It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Here there be spoilers.

With Kingdom under our belt, we decided to round out our Good Friday with another Korean zombie film and now we’re just confused. It turns out that Kingdom writer Kim Eun-hee had been playing around with the idea for Kingdom of the Gods since 2011, before she finally got it published as a web comic with artist Yang Kyung-il in 2014 (VIZ Media will be publishing it in manga form on May 19 of this year). I have to assume that she had been shopping the idea for a TV show around ever since, since she’s a screenwriter first and foremost, working in film and TV since 2010.

The original story is very different from Netflix’s series, following a young boy Crown Prince during the Joseon era investigating a zombie epidemic with the aid of a mountain bandit after all of his bodyguards die in an assassination attempt. That’s a pretty far cry from what ended up on screen, but here’s the thing.

In September 2017, principal photography began from Next Entertainment World – the producers of Train to Busan – of a new period zombie film called Rampant. Rampant tells the story of a prince returning to Korea during the Joseon era, surviving an assassination attempt before joining with a band of political rebels to investigate and stop a zombie plague. The prince isn’t a young boy, but instead is a twenty-something, womanizing, warrior who has been raised in China by the Qing dynasty.

He returns to Korea after his brother kills himself to save his followers – followers who were helping him try to overthrow his father, the King, and rid the country of Chinese influence. The Minister of War, Kim Ja-joon, is the real power in the country, manipulating the King and preparing his own power grab with the help of stolen weapons from a captured European ship and the impending zombie apocalypse.

Its plot and execution are closer to Kingdom of the Gods than Kingdom is. But I guess it’s different enough to avoid a lawsuit.

On the plus side, Rampant is still pretty good. It’s probably better if you see it before watching Kingdom, if only because Kingdom is able to take a long time to establish and build characters while also building tension and crafting an intricate political story at the same time. Plus, it dives right in to the zombie action with some gruesome baby eating!

Also, the monsters in Rampant, called night demons by the victims of their attacks, are a combination of zombies and vampires, running rampant in that patented Korean style, all twitchy, bloody, and sprinting like maniacs, but they also only come out at night and burn in sunlight. They also develop a mouthful of jagged fangs once they turn, which is a nicely horrific touch.

I’m going to just ignore for now the fact that this and Kingdom Season One were surely in production at the same time, and the zombies in Season One also only came out at night, until the finale, which would have surely been finished way after the completion and release of Rampant, where we got the twist that it was heat they were avoiding, not sunlight.

Anyway, we get a lot of really solid action sequences as the plague spreads closer and closer to the royal palace, just in time for the arrival of a delegation from the Qing leaders. The Minister of War has set the stage for a devastating zombie outbreak thanks to one of the King’s concubines biting the King earlier. When the King goes full zombie, attacking and killing a performer during the welcome ceremony for the Chinese, the War Minister kills him and attempts to take control.

That doesn’t go very well, and what began as a private meeting with the surviving ministers, ends with everyone dead and the War Minister bitten. He chops off his hand to slow the progression of the infection and declares himself king.

The rest of the film is essentially the exact same plot of the Season Two finale of Kingdom (while also being reminiscent of the White Walker battle at the end of Game of Thrones), with the Crown Prince ordering the palace gates sealed and barricaded to keep the zombies from spreading their plague across the country, while he and his allies do their best to slaughter the monsters and survive the night. Added to this, however, is the twist that the War Minister is apparently some sort of super-villain with zombie/vampire powers and the grand finale ends up being a duel between the Prince and the War Minister.

It’s a weird development with no real explanation, but it’s cool and leads to a pretty nicely orchestrated battle. I’m also a big fan of the massive sword the Prince uses, especially when compared to the delicate traditional swords used by just about everybody else here and over in Kingdom.

So, all in all, Rampant isn’t bad. It’s fun, with your standard heroic sacrifices by noble characters, lots of bloody gore, some outstanding swordfights, and ultimately has a nice heroic character arc for a Prince who starts out wanting nothing to do with politics ending up saving the country and becoming a good king.

There aren’t a lot of surprises, but it’s all well executed. Just watch it before you see Kingdom.

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