There’s an important question that doesn’t get answered in the first two series of historical zombie drama Kingdom:
How did this zombie debacle begin?
We know the answer lies with the curious purple flowers known as ‘resurrection plants’. But how did they end up being used to bring back the dead? Well, in this dark and moody setting, Ashin of the North provides the disturbing answer.
Ashin herself is an enigmatic character (played by Jun Ji-hyun) who briefly appears at the end of season 2. This film tells the story of her life and connection to the situation. She is played by child actor Kim Shi-A for the first half of the story and then Jun Ji-hyun (My Love from the Star) for her adult life.
Kingdom season 1 review
Season 1 recaps
Season 2 review
Ashin of the North Plot
The Kingdom series is based around the Royal palaces and the capital. But the beginning of the story takes us far away to a poor village in the north.
Joseon is struggling with Japanese Invasions in the south and disgruntled tribes of Pajeowi Jurchens across the border in the north. Ashin is a member of a tribe of Jurchens who live in Joseon, but they are outcasts. Her father is a butcher, the lowliest profession according to the Joseon class system.
When 15 of the Pajeowi tribesmen are found dead in Joseon, there are concerns that their fellow tribesmen will want revenge. Ashin’s father also works for the Joseon government. And he’s sent on a mission to persuade the Pajeowi Jurchens that their tribesmen were killed by a tiger. It’s obviously a lame story and things take a turn for the worse. And this is where it all kicks off.
Meanwhile, we are reminded of the strange things that are occurring in nature. A deer eats some of the purple flowers and its eyes turn white. And we know what that means. Then a tiger attacks the deer and he turns into a zombie too.
The first half of the film smoulders in a grizzly, dark, and moody setting. The characters are taciturn and stiff upper-lipped. Ashin, in particular, is tough. She hardly says a word throughout the whole film. Not surprising really after what we see her go through. Her life becomes all about revenge.
But the question of how all this began still remains unanswered until towards the end. Then the film builds to a crescendo. There are twists and a final aha moment (if you have seen series 1 and 2) as things fall into place.
All the Kingdom classic features are here. The beautiful dark and misty settings. A powerful OST. And eventually the artistically choreographed zombies appear too accompanied with their signature grotesque sound effects.
If I had to make a criticism, I would point out the lack of character development. The minimalistic script doesn’t leave much room to get to know any of the characters. I also have a pet peeve with scenes that use obvious computer graphics. However, I appreciate that it would be a big ask to train a tiger to act in a film!
But Ashin of the North doesn’t disappoint. And for any Kingdom fans, it’s a must.