Netflix’s “Kingdom: Ashin of the North” takes audiences back a few decades from the “Kingdom” series and tells the revenge origin story of Ashin and the series’ zombie antagonists. The show depicts a dark and enigmatic narrative that was perfectly emulated by its cinematographer Nak Seon Go through the ALEXA Mini LF.
“The space shown in the ‘Kingdom’ series and the space where the story of Ashin unfolds are completely different, so naturally, the image should reflect this dichotomy. If the main story is a fiery genre about the power struggle within the palace, the prequel is an emotional tale about a girl from a small northern village. I put plenty of thought into exhibiting these emotions and focused on the parts that would make the audience sympathize with Ashin's feelings,” says Go.
To achieve this, the “Taxi Driver” cinematographer pursued a more realistic approach by preserving the image of the north as much as he could. Unfortunately, this came with many challenges for him and his team. Go reveals, “There were many running scenes on rocky mountains, so the actors and the grip team endured a lot. The sequence where the Pajeowi chief rode horses was filmed on reclaimed land, which was muddy. Also, producing clouds of dust that resembled a sandstorm was more difficult than we expected.”
Thankfully the ALEXA Mini LF became a handy choice for the show’s rough shooting locations. “The ALEXA Mini LF supports 4K shooting, is lightweight, and it’s the top camera for expressing colors. It was the best option I could use,” Go exclaims.
Underexposed shots were also key in delivering an authentic feel to the Korean hit show, mainly lit with candles, torches, and moonlight. “Usually, we use lighting devices to mimic fluctuating lights, but we filmed at such a low exposure that the flickers of the actual candles were captured on screen. As we shot extremely dark scenes under the moonlight, we pushed the limits of HDR,” says Go, stressing the crucial role of high contrast ratios during production.
Known to capture the highest dynamic range among any digital camera to date, the ALEXA Mini LF easily became the most suitable camera for the project. “Historical dramas are generally shot in extreme lighting conditions, but I was able to capture great images with the ALEXA Mini LF. It has a much wider range of expression from the darker areas to the highlights,” says the veteran filmmaker. “In my previous work, I would normally shoot two to two-and-a-half stops underexposed, but now I can go three to three-and-a-half stops, making it possible to shoot a realistic scene with a minimal light source.”
Much like the lighting, accurate colors were also integral to the show's cinematography. “Even against the harsh surrounding, you can see life from the greens of the trees and from the warm portraits of the villagers. The military camp of Chu Pa-jin made the browns of the fallen trees and the grays of the war-burnt wood stand out,” elaborates Go, who also made use of the ACES-compatible Mini LF to maintain color consistency from camera to screen. He continues, “Before filming, colors were pre-selected to avoid indiscriminate representation of each distinct shade. While on set, we lowered the saturation, used a strong look-up table for the contrast, and adjusted color temperature settings. Finally, for post-production, we worked with Baselight and Dolby Vision HDR.”
In these times when technology and techniques are quickly evolving, accelerated by the emergence of progressive theater systems and diverse streaming media, filmmakers are pushed to find tools that can keep up. DP Go shares similar sentiments saying, “The display environment is rapidly changing, and I think ARRI is responding well. As a cinematographer, I need to capture varying images for each project, and I try to achieve the desired results fast with a ton of help from ARRI cameras and lighting systems.”