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Geek Review – Kingdom: Ashin of the North (Netflix)

Since it burst onto the scene, Kingdom, the Korean period zombie drama, has firmly etched itself as royalty among many zombie aficionados and no wonder – of all the great zombie shows to come from Korea, Kingdom sets itself apart with a great setting, and a host of diverse characters who rally behind the heroic crown prince, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who seeks to save his empire from the invading undead. At the end of the second season, the story ventures north, and audiences meet a new character, Ashin (Jun Ji Hyun / Gianna Jun).

Coming in as a massive reveal in the season finale,  the appearance of Gianna Jun was both a revelation and a treat for K-drama fans, as this marks her return after a 4 year acting break. From her turn in My Sassy Girl, one of the highest-grossing Korean romantic comedy of all time, and My Love From The Star, which won the actress the Daesang (Grand Prize) award at the Baeksang Arts Award, Jun is not an unknown star, which means that the producers of Kingdom – Ashin Of The North are clearly using her presence to set the series up for greater things to come in season 3.

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However, as part of side stories go,  Kingdom – Ashin Of The North, is pretty much filler and does little to leverage on all the goodwill the mainline Kingdom series has garnered.

Directed by Kim Seong-hun, who led both seasons of the series, the 90-minute episode expands on the origin of the purple resurrection plant, which is apparently the cause of the outbreak, and how Ashin is pivotal in sending the Korean peninsula into turmoil.

If you’re looking to watch Kingdom – Ashin Of The North because of your love for zombies, you’d be able to find plenty of material to feast on. But, what made Kingdom intriguing in the first place was all the political drama that ran parallel with all the action-heavy scenes. Without that, Kingdom – Ashin Of The North, does present itself as rather empty, as there are little stakes outside of a straightforward revenge motive.

As audiences follow the exploits of Ashin and experience her trials and tribulations from child to adult, we easily get a sense of the rage that has been simmering under the surface. Gianna Jun certainly nails her performance as the lead character, as we slowly see her faith in humanity slowly fade away with each progressive disappointment. It seems that the thousand-yard stare is a popular look with anti-heroes these days, as she channels her inner Eren from Attack on Titan throughout the show and the series’ marketing material.

While we soon realize that Ashin’s character is one defined by hardship, her lack of trust towards authority figures in society is not unfounded. The appearance of military man Min Chi Rok (Park Byung-eun) and how he plays a defining role in Ashin’s life is critical to her development following the disappearance of her father, Ta Hab (Kim Roi-ha) at the hands of the Pajeowi tribe. 

Both Park and Jun share good chemistry together as each seeks to conceal their growing involvement in the region’s conflicts. But because of their positions in society, there’s actually little interaction in the day-to-day that helps further the plot and fuel Ashin’s motivations. For the most part, Ashin’s rage is being fanned by Chi Rok indirectly through his actions which does not come from a place of malice but down to practicality and circumstance. It is at this point where the characters in the spin-off are simply being tugged along by the plot, as opposed to having their own agency to make their own big moves. 

Thankfully, Ashin eventually breaks out of this rut as she plants the seeds of discord moving the resurrection plant into play. As far as  Kingdom – Ashin Of The North goes, seeds are not the only thing being planted, as we see the introduction of Ai Da Gan (Koo Kyo Hwan), who seems to be the leader of the Pajeowi tribe that plagues Ashin’s life. However, in the entirety of the episode, he hardly utters a word and instead opts for the school of cool purely through suave eye darts and a few action moves here and there. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in Kingdom season 3. 

Acting is not the weakest link for Kingdom – Ashin Of The North but the lack of proper character development and conflict is what ails the spin-off. It becomes even more apparent if fans are looking for something meaty when this episode could have been fleshed out better in an alternate form, like a comic book.

However, since Kingdom is one of the most expensive shows ever made by the streamer, Netflix might be looking to get the most bang for their buck. No expense was wasted or downgraded as this spin-off maintains the same high visual fidelity from the original and will be a treat to watch. It does give us a sense that the producers of the show were looking to maximize how much time they had with the cast and crew, such that Kingdom – Ashin Of The North might have been put together with all the material which did not make the final cut of season 3. After all, the setup and premise of the show has already been established, but the backstories of new characters might have been removed to help move the main series along at a much faster pace. Either way, if you’re looking for more zombie content to tide you over after Army of the Dead, Kingdom is the perfect series to whet the appetite.

With the weight of the much-acclaimed Kingdom resting on its shoulders, Kingdom – Ashin Of The North accepts the baton with little effort, given that the solid cast makes the best of a rather weak script. That being said, we must remember this episode is largely a bridge for things to come and if viewed in the wider context of the series, this clearly sets up season 3 in a big way. Without any political intrigue, Kingdom – Ashin Of The North does suffer and becomes generic zombie genre fare, something that we all do recognize that it can and has done better in the past.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Pop in for a quick taste, Kingdom: Ashin of the North will probably have you rewatching the first two seasons of Kingdom but offers little outside of that.

Overall
7/10
7/10
  • Story - 6/10
    6/10
  • Direction - 8/10
    8/10
  • Characterisation - 7/10
    7/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 7/10
    7/10


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