Kingdom S2 was released on Netflix two weeks ago. Like season1, season2 also gained a lot of attention with positive reputation from the viewers. When the Kingdom S1 was released, traditional Korean costumes and cultures became popular. The zombie genre, which started in the U.S., was transformed into a unique one when it met Korean traditional culture. Kingdom is a successful example of the genre localization.
Today, I will talk about K-Zombie. K-Zombie means Korean Zombie films. The first K-Zombie film, A Mostrous Corpse, was released in 1980, but it became localized successfully in South Korea from 2010s, especially after Train to Busan. There were a few zombie movies, but there were no great films, and the number of the production for Zombie films was little. Consequently, the Zombie films became a very unfamiliar genre for Korean audiences. Only some Zombie genre fans used to look for western Zombie movies. In South Korea, the waste land of zombie films, a noticeable change began to occur in the 2010s. In particular, as World War Z of Hollywood got success in South Korea in 2013, Korean filmmakers saw the potential of the zombie genre in the Korean film market.
Eventually, a huge success occurred in 2016. Train to Busan was released. The film grabbed attention not only in Korea but also in other countries, with its fast plot and its unique character “Ma Dong-seok,” who smashed Zombies. The film got a huge success, and the increasing number of Korean filmmakers became interested in Zombie genres. 2016 has become an important year for the Korean zombie film history. In addition, this year, an important Korean Occult film, Wailing, was released, and there was a zombie in a short time. The great thing about Train to Busan and Wailing is that they have convinced audiences that Zombies are not strange at all when they appear in Korean society. The audience is not easily convinced of the elements of the unfamiliar genre, but the mentioned two films succeed in convincing it. This was a remarkable achievement, considering that many filmmakers fail to convince it when they bring in foreign genres.
Having gained confidence after the success of Train to Busan, Korean filmmakers began to make a new attempt. It is to make zombie films against the backdrop of the Chosun Dynasty. This first attempt is actually not Kingdom, but Rampant. In fact, this choice is too natural. Korean middle-aged and older audiences cannot accept the fact that zombies appear in modern Korea. Since the history of zombie genres is not long in Korea, there are many viewers who find it hard to accept that Zombie crisis happens in modern Korean society, although it happens in the film.
Chosun Dynasty has attractive elements to make Zombie films rather than Modern Korea. Filmmakers can create a variety of actions freely with swords and guns. Also, since the speed of sharing information is slow in Chosun Dynasty, filmmakers can make various huddles easily for characters in films. (The speed of internet in South Korea is amazingly fast even underground. lol.) That’s why Rampant seems to have found a land of opportunity. But it failed. The idea was good, but it was hard to make a success for the film full of the cliché and terrible storytelling. However, then Kingdom, which had joined hands with Netflix, got a huge success.
Director Kim Seong-hoon, who directed Kingdom S1, is good at fast-paced storytelling and making suspense, and Kingdom also shows his strength. (I strongly recommend you another his film A Hard Day.) However, the biggest contribution to the film was made by Kim Eun-hee, the writer of this film. This writer is famous for making a good mystery thriller genre in South Korea. She is good at structuring meticulous plot to reveal the cause of the mystery in her scenario. Her talent made Kingdom an attractive mystery zombie film. Great directions and the well-organized screenplay created the unique zombie film with images of Korean traditional culture.
The K-Zombie genre has just started. Only three or four films have been released since Train to Busan, and more various attempts are expected. Personally, I think zombie genre is something that current Koreans are easy to like. This is because Zombie genres are basically good for dealing with political issues, and Koreans tend to have huge interest in the issues. Zombies can metaphor for various things such as deindividuation or anxiety or even infectious diseases. Zombie films can criticize society through these metaphors. Kingdom also strongly criticizes the selfishness of the establishment through the Zombie genre. Train to Busan also criticizes hatred feelings to others in Korean society through zombies. Koreans have a strong sense of criticism about politics and interest in political issues. Of course, there are still many strong conflicts in Korean society and many social problems have not been solved, but it is clear that Koreans are very interested in social criticism. Zombie genre has recently become an attractive genre that satisfies the needs of current Korean people, so I’m sure that this genre can be developed more in South Korea. K-Zombie genre will be developed more and more.