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[Herald Interview] Star screenwriter Kim Eun-hee returns with darkest ‘Kingdom’ episode

Screenwriter Kim Eun-hee(Netflix)
Screenwriter Kim Eun-hee(Netflix)

Living up to her nickname as the “Korean Agatha Christie,” screenwriter Kim Eun-hee came back with the darkest episode yet of the global hit Netflix series “Kingdom” (2019).

“Kingdom: Ashin of the North,” which was released on July 23, centers around a new character Ashin (played by Jun Ji-hyun, or Gianna Jun, and Kim Sia) who is a lower-class tribe member living in what is now known as Hamgyong Province, North Korea. After Ashin finds out about her father’s death, she plans for revenge.

The 92-minute prequel also focuses on telling the backstory of the so-called resurrection plant, or “saengsacho” in Korean, which causes a mysterious plague that turns people into zombies in the medieval Joseon era (1392-1910) in the “Kingdom” series.

“I have been writing dark stories but this is so far the darkest,” Kim said during an interview with a group of reporters via Zoom on Thursday. “My previous works always still included hopeful messages but the prequel is different. I focused on ‘han’ of lower-class people.”

Han refers to a unique Korean concept that encompasses a wide range of emotions including suffering, despair, rage, helplessness, sorrow, resentment, bitterness, grief, a sense of oppression, persecution and injustice.

Although the new episode casts a gloomy shadow on the story with the main character’s reckless journey of revenge, Kim explained that Ashin is not a villain, and there is a different side to her that audiences have not seen.

“I think that there isn’t such thing as absolute good and evil. I think different characters’ history builds up their personalities,” Kim said. “This is also the reason why I am hoping to tell more stories about different characters’ growth in season three.”

Kim added that she is currently preparing to pitch the story for the drama’s season three to Netflix and gave fans a teaser of what could unfold.

“Ashin and Crown Prince Lee Chang (played by Ju Ji-hoon) will definitely meet in season three. The mysterious plague will also spread again and their cause, as well as how the characters deal with the situation will be included,” Kim said.

Even after writing multiple hit TV series, Kim said creating a new and unique story that can satisfy everyone was still not easy.

“There are times when I can write effortlessly. That is when I realize that it can’t be good,” Kim said. “If I can write easily, it is because I chose the easy route that I can easily come up with. When I show that work to people their responses are negative. So I learned that if it is too easy, it cannot be good.”

Kim also talked about where she got her idea for the “Kingdom” series.

“I think it is from drinking alcohol, reading books, watching movies, and observing people,” Kim said. “It is difficult to pinpoint one. But I loved history as a kid. And there was a time when I was into foreign zombie films. The thought of connecting the two elements together did not come to me immediately but later it came to me naturally.”
 
A scene from Netflix’s new episode “Kingdom: Ashin of the North” starring Jun Ji-hyun (Netflix)
A scene from Netflix’s new episode “Kingdom: Ashin of the North” starring Jun Ji-hyun (Netflix)

Discussions with actors, writers as well as her husband film director Jang Hang-jun were also helpful.

“We talked while having a drink. Maybe the alcohol played the big part,” she joked.

Toward the end of the interview, Kim confessed that she is a big fan of actor Jun Ji-hyun who played Ashin in the new “Kingdom” episode and complimented her acting.

Jun also plays ranger Seo Yi-kang in Kim’s upcoming tvN drama “Mount Jiri.”

“Actually the ‘Kingdom’ episode and ‘Mount Jiri’ were filmed simultaneously,” the screenwriter said. “Ashin shows the extreme feelings of han through her eyes without many lines. On the other hand, Seo Yi-kang is like a more grown-up version of the character Jun played in the movie ‘My Sassy Girl.’ She is lively and bright. I don’t know how she successfully pulled off the two different characters.”

“Kingdom: Ashin of the North” is now available on Netflix.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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