By Kim Boram
SEOUL, July 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun said Tuesday that she was thrilled to open the beginning of the tragic epic of Netflix's popular original Korean series "Kingdom" in the upcoming special episode.
"Kingdom: Ashin of the North," set be released this Friday, is a prequel to the global Korean zombie sensation "Kingdom" (2019), which produced a second season in 2020.
It tells the backstory of the resurrection plant, or "saengsacho" in Korean, which causes a mysterious plague that turns people into zombies in the medieval Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), through a new character named Ashin, played by Jun, who is closest to the secret of the plant.
"When I first read the screenplay, I anticipated that this special episode will expand the universe of 'Kingdom' indefinitely," the star of the 2013 hit TV series "My Love from the Star" said in a press conference streamed online. "I was thrilled at the thought that I could start the big story."
Appearing in the final moments of season two as a mysterious female warrior, the actress said Ashin is a descendant of a tribe residing in a northern border town, who survived the painful loss of loved ones.
She clashes with the devoted captain of a military post on the northern border, played by Park Byung-eun, who starred in the previous season as the head of the royal command.
Writer Kim Eun-hee said she had Jun in mind for the lead role when she wrote the screenplay.
"She is an actor who has a wide spectrum of characters that she can play," said Kim, who has become one of the most sought-after screenwriters in Korea after the smash hit series "Kingdom." "She is suitable to Ashin, who looks like a dangerous warrior but is living with pain."
Kim said she knows that many global fans of "Kingdom" are curious about the origin of saengsacho and who brings it to Joseon.
The latest 92-minute project will answer those questions and create a stepping stone for the next story of Prince Chang, a crown prince of Joseon Dynasty who fights against the mysterious plague and flesh-eating zombies that threaten the country, possibly in season three.
"I read a historic record that access to a northern border area of Joseon was forbidden for about 100 years," she said. "I was wondering what would happen if saengsacho grew in the abandoned soil."
Director Kim Seong-hun, who took the helm of the first season, said he focused on presenting the bleak and chilly onscreen mood of the sparse land of northern Joseon, where people from many minor tribes on the border exist beyond the royal authority.
"The first two seasons of 'Kingdom' are set in southern parts of the Korean Peninsula or at the royal palace in the capital city," he said. "The special episode takes place far away from the neatly organized capital and will feature a mysterious and cruel atmosphere."
"Kingdom" is the first Korean original drama series produced by Netflix in 2019, gaining huge popularity for its creative and impressive scenes of zombie gore, along with traditional Korean sword fights and costumes.
"Kingdom: Ashin of the North" will be available from Friday through the U.S. streamer in about 190 countries.