KOREAN DRAMA REVIEW: Kingdom – Season 1

Well, I absolutely loved this kdrama. So there you go! Now you know where I stand.

And if you are interested, you can listen to me waffle on about it on my Kdrama podcast (The Lee Evie Korean Drama Podcast):

So as everyone probably is already aware, this was the very first ever Korean Drama Netflix crossover, and was I ever excited! I’d heard good things about the writer, heard they were spending loads of money so it would hopefully look cool, and I was totally into the casting.

And man, was I ever happy with this results of this show.

The Setting, Tone and Story

So the tone of this kdrama is a lot darker and more atmospheric than most Korean Dramas (not all, obviously though – for instance, watch Rescue Me / Save Me Season One – SUCH a good atmospheric drama!).

To be honest, atmosphere –wise, I kind of felt like this was a horror.

Which I just adored.

I am a big fan of (good) horror, and this one definitely ticked all my boxes. It was dark and moody, it looked beautiful, like absolutely shot gorgeously (think sweeping landscapes but also gritty realistic old-school Joseon squalor and terrifying action scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat!).

This is like the ultimate kdrama gateway show, and I really hope it will tempt some people to check out the full kdrama selection on Netflix. Especially since there are plenty of cool and heavier themed sagueks on Netflix these days, if that is your jam.

I have liked the lead actor in this, Joo Ji-hoon, ever since I first saw him in that crazy drama, Goong (or Palace) and actually I thought he was wonderful in this. And Bae Doona is always excellent, she is a very accomplished actress. Aside from the leads, there is just a million familiar Kdrama faces to recognise.

The story unfolds like an atmospheric horror, and basically my most favourite aspect was how good everything looked.

This is a beautifully filmed drama. I am used to watching sagueks that are perhaps filmed on very tight schedules and that often (not always of course) have a bit of a cleaner modern vibe to them, so I just LOVED the grit and grime of this drama.

For instance, in the small town the Prince travels to, the mud pooling in the streets, the dirty and half-starved children, the utter desperation of poverty that would have existed in pretty much every country in the world during this older time.

I actually loved this more realistic portrayal of the landscape and towns and people, the matted hair on the commoner men (instead of super clean looking wigs and clean costuming). It added a real grit to the story and made it easier for me to sink into. I am a writer and my fiction is always set in old Korea in Joseon times, so for me to watch a drama that gave such a rich and gritty impression of that time was just such a treat.

And I know that sounds weird, saying that watching grotty town streets dripping mud was a treat, but honestly it was. Nothing fuels my imagination like a good sageuk, I love to see the clothes and the people and the landscape, and this drama particularly was a standout for me in terms of imagination and fuel for my fiction writing!

So that was a pretty special thing for me.

Kingdom – The Characters

SPOILERS ABOUND FROM HERE ON OUT – YE BE WARNED!!!!

I really liked the Crown Prince, our protagonist in this story.

I particularly liked how he is being accused of attempting to murder his father, and for a while we obviously imagine he is being framed (because he is the good guy, right?), and the moment where he admits it was true was such a good story beat for me. Because obviously everything in these times and this story is more complicated than just being a good guy. Nothing is ever as simple as that.

And I LOVE it when stories are willing to get their characters down and dirty, there is nothing less exciting than a person who wants to be good and selfless simply …. because.

I want multi-faceted characters that can be more than just one thing, and for me I felt like the Crown Prince really ticked that box. I liked him, a lot, but he isn’t perfect (he’s grown up as a prince for a start, which is generally going to turn anyone into a self-entitled silly doofus who knows nothing about the world.)

I like the difficulties he faces trying to navigate the dangerous political landscape of his world, which is super high-stakes, because that immediately forces him to be the kind of man who has to make decisions with consequences, both for himself and for other people, potentially all the people, and that folks, leads to great drama!

I felt like Bae Doona’s character hasn’t quite been fully developed yet at this stage (end of season one) however I have full confidence we will see that fleshing out occur when the next season drops. Personally I am a fan of how kdramas take their time with characters anyway, and she certainly comes across as likable, capable and interesting straight away, but I’m looking forward to getting more from her next season.

The character I actually found most intriguing, and who quickly became  favourite, was Young shin, who is a young man we first meet at Bae Doona’s clinic in the rural countryside.

He is such a wonderful character.

The first thing he does is use a young dead boy’s body to feed a bunch of starving people …. which is …. super frightening …. and unethical… and wrong …. but also …. pragmatic and smart and resourceful, because seriously, what are morals in the face of a slow death by starvation?

Obviously this move turns out absolutely terribly because he basically causes the zombie apocalypse or whatever, but hey, the guy does his best!

So …this guy cares …. but he’s also fairly prickly.

He turns out to be ridiculously resourceful at everything, saving people left right and centre, and is also very clearly not who he says he is, being way too skilled to be some boring average joe. I kind of loved him. He was such a fascinating character, because he is clearly a little bit dark, has a lot of secrets and is very clearly trying to save his own skin … but is also very clearly trying to save everyone else’s skin too.

Which is cool?

So yeah, can’t wait to learn more about this dude next season!

Obviously there are loads of other interesting characters, but the main one I wanted to touch on, was the actual zombies themselves.

They were AMAZING! They were terrifying, but also fresh and different to the zombies I have seen before. And you know what, I didn’t really expect anyone in the whole world to bring me a fresh take on the zombie myth, but these guys have the absolute creepiest ever habit of falling asleep in strange twisted curled masses, hibernating (or just being fully dead mate).

I loved how their bones cracked and they convulsed as they woke up, it was SO CREEPY, like they were puppets on strings. It was an excellent new angle on something I’ve seen a lot (but still always seem to love for some reason).

Kingdom – The Love Story

Dude, there wasn’t one!

Which was actually okay because I was just fully invested anyway, I was all over this creepy drama.

I can’t help wonder if a love plotline will creep into the story next season, but I didn’t really feel like any groundwork was laid for it within this season one of Kingdom, so it’s a bit hard to tell.

To be honest, and this is rare coming from me, I kind of don’t care if there is a love story or not. I am so invested in the political intrigue aspect, the character’s interactions and secrets (who is the one betraying the prince?) and you know …. I’m super interested in the whole wonderful and terrifyingly heart pounding zombie apocalypse thing!

Kingdom – The Ending

The ending of this was a major cliff-hanger, and obviously felt a little sudden, particularly for any obsessive kdrama watchers out there like me, who are used to sageuks having a minimum of 20 episodes in most cases.

But it certainly had some interesting reveals at the end!

The Queen is faking her pregnancy (does her father even know? Or is the young Queen fooling everyone, being much more of an integral political player than we initially thought?) and of course the major reveal……. the zombies only hibernate because of heat and now that it is winter and everything is freezing for like a million months ….. well basically everyone is absolutely fucked, mate!

Oh no!

But also…. oh yes please!

Can’t wait for more of this drama!

My Drama Rating – Kingdom

I award this drama 5 out of 5 tiger-hunting zombie-killing dead-body-leg-eating mercenary badasses!

(In my country we actually say bad arses but it just doesn’t look quite as badass, so I have Americanised it! Ha!)

If you have time to chat with me, I would absolutely LOVE to know:

  • Did you watch this drama?
  • Or will you watch it after reading this?
  • What did you think of the very short season idea that Netflix presented?
  • Did the zombies scare the hell out of you?
  • Are you here for season 2?
  • Tell me your feelings!!!!

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