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Zombies and politics: An interview with the creators of Netflix's Kingdom

By Tim Augustin - 9 Mar 2020

Zombies and politics: An interview with the creators of Netflix's Kingdom

From left to right: Kim Seong-hun, Kim Eun-hee and Park Inje. | Image: Netflix

Netflix’s Kingdom is set in Korea’s Joseon period - a politically troubled time for citizens and royalty alike. Then it throws zombies at them. 

I got to interview the creators of the smash hit South Korean zombie-horror show before its upcoming second season. Kim Seong-hun (executive producer), Kim Eun-hee (writer) and Park Inje (director) had some very interesting things to say about the amount of effort that goes into the making of this massive show, but weren’t very confident about their chances of survival in an actual zombie apocalypse. 

Why did the creators decide to mix politics with zombies? Who wants to spend the apocalypse in a supermarket? What were their favourite scenes in the show to produce? Read on to find out. 

Note: The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Image: Netflix

Kingdom Season 1 was a great success, which probably means that audiences will have a higher expectation of Season 2. Did you feel a lot of pressure from those expectations, or was it a source of encouragement?

Kim Seong-hun: It wasn’t so much of a pressure, but an encouragement we were really happy to receive. 

 

If there was a real-life zombie attack, how well do you think you’d do? What kind of survivor would you be? 

Kim Eun-hee: I personally think often about that. Whenever I’m in a parking lot, I try to imagine what the best parking spot would be if a zombie were to appear. Practically speaking, if there were a zombie apocalypse, it would be more convenient for me to die as fast as I can. 

Kim Seong-hun: For me, rather than trying to run away from the zombies and surviving - I would rather be still and accept my fate. 

Park Inje: I personally would like to go to the largest supermarket I can find and eat as much food as I can, play games, enjoy everything, drink and ultimately get bitten. Before I do get bitten though, I’d like to enjoy myself as much as possible. 

 

I’m quite shocked that none of you would even think of fighting back!

Kim Seong-hun: Personally, as I worked on the project - I felt like it was just so much work to run away and survive. I would much rather just accept my fate. 

Kim Eun-hee: On all of the other projects and genres I’ve worked in, the leads never know when to quit. They're extremely tenacious and go against all odds. That’s because I tend to write about characters I wish I were more like. That is why if this were to happen in reality, even though our cast members went through great trouble to survive the zombie apocalypse, I would just give up and die. 

Park Inje: I can do a simulation on my head, building on the answer I gave you earlier. If I ate everything in the supermarket, I would have no more food - thus, I would have to resort to farming. Still, I must eat meat, and I can’t eat zombie meat because we all know what happens when people do that. At the end of the day, I would probably turn into a zombie. I would definitely try for survival… but still turn into a zombie. 

Image: Netflix

Kingdom has been a massive worldwide hit. Given that it’s not the first nor the latest zombie TV series around, why do you think audiences have resonated with it so well? 

Kim Seong-hun: It wasn’t that we expected the massive global success of Kingdom, but we were very pleasantly surprised by it. We actually went back and thought about why it happened. First of all, I think we helped the zombie genre blow up from being a minor one with a solid and sound narrative. The zombies weren’t just a tool being used, but had great meaning to them. Things that were only familiar to those living within the Korean peninsula, along with five centuries of the Joseon Dynasty’s rich culture felt new and fresh to the global audience. 

 

Something special about this show is that no matter how big the zombie epidemic gets, Kingdom still takes time to focus on the political affairs of the land. What drove you to mix the horror and political thriller genres together in this way?

Kim Eun-hee: First of all, it is situated within the period of Joseon, and that is an era where we can’t separate the story from the politics of the time. Rather than having each episode begin with a quest and end with resolving it much like a game, this was a grand narrative that had to be carried across multiple episodes. That was the direction I was taking and this is the end result. 

 

How much time and effort was spent on creating the zombies in Kingdom? 

Kim Seong-hun: That depends on the particular characteristics of each zombie. First, we have what we call the ‘A-grade zombies’, which have to wear pre-made skin patches and fake teeth. These ‘A-grade zombies’ took three to four hours per person. After that, there are the easier zombies which are only seen in the background of scenes. For them, it only took a matter of minutes, really. There are hundreds of zombies in some scenes, so we can’t take hours to prepare each one of them. Those who appear in the background of certain scenes would just get dark makeup, some veins and that would be it. 

Image: Netflix

Parasite’s director once said that once audiences get over the one-inch barrier of subtitles, they would get to see a whole new library of content. How have you shaped Kingdom to gain such a massive audience from people all over the world?

Park Inje: I think we tried to create something that would overcome that one-inch barrier. Even without subs, audiences can easily follow scenes like the Crown Prince being chased by running zombies. In a sense, zombies have put us all on the same team.

 

What have been your favourite scenes in the show to produce so far?

Kim Seong-hun: I have two kids and I think it would be very difficult to decide who I like more. I think it’s safe to say that I am attached to every single scene we have created together. Even the subtitles - which viewers may or may not end up seeing - we put in a lot of effort to create those as well. 

***

Season 2 of Kingdom will launch on March 13, 2020 on Netflix. We'll have a review up for it soon!