Kingdom: Ashin of the North exceeds expectations

!hola - MJ Marflori - The Philippine Star
Kingdom: Ashin of the North exceeds expectations
The special episode of the Kingdom series on Netfl ix stars (from left) Jun Ji-hyun as the title character Ashin; Kim Si-a as the young Ashin; Park Byung-eun as the Royal Commandery’s Min Chi-rok; Kim Roi-ha as Ashin’s father Ta Hab; and Koo Kyo-hwan as northern tribe leader Ai Da Gan

(Warning: Contains minor spoilers)

Just when you thought you already mastered the storytelling formula of the Korean drama or series after the Hallyu fame skyrocketed at the height of the pandemic most specially...? here comes writer Kim Eun-hee challenging your foreshadowing skills with her Kingdom series on Netflix.

Yesterday, Kingdom: Ashin of the North dropped as the 92-minute special episode of the Kingdom series. Kim Eun-hee introduced the new special episode as “the beginning of everything, the root of it all.”

During the virtual press conference held just last week, she just proved that she never runs out of stories to tell. She said, “I started by thinking about where the resurrection plant came from. I hoped to satiate people’s curiosity about who Ashin was and what had happened up in the northern regions. I thought a lot about the resurrection plant and I investigated a lot of material. The plant has very cold properties, so I became interested in the northern regions, and what would happen if the plant bloomed in a place like that.”

In Kingdom Season 1, the uncontrollable spread of the infected, who were neither alive nor dead, began in the southern end of Dongnae (present-day Busan). In Season 2, the story moved up north to the royal palace in the capital city of Hanyang.

Kingdom: Ashin of the North further moves up to the cold, northern regions. At the end of Season 2, Lee Chang’s group journeyed north in pursuit of the origins of the resurrection plant and came face to face with Ashin, played by one of Korea’s highest paid actresses Jun Ji-hyun. If that scene was not shown, you would think that the show could end already, but with Kingdom: Ashin of the North, it looked like it was a new beginning of a whole new premise for the historical zombie franchise from Korea.

Many love Jun Ji-hyun starting when she rose to fame when she became the youngest woman to receive the Best Actress award for the movie My Sassy Girl. She then became the first actress to star in two films, The Thieves and Assassination that surpassed the 10-million viewership milestone.

Her track record of hit projects was further strengthened when the drama, My Love from the Star with Kim Soo-hyun, became a global hit as well as Legend of the Blue Sea, alongside Lee Min-ho. Jun Ji-hyun would often bring the audience to smile with her funny demeanor but she delivered the exact opposite as Ashin in the Kingdom special episode.

Her character was inundated with vengeance, grief and tragedy, which she delivered fantastically. She also delivered very demanding physical scenes, which she said she was already prepared for. It was only archery that she studied and learned for her role.

“I was ready before I got to get the role of Ashin,” Jun Ji-hyun shared. “I tried to focus mostly on how to interpret the personal anguish in which in Korea is referred to as han, how to interpret that emotion into wanting to avenge for the whole land of Joseon.”

I appreciate how she deglamorized herself for the role that you would forget how she once set the fashion trends in the Kdrama world.

Kingdom director Kim Seong-hun even praised her commanding presence and star qualities by saying, “From the first shoot, she proved to us how she was loved as an actress for 20 years.”

Kingdom: Ashin of the North is a work of art that is so gripping that you won’t even mind when you notice that the zombies did not appear so much up until the latter part of the special episode. Ashin’s quest is just starting.

I remember covering the See What’s Next Asia event of Netflix in Singapore back in 2017 and asking myself why the event allotted so much special moment and advanced screening when the show was about to debut back then.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos were even giving speeches about what’s to come for Kingdom and how much they invested and believed in the material. No regrets though because they are right.

Kingdom is the perfect introduction to anyone who has not yet experienced the Korean storytelling. Also looking forward to how Ashin’s character will pan out in the third season of Kingdom which the date of airing hasn’t been announced yet.

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