his seemingly faithful bodyguard Moo Young and peasant tough guy Young Shin’s desperate battle to survive, establish the stakes neatly. Physician Seo Bi continues her dangerous investigation into the mysterious Resurrection Plant, which seems to be the cause of the undead outbreak. Their respective adventures quickly bring them back up against the evil Haewon Cho Clan, led by the glowering Cho Hak Joo and his daughter Queen Consort Cho, whose horrifying plot to hang onto power comes under investigation.
At six episodes it avoids the bloat that a lot of stretched out Netflix series suffer. The pace intensifies as the plot, and outbreak sprawls out and neatly sets up climatic cliffhangers that leave you grateful for the Next Episode button.
Directing duties are split between In-je Park and Seong-hun Kim, who manage to give the season a more epic feel than before and several arresting visuals. Highlights include a samurai vs zombie battle scene filmed in reverse and a zombie impaled with several spears and flagpoles running through a smoke strewn battlefield.
The intrigue angle develops into a conspiracy angle which is arguably more exciting and gripping than the zombie plotline. As Queen Consort Cho, actress Hye-Jun Kim makes a superb and chilling villain whose scheming and chilling actions, which far outweigh her already monstrous fathers, make for an unpredictable plot.
That unpredictability pays off with a final episode that impresses on several levels. As a satisfying conclusion it pays off, and in its final scenes it sets up an exciting and mysterious new direction that will have you asking many questions, one of the most significant being when Netflix will greenlight season three?
Kingdom seems to be further proof that you can teach an old zombie new tricks and that South Korea appears to be taking the lead on this. Along with TRAIN TO BUSAN and the exciting sounding sequel PENINSULA, as well as forthcoming madcap comedy ZOMBIE FOR SALE, it seems they can take what was once overexposed and re-animate it into something new and fresh. Roll on season three.