It’s a country known for pop music, TV shows, and food, but there’s one export that stands out above the rest: zombies Now bringing Kingdom: Ashin of the North.
While the West has promoted the idea of the undead infecting the living, Korea has carved out its own place in the zombie genre, with films such as Peninsula, Train To Busan, and Rampant. Nothing, however, compares to Netflix’s Kingdom’s global reach a Korean period zombie series that ruled the airwaves in 2019 with its debut season, then returned a year later with an equally fascinating second season.
The second season of Kingdom finished on a cliffhanger with a strange woman peering right into the camera. It was bloody, historical, and highly riveting. No one really knows who she is, why she’s there, or if she’s even responsible for the zombie virus in the first place.
Rather than waiting for the third season, fans will find out who she is when the show’s special episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North debuts on Netflix on July 23, 2021.
Director Kim Seong-Hun, writer Kim Eun-hee, and stars Gianna Jun and Park Byung-Eun spoke at a press conference attended by Geek Culture about the special episode and what it was like making it.
As you may expect, Ashin is a brand-new character for the Kingdom franchise. As Kingdom writer Kim Eun-Hee was working on the second season, the idea for her occurred to her. Inspiration happened while Kim was searching for a new tale to breathe new energy and action into the second season’s final months.
“Because the resurrection plant has certain cold capabilities, I naturally went into the northern territories of Joseon, and that’s when I came across the marginalized people of the period who didn’t belong anywhere,” Kim explained. “I decided to take an interest in that element, and this character Ashin formed during that process.”
Ashin, portrayed by Gianna Jun, is a big comeback for the K-drama actress, who stepped away from the spotlight four years ago but gained fame and a following after roles in My Sassy Girl, one of the highest-grossing Korean romantic comedies of all time, and My Love From The Star, which earned her the Daesang (Grand Prize) award at the Baeksang Arts Award. The actress has won 25 accolades in total, including Best Actress at the 41st Korea Broadcasting Awards. Prior to season two of Kingdom, she starred in Legend of the Blue Sea, for which she garnered six out of 16 nominations at the SBS Drama Awards.
So it’s no wonder that the actress had no trouble slipping into the role of Ashin since she was able to totally immerse herself in the character. However, the actress did say that starring in a zombie film, particularly one as well-known as Kingdom, was a blast.
“I was prepared before I took on the character of Ashin. “I mostly focused on how to translate personal sorrow and hurt, which we in Korean referred to as ‘Han,’ into a desire to avenge for the entire land of Joseon,” Gun added.
“Meeting the zombie actors face to face was one of the things I was most looking forward to. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to mention this, but I begged them for photos so I could snap pictures with the zombie actors and brag about it to my friends and family!”
Park Byung-eun co-stars with Gun as Min Chi Rok, the Head of the Royal Commandery and a great archer who was brought over from the second season for this special episode. Min Chi Rok is a popular character in the season, and Park is delighted for viewers to witness a new version of him in Ashin of the North.
“Unlike season two, when my character did a lot of killing and getting rid of the so-called undead,” Park explained, “this special episode focuses not so much on the action, but on his relationship to the story and with the character Ashin, so I believe that would be the very special aspect of this particular episode.”
“Unlike in season two when my character did a lot of killing and getting rid of the so-called undead, this special episode focuses not so much on the action, but his relationship to the story and with the character Ashin so I believe that would be the very special aspect of this particular episode,” revealed Park.
“In season two, you may have seen my character very well adept with the bow and arrow, and if you look at this particular special episode, you will also notice Ashin being a very skilled archer. So I think another good point to focus on is ‘Why all the archery?’”
Given how the episode places emphasis on the relationship between Ashin and Min Chi Rok, actors Jun and Park had to work closely together, and it helped that both stars have known each other for a while, having starred in the 2015 action/drama film, Assassination. The two stars are happy to reunite once again and often joked about how much the relationship between them has changed and evolved.
“I was really happy to see him again. One thing I can say for sure is that he’s definitely a better fisher now,” joked Gun. “Back when we were shooting Assassination, he was boasting a lot but I never really got to taste what he caught, and so this time we all begged him to bring the catch and we were indeed able to enjoy all of the results of his wonderful fishing skills.”
Adding on to the fishing story, Park joked, “I don’t know which to focus on more because I’m supposed to be working on my acting skills, but these people here have driven me out to sea to fish for more yellowtail and then cuttlefish!”
“When we were both working on Assassination, it was the first time I actually met Gianna and I would say that we weren’t that close, there was a little bit of awkwardness between us but when I heard that we would be working side by side for this special episode, there was great excitement. I really looked forward to the chemistry that we could create on-screen. I think she’s an amazing actress and it’s such an honor and joy to be working alongside her,” added Park.
Reminicinsing their time together on set, the stars and the makers each went around to share their favorite scene from the special episode and why they were drawn to the project.
Starting with writer Kim, she shared that her favorite scene was towards the latter part of the special episode.
“This is very difficult to express without giving you any spoilers but all I’m going to say is that there is a scene with zombies that I’m particularly fond of. It was very tough to write that particular scene and it’s also a scene that I really wanted to see come to life,” continued Kim. “And of course, the reason why I am drawn to the story of Kingdom it’s because I wrote it!”
Director Kim Seong-Hun shares the same sentiment.
“It’s tough to talk in detail about the scenes, but I believe that it is a scene that the entire 90 minutes really is running toward. I would say it’s a truly tragic but immensely charming scene,” shared Kim.
“I love Kingdom because it’s what we created together. When you compare it to similar works in the genre, the Kingdom story in the series incorporates human history, hunger, the greed for power as well as the concept of hurt or anguish or sadness, and I believe that it truly creates a wonderful harmony that leads to a type of unique chemical reaction that I think was the key to why it was loved by so many fans around the world.”
Actor Park, however, was fond of the scene where the young Ashin is seen kneeling before Min Chi Rok. The scene was special and memorable for the actor because of how incredible Gun carried the role, and the emotions displayed in the scene.
“She gave such a great performance and had such great energy that in turn, it really provided me and my character similar energy that I needed to create that scene. I really think about ‘What would this character do? How would he feel? How would you feel if this little girl is kneeling before him asking for these things,” shared Park?
“I think it will be really intriguing for the audience to think about how the connection between these two people changes and what kinds of stories will develop if they dig into that scene.”
Gun is just pleased to have the opportunity to appear in a special episode centered on her character, especially one who could be the spark for the zombie breakout in the first place, as a novice and a fan of the series.
“My character Ashin is a woman that knows the secret of the resurrection plant so there were certain scenes that hint at that fact. As a fan myself I enjoyed shooting those scenes, I really got chills down my spine in those particular scenes,” said Gun.
“Kingdom is not a series or a particular piece of work that can be changed or depends on one or two stars. It is based on an immaculate script, amazing direction, and fascinating art, so I would say that Kingdom in itself is art in its own form. It’s truly an honor, and it brings me great joy to think that something like Kingdom is created in Korea, and is brought to the entire world.”
So, who is the mysterious woman from Kingdom season 2, and what is her role? To find out, you’ll have to watch Kingdom: Ashin of the North.
Kingdom: Ashin of the North will be available on Netflix on July 23, 2021
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