Netflix review: Timely ‘Kingdom’ returns with stronger storytelling

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CB News

Posted at Mar 16 2020 11:00 AM

Ju Ji-hoon returns as Prince Lee Chang in the political-zombie thriller ‘Kingdom.’ Photo from Netflix

MANILA -- The second season of Netflix’s “Kingdom” had quite the reputation to live up to after its first chapter received critical acclaim and amassed a cult following. 

Fortunately, the zombie horror-period drama came back stronger than ever, with more layers added to an already-complex plot, well fleshed-out characters, and arresting visuals.

The first episode picked up immediately where the season finale left off: with a horde of the flesh-craving infected — now active during the daytime — charging at Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) and his followers at Sangju. What followed was a gripping sequence of the humans trying to escape and fight off the zombies.

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Unlike the first season, the new chapter — which was released Friday on Netflix — had fewer scenes of the undead running around and infecting humans. It focused more on the power struggle between Chang and the members of the greedy Haewon Cho clan. Still, with less action-packed scenes, the political intrigue and drama kept things interesting for “Kingdom,” which has even been likened to “Game of Thrones.”

Is Cho Hak-Ju (Ryu Seung-ryong) the true antagonist of the series? Photo from Netflix

The second season also provided a lot of backstory, explaining many of the characters’ motivations as their story-lines progressed. In fact, a lot of those who were initially painted as villains have become morally ambiguous. At one point, for instance, Cho Hak-ju (Ryu Seung-ryong) justified a long-kept dark secret, arguing that he did it because it was what he thought was best for the royal family and his country, even if it cost the lives of a powerless few. There’s also a traitor in Chang’s posse but it was hard not to empathize with them upon learning their dilemma.

“Kingdom” was also consistent in delivering stunning cinematography, whether the audience was looking at the expansive mountains of Korea’s countryside or the narrow yet elaborate halls of the royal palace in Hanyang (modern-day Seoul). Even the scenes that involved violence and carnage were meticulously shot, it’s almost a shame how “Kingdom” would be watched mostly on laptops and smartphones when it looked more fit for the big screen.

Bae Doona returns to ‘Kingdom’ as Seo-bi, the physician whose goal was to learn more about the zombie infection that hit Joseon and find a cure for it. Photo from Netflix

“Kingdom” may be set in the Joseon period but many of its undertones are relevant today as the world continues to deal with the spread of the novel coronavirus, such as the importance of good governance and support for health workers (like Bae Doona’s character Seo-bi) in the middle of a health crisis. The show also tackled the divide between the privileged few and suffering populace as the zombie infection spread throughout the land.

If you’re advised to stay indoors for the next few days to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, it’s highly-recommended to go see or catch up on “Kingdom.” Both seasons consist of only six episodes, each with a running time of around an hour and always ending with a cliffhanger, making the show easy to binge-watch and irresistible to finish in one sitting.