Julien Neaves, Editor
Back in June I did a ranking of the Top 5 Zombie Series and I placed Netflix’s Korean period political zombie action series Kingdom as my number one. It is truly a fantastic show which sadly more people aren’t talking about. So when I saw Netflix was dropping a Kingdom “movie” called Ashin of the North I was most enthused.
It turns out that it was not a movie, but a special feature-length episode that acts as a prequel to the main series. It focuses on supporting character Ashin (Jun Ji-hyun) who was introduced in Season 2 and explores her origins. With a flesh-eating SPOILER ALERT let’s bite into it.
I was thinking of doing a plot synopsis for Ashin of the North but it is very complex, involving politics, tribes, the Kingdom of Joseon and fake tiger killings. Suffice to say young Ashin’s Jurchen tribe is slaughtered by the Pajeowi Jurchen army after her father lied about some Jurchen men being killed by a tiger when they were in fact killed by members of a high ranking clan over a territorial dispute. Man, even the synopsis of my synopsis is making my head spin! Overall I found the plot overly complex at times and a bit thin at others, which is unfortunate as the series is so expertly written.
Returning to the special episode, with her entire village decimated and her family gone Ashin grows up to become an outcast and military spy driven by vengeance. Jun does a solid job of portraying someone who has been living with trauma for years and Ashin is understandably very remote, detached and determined. But it doesn’t exactly make for the most compelling protagonist and I found it hard to connect or root for her. In terms of the other characters they are kind of just there and none of them made much of an impact. On the positive side, Ashin of the North continues the series’ brilliant costuming, music, and cinematography. So while the characters did not do much for me I did quite enjoy the sights and sounds of this special episode.
Those coming in for the zombie action will have to be very patient. In the first two acts we don’t get anything outside of a couple of not-so-great CGI-ed zombie deer and zombie tiger, the latter the second zombie tiger for the year after Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. The fight against the zombie tiger (in Ashin, not Army) was pretty entertaining and gave me something of a B-horror movie vibe. The zombies finally show up in the third act (Ashin kills some soldiers and transforms them with the resurrection plant) but the action here is not all that outstanding and I’ve seen much better in a regular episode of Kingdom.
Ashin of the North features not one but two twists. Firstly, it is the fact that Ashin’s father is still alive (though limbless) and was being held prisoner by the army Commander she had been working for. This was a quite the emotional twist and Jun really sold the mix of horror, relief and eventual despair. The second twist is that Ashin resurrected her entire village as zombies and has been keeping them in cabin and feeding them animals she hunted. In the end she realises they desire human flesh and feeds them a soldier she captured. It’s quite a stinger and a gruesome end that reshapes what came before.
In the end, Ashin of the North is a pretty good standalone story that never reaches the excellent heights of the series. And its while adds some more clues about the origin of the resurrection plant and ties into the opening of Kingdom’s first season I can’t say I would have missed a lot if I had not watched it.
So if you want something different from your regular zombie viewing experience then you will find things to enjoy here. But as a diehard fan of the series this was something of a step down in quality for me.
Editor Jules’ Score: 6.5 out of 10
So are you are a fan of the Kingdom series? And you can check out more zombified TV content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.