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Tag Archive: Doona Bae


Review by C.J. Bunce

After more than a decade watching our all-time favorite series take place in Korea (M*A*S*H), it’s refreshing to at last to see in wide U.S. release a quality series set in Korea.  That series is the first South Korean series released by Netflix, a fantastic medieval historic mash-up with zombies called Kingdom, which began streaming this past weekend.  Sprouting from a well-documented, mysterious plague that killed tens of thousands of people in Hanyang (present-day Seoul) during the 19th century Joseon dynasty, this story nestles the viewer in a fully realized Korea of the past, complete with opulent sets, costumes, and production values said to have cost nearly $2 million per episode.  The result matches a stunning script (based on a web series by Kim Eun-hee, who counts herself a zombie aficionado and proves it with this series), top acting from a slate of South Korea’s most award-winning actors, and cinematography showing locations most Westerners have never seen, with an exciting Braveheart of the Far East meets The Walking Dead genre action feast.

The region’s king comes down with smallpox, and on his sick bed his latest wife, a young pregnant queen (played by Kim Hye-jun) schemes with her father and the king’s supposed confidante, Lord Cho (Masquerade’s Ryu Seung-ryong), to seize control of the throne, conspiring with Cho’s embedded clan of thugs to shun the true heir, the Crown Prince, played by Ju Ji-hoon (The Spy Gone North) as an earnest, Henry V-inspired leader.  But is the king really dead, and what other secrets does the queen keep?  Father and daughter bar access to everyone outside their circle, and so the Crown Prince escapes with his trusted and fierce lieutenant Muyeong, played with equal parts grit and humor by Sang-ho Kim (Octopus), conjuring the versatility of Japan’s Toshiro Mifune.  They set out to discover the source of the spreading plague, meeting up with a doctor played by Sense8 and Jupiter Ascending‘s Doona Bae, and (in a twist worthy of a Tom Clancy novel) the realization fosters the Crown Prince’s viability as a real leader against an unthinkable threat.  Rounding out the main cast is a mysterious warrior named Yeong-sin, an angry, defensive villager who buries a group of the dead against local traditions, played by Kim Sung-kyu.  His character is cloaked in his own secret past.

Deception.  Murder.  Conspiracy.  A prince who above all else looks to protect his father the king and be a good leader.  A heroic race to a stronghold via horse cart.  A mother infected who turns on her own child.  Swords and bow and arrow, and early rifles, as the only means of defense.  Gorgeous, truly cinematic imagery.  Western viewers get an incredible look at a beautiful island, forests, waterfalls, bubbling brooks, palatial estates, lakes and mountain views probably never captured for a wide modern audience, thanks to some stunning cinematography.  Fog, night, and fire eerily presented among cinematic storyboarded action sequences.  The music is a blending of traditional, medieval, Eastern themes, and sweeping programmatic action movie cues.  Costume designs in exquisite fabrics and designs at first may seem odd to modern viewers, but their similarity to the garb of Akira Kurosawa films (that Western audiences have had greater access to over the decades) should ease in most viewers.  The production sets and artistry are probably matched only by History’s Vikings of the current historical and fantasy TV series available.  And the expected horror of the zombie genre–sword beheadings were never filmed so believably.

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An unusual new mash-up of historical drama and supernatural horror is coming your way this month.  Set in medieval Korea, Netflix’s Kingdom will be the second Korean series for the streaming service.  Netflix released two excellent trailers so far for the series’ first season, with the second trailer just arriving this week.  Actor Ju Ji-hoon (Mask, Confession) plays the Crown Prince, a man set on a mission to discover the cause of a deadly plague spreading across the country.  And an evocative classic Eastern costume drama becomes the next zombie series.  It looks similar to the world of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, taken from a different part of the world.

The elaborate production quality of the trailers was created at a price tag of nearly $2 million per episode, resulting in some compelling preview footage with an Akira Kurosawa-inspired, creepy and cool “Seven Samurai vs zombies” vibe.  Eight episodes have been filmed for season one, and season two begins filming this month in South Korea.  The series blends the vision of film director Seong-hun Kim (Tunnel) and television writer Eun-hee Kim (Signal).  The series is based on Eun-Lee’s Land of the Gods, a 2014 webtoons/webcomic from Seoul’s YLAB Comics, which was drawn by Kyung-il Yang.

The series also stars Doona Bae (Jupiter Ascending, Cloud Atlas, Sense8), and Seung-Ryong Ryu (Psychokinesis, Masquerade).

Check out the teaser preview and two trailers for the Netflix original series, Kingdom:

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