Into the Badlands
is a Search for GoodBy Rigche Ma Photo Credits: AMC
AMC’s latest six-part martial arts series that premiered in mid-November sets its story in a fictitious future where alluring fields and striking red poppies quickly turn sinister when the opening narration proclaimed that ‘this world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here.’ This is a ruthless land ruled by seven feudal barons who commanded warriors – known as ‘Clippers’, to maintain and advance their stronghold.
Starring Chinese-American actor Daniel Wu, also executive producer, and Aramis Knight, the pair takes on a relationship reminiscent of a Jedi master and his padawan (a Clipper and his Colt, in this case), with Wu’s character Sunny consenting, if reluctantly at first, to mentor Knight’s M.K. in his journey to return home, a place more genial than the Badlands. According to Wu, Into the Badlands seeks to transpose the spirit of renowned Chinese legend ‘Journey to the West’, wherein the protagonists travel from China to India on foot in the quest for enlightenment. The show is about the transformation of Sunny, hardened Clipper with the blood of 404 on his hands, represented by 404 tattoos etched menacingly on his back, in his literal and spiritual search for the opposite of everything the Badlands stood for, with a lot of fight thrown in.
Hong kong based fight choreographer Stephen Fung (Enter the Phoenix, House of Fury) was roped in to bring Chinese wushu onto AMC’s platform. Adapting a style hitherto more familiar to Hong Kong than U.S. viewers, Into the Badlands’ features longer takes for each fight scene, emphasizing and showcasing the actors’ skills. The actors trained for only 8 weeks before filming began, and then the tall order was to complete each episode in 6 days, with at least 2 fight scenes in each episode. An ambitious schedule, perhaps made manageable by the unmistaken camaraderie between longtime collaborators Wu and Fung. Wu’s martial arts background must also had been vital; he had trained in martial arts since he was 11 (he is currently 41). For promising young actor, Aramis Knight, whose only prior physical training was basketball, his challenge was to find flexibility and grace in his fight execution. A happy parallel between his character M.K.– who had no training at the beginning of the series, and Knight’s real life.
However, Wu insists that the fight is only incidental because the characters drive the show. Into the Badlands is populated by a company of characters, some with epithets suggestive of the Badlands’ various climates, such as the Widow (played by Emily Beecham), whose somewhat feminist tendencies are apparent and who may or may not have murdered her husband, and the Baron whose ppower-hungry appeared absolute. ‘There’s characters for everybody in the show, we made them all 3 dimensional,’ claimed Wu at the press conference in AMC’s New York office. The oppressive and violent atmosphere of the Badlands must necessarily provide a convincing carrot to hold the sympathy of viewers beyond martial arts and action fans.
Into the Badlands delivered 8.2 million viewers when it aired, making AMC home to the top four cable series premieres of all time among adults 18 to 49. Into the Badlands airs on AMC, Sundays at 10pm.