After a year of waiting, the narrative that explains how the zombie attack in the Kingdom of Joseon started is finally unveiled. Helmed by the same director and writer, Kim Sung-Hoon and Kim Eun-Hee respectively, that brought the international success of the first two installments. The special episode was well crafted in providing the missing piece of the puzzle by showing Ashin’s background story. Driven by mad vengeance, Ashin’s character answered the questions left by the first two seasons and at the same time creating a portent of an exciting narrative extension and continuation to the story.
Here’s the detailed analysis:
Ashin of the North is a build-up narrative that presents the sufferings and pains of Ashin and how these things resulted in her dark vengeance against the people who caused those suffering. The first half of the story basically focuses on a young Ashin and her character build-up. I really like how this was done. The justice she sought after learning of the betrayal and the truth on the genocide of her tribe was deeply rooted on those prior scene sequences. I did not feel like her character was rushed into her vengeful transformation because literally half of the film was spent on that development and build-up.
Moreover, the symbolic redirection of her innocence to use the mythical flower to simply help her dying mother into creating the monsters that would destroy Joseon was very reflective of her said character development and transformation. I like how the stark differences of these two motivations were shown. The young and innocent Ashin who would go lengths to save her mother and in the other an adult and vengeful Ashin which ultimately led to the story’s climax; both Ashin using the same flower.
Arguably, one might say that she directed her vengeance into the wrong people. Innocent lives were taken. But then again, no one is completely innocent. Everyone partook of the Joseon imperial schemes. For even if she only killed the men behind the betrayal, the system wouldn’t have ended. She was up against two warring powers. To break the cycle, both powers must be vanquished. I believe this was the logic that ran through Ashin. Her vengeance was not just for these men but for Joseon and Jurchen in general. The men who died are merely representations of that power. Their destruction is a stone that she has to build in order to get into the higher power which is the root of it all.
The film’s climax was very satisfying to watch. The completion of her revenge that was built on years of servitude and exploitation finally culminated in the bloody massacre of the Chupaji Army. It was very good to witness the look of satisfaction in the face of Ashin with a tinge of sorrow in her eyes. I couldn’t have asked for a better climax. Her on top of the running and frenzied soldiers, desperate to flee from the monsters was the story reversal I was looking for. Before this culmination, she was literally at the bottom, sleeping even on a pigsty and being used by men for their own pleasures and ends. The climax scenes reverted that by putting her in control of these men’s lives. Whilst in the beginning she was at their mercy, at the ending they were at her feet scrambling for their lives. Simply put, it was intense, it was bloody, it was suspenseful, it was a massacre. Truly a dark culmination of her years of anguish, sadness, and exploitation with a little hint of what’s to come next or should I say what befell Joseon because of her life’s mission.
Ashin’s character development is very dynamic. It showed a once innocent young girl dedicated to her tribe and to her family. At that young age we saw her unbreakable spirit that would propel her towards her vengeful transition. The pains and sufferings she had experienced became the catalysts for her transformation coupled with the knowledge of the truth and the tragic betrayal of the men and the kingdom she had trusted.
The story’s themes as well as the overall dynamics was centered on Ashin’s development. Other characters in the story never really had the development that Ashin had; they remain as they are at the beginning. It was Ashin’s transformation that propelled the story into the climax and to its end. Her character shaped the narrative. The only question is: Is vengeance as the core of her character development justifiable? For a woman to be living in a society ruled by men warring against each other for power, her vengeance became her only weapon. She has nothing- no family, no friends, no wealth, no power. The only thing that puts her in equal footing with these men is her undying spirit and her revenge. So, yes. It was justified. The wheels (Joseon and Jurchen) have to be broken.
This is the most pronounced theme of the film. Ashin seeking revenge after learning of the betrayal was the central force in the story’s turning point. It was the culmination of the story’s build-up in the first half of the narrative.
2. The monsters as reflections of men
The monsters were scary, sure. But what scared me the most was how monstrous men can be. It was shown time and time again in the narrative how men were exploitative and abusive and would do anything in their power to keep their positions. Men betray, men kill, men scheme all the while doing these things in their rational minds unlike the berserk and blood hungry monsters who can’t think. The creation of the monsters are so reflective of the darkest things man can do and that flower is the symbolic medium of that side.
3. The Primacy of Survival
Ashin is the ultimate representation of survival. She literally has nothing but she triumphed over the kingdom that has forsaken and used her. She submitted her life to servitude hoping that she’ll have the justice she so longed for only to be betrayed. How she rose above that is the core testament of her spirit- unbent and unbroken.
4. Technical elements
Kingdom: Ashin of the North is not only good because of its narrative but more because of how these parts in the story were executed. How the camera angles in scenes and sequences were very impressive. They added to the suspense and emotional drama of the narrative.The camera movements through the battle sequences were so good. The color corrections also added to the tone and mood of the story. It gave me an authentic old Joseon. The colors in some of the highlight scenes amplified the emotions. The scene where Ashin was looking down at the zombies burning after she shot that flaming arrow gave me goosebumps. Her face, looking somewhat orangey because of the reflection of the fire below, provided that feeling of satisfaction and sorrow at the same time. It was perfect.
Furthermore, the performances of the cast were also very impressive especially that of the two Ashin- the young and the adult. Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Shi-ah put up stellar performances. They aced their roles perfectly well.
To my very little knowledge on the technicalities of film, Ashin of the North used its implements really well. Everything jived logically.
In conclusion, as an audience and as someone who is a fan of the Kingdom universe, Ashin of the North lived up to its predecessors. The tragic background of Ashin became the dark catapult that put all of Joseon on its bloody knees. It was a perfect flashback continuation of a story that is so big and so famed for. Charged with betrayal and revenge, Ashin of the North is truly the perfect puzzle piece in the Kingdom universe.
So, there’s our review and analysis. Feel free to express your thoughts on the film in the comment section below. Happy reading and happy watching….