Kingdom: Ashin of the North review – there’s a price you got to pay for justice

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: July 23, 2021 (Last updated: February 1, 2023)
Netflix special episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North


Kingdom: Ashin of the North is a well-paced prequel that engages the emotional journey of revenge long before the waves of zombies haunt the Joseon era.

This review of Netflix’s special episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North contains minor spoilers. 

The Kingdom universe is back with a very pleasant gift, a special spin-off episode titled Kingdom: Ashin of the Northto bring you on a journey with the newest characters as we enter the third season of the series. Since its birth to the world of Netflix, Kingdom has acclaimed its spot as the best zombie television series that comes from Korea. Bringing all the issues of the political affairs, the social hierarchy in the Joseon era, varieties of characters that gravitate towards its heroic protagonist, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), enthralling cinematography, and grand action.

Kingdom: Ashin of the North travels back to decades before the Kingdom universe started. With brilliant teamwork, screenwriter Kim Eun-hee and director Kim Seong-hun go on a journey to delve into the origins of the alluring purple resurrection flower, waves of the zombie plague, and the heart-wrenching story of betrayals through our anti-hero villain.

Kingdom: Ashin of the North is the rebirth of Jun Ji-Hyun (or Gianna Jun) after her four years hiatus. She is known to be a comedic queen throughout her previous works, Legend of the Blue Sea (2016) and My Sassy Girl (2001), one of the highest-grossing Korean romantic comedy movies. Jun Ji-hyun portrays the role of Ashin, a mysterious character that briefly appears in season two’s finale. Ashin is a mixture of frailty and strength driven by sorrow and grief. She lives in a border village between Joseon and their counterparts, the Jurchen people. Due to the Japanese invasion of the South, wars are expanding everywhere. The rising tensions of the war worsen after numerous Jurchen people went missing after being murdered in the forest. They rebel as Joseon spread propaganda to protect their power. Living on the outskirts, Ashin’s border becomes the starting point of the brewing conflict.

As the story progresses, we see Ashin’s faith in humanity is slowly fading following a series of tragic events. Her motives do not come ungrounded. Following her father’s disappearance, Ta Hab (Kim Roi-ha), after receiving an order from Joseon, goes into the woods to search for an alluring purple reassured flower, saesangcho, which she believes can miraculously bring back the dead, but with consequences. Min Chi Rok (Park Byung-Eun), a chief government of Joseon, who maintained a relationship with her father, later defines a critical role in her development. After the fatal encounter, Ashin grows up fueled with grief and driven by a dangerous weapon to avenge the Seongjiyan people. Despite the minimal dialogue, Jeon Ji-Hyun successfully delivers the range of emotions and Ashin’s mind through her eyes and expression. The first quarter of the movie focuses more on emotion rather than conversation.

Kingdom: Ashin of the North runs for a total of 93 minutes. It maintains a dark, suspended, and enigmatic story that is well put together. There is no amount of character development and exaltation on the conflict that is shown. The writers seem to purposely leave holes in between characters. But, the cast delivers the roles perfectly. Because other than its excellent cinematography and art directing, what makes Kingdom great lies in its story. There’s nothing superficial. Everything is just organic with an element of magic. It explores a variety of issues and is driven by human greed and grief. From marginalized communities that live in border areas, politics of propaganda, and sexual harassment.

We have witnessed throughout the series how Ashin’s villagers were blatantly ignored, both by the Joseon government and Pajeowi tribes, who technically are the same tribe as theirs. Despite Joseon’s promise to officially acknowledge their village and promote her father as an officer, her villagers keep on living with no affirmation, lawless, and no acknowledgment for their identities as border villagers. They keep being excluded due to their social roots, placing them as second-class in the Joseon social construction. Ashin also faces repression while stepping into adulthood. Her character represents a victim of a destructive system controlled by humans’ overindulgence and egocentrism; how she is being kept inside the pig cage by Joseon, being an object of sexualization throughout her life in the all-men territory, and the object of propaganda.

Rather than a heroic protagonist who saves the world, Ashin shall be called the villain of the Kingdom universe. She is the anti-hero. Just look at the chaos and death she causes upon her vengeful deeds over the whole Kingdom universe. Her act of justice turns into a horrific moment for the nation. But the writer did a great job to makes her story grow for the audience. Like I said before, her actions do not come ungrounded. As we dive deep into the story, our sympathy towards her will slowly leave due to her depraved humanity and bloody revenge.

The cinematography is top-notch. For this prequel, Kim Seung-ho explores different themes and color grading. Blue, violet, orange, dark brown, to black, dominates the movie, creating a cool tone. There are also varieties of schemes compared to the previous seasons which focus on Joseon, that are enchanting yet thrilling. From the haunting and coniferous forest, the enchanting snowflakes, to the wide desert, and the depth of mankind through the eyes of villagers. This also affects the characteristics of style and fashion of each character to the fascinating make-up.

Let’s not forget to talk about the scoring for Kingdom: Ashin of the North. From the beginning of the film, the music delivers an excellent job of stirring and compiling the mood. The use of strings, percussion, distortion, combined with a series of unconventional sounds work effectively to enrich the story and momentum. Also, one thing that I want to highlight is the inclusivity aspect of the subtitles. It’s very suitable for the deaf community to enjoy. Kudos to the subtitle writer! 

Netflix’s Kingdom: Ashin of the North is a well-paced prequel that engages the emotional journey of vengeful revenge. Don’t worry if you have not watched the Kingdom series yet because you will still be able to enjoy it without being completely lost. The film plants hints and reoccurring questions for the upcoming series including the character Ai Da Gan (Koo Kyo Hwan), the leading pack of the Pajeowi that plagues Ashin’s village.

What did you think of Netflix’s special episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North? Comment below.

More Stories

Movie Reviews, Netflix