Korean Wave

Your questions about 'Kingdom Ashin of the North' answered

Kathleen A. Llemit - Philstar.com
Your questions about 'Kingdom Ashin of the North' answered
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

MANILA, Philippines — The end of the second season surprised fans of the period political horror thriller "Kingdom" with a glimpse of Gianna Jun or Jun Ji-hyun as the mysterious Ashin.

Today, fans will finally know her story and how she is connected to the resurrection plant that caused an undead outbreak in fictional Joseon.

Premiering exclusively on Netflix as a 92-minute special episode at 3 p.m. (PST) today, July 23, "Kingdom: Ashin of the North '' unveils all the mysteries of the resurrection plant and the reasons that could lead to another much-awaited season.

Director Kim Seong-hun, writer Kim Eun-hee, actors Park Byung-eun and Jun Ji-hyun answer these important questions fans are wondering about the special episode at this week's virtual presser.

1. Why make a special episode that focuses on the resurrection plant and the backstory of Ashin?

Writer Kim Eun-hee had actually conceived Ashin's character during the early to mid-stage of the second season. She said she was looking for a story that she can bring to the later part of the season and she thought of the resurrection plant and its origins. She also wondered about a group of marginalized people of the North called Seongjeoyains and how these factors would play up with the events that unfolded in the first two seasons.
"When you look at the story behind Ashin, it is a long and complex one because it is such an overarching story with a long timeline. When you actually look at the chronological aspect of it, I felt that rather than incorporate her story into the third season, it would be more audience-friendly and something more conducive to higher quality content if we were to provide it in a special episode," explained the series writer.

2. Why is Jun Ji-hyun cast as the lead in the special episode?

Every time a drama has Jun Ji-hyun as the lead, expectations are high. Her dramas are relatively few compared to other big stars but they are hugely popular. Case in point are "My Love From The Star" and "The Legend of the Blue Sea."

Jun Ji-hyun confessed to being the type of actress who works well under pressure. With a series as big and globally loved as "Kingdom", pressure to sustain the good rating and reputation of every episode and season is given.

Apart from being able to work well under pressure, Jun Ji-hyun has the trust of both her director and series writer.

Director Seong-hun said that there is no director who would "say no" to the opportunity to direct a show with Jun Ji-hyun in it.

Writer Kim Eun-hee said that Ashin is cut-out for the Hallyu superstar.

Describing Ashin as a "warrior with internalized pain", Jun Ji-hyun is an actress who can "express inner pain and suffering."

She said, "I don't think there's an actor better suited for the Ashin role than Jun Ji-hyun."  

3. Why did Kim Seong-hun return to direct after remaining absent for most of the second season?

It was the tandem of Kim Seong-hun and Kim Eun-hee that brought to life the first season. Seong-hun returned to direct the first episode of the second season and the rest of the episodes were helmed by Park In-je.

Seong-hun said that he was lucky to have read the first treatment of the second season and he found it great.

"When I read it, I knew she was a great writer. I decided that the fastest way to bring that to life is to do it myself," the director explained.  

4. Why the archery?

At the end of the last season, only a glimpse of Ashin was seen after Prince Lee Chang and his crew finally set foot in the uncharted Northern land where they suspected the infected came from.

As news of a special episode confirmed and as the production progressed, fans were teased with clips showing Ashin as a character who goes around with a bow and arrow.

Park Byung-eun returns in the special episode as the loyal leader of the Royal Commandery Min Chi-rok. He was someone skilled in the martial arts. While he might now necessarily be killing all the undead unlike the previous season, the actor said there is still a reason why there's prominence given to the particular weapon.

"You might have seen my character very well adapted to the bow and arrow. In this special episode, you will see Ashin as a very skilled archer. So, I think another good point to focus on is why all the archery?" he posed.

5. What is "han" and why does it play a major part in the special episode?

In the trailer, Ashin was aiming at a target with a bow and arrow. Jun Ji-hyun said she came ready even before playing the role but more than her physique and stamina she focused more on her emotions.

"I try to focus mostly on how to interpret her personal anguish and hurt, which we in Korean refer to as 'han'. How to interpret that into emotion, into wanting to avenge for the whole land of Joseon," the actress explained.

 6. What is the appeal of Kingdom as a series?

The undead or zombie outbreak trope is among the most popular in TV and movies. But "Kingdom" is seen as a show that breaks expectations -- it is a  period drama that shows the fantastical element of the undead hounding a kingdom mired in a power struggle.

"When you compare it to the similar works in the genre, the 'Kingdom' series and story incorporates human history, the hunger, greed for power as well as the concept of 'han' or anguish or sadness. I believe that it truly creates a wonderful harmony that leads to a type of chemical reaction that I think was the key why it was loved by so many fans around the world," he noted.

As a fan long before being casted in the series, Jun Ji-hyun sees it as an artform in itself.

"'Kingdom' is not a series or a particular piece of work that can be changed or depend on one or two stars or members of the cast. It is based on an immaculate script, amazing direction and fascinating art. So, I would say 'Kingdom' in itself is kind of, can be referred to as a total comprehensive art in its own form," said the actress.

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