Well over a year past the start of any and all hype for director David Dobkin‘s latest serial contribution, Into The Badlands, I have to say it’s hugely deserved. The show just premiered on Sunday with releases online via its home network at AMC and in the UK via Amazon and while it twists a bit of the few historical elements that make it relevant to its earlier reported narrative tied to Chinese mythology, you still get a show with a pretty solid theme and great action to boot.
Daniel Wu leads the drama and action as Sunny, the loyal clipper with a notorious reputation for the most kills in the name of his Baron, Quinn, played by Martin Csokas. At first glance we get sweeping desert views and Sunny on a motorcycle, and it’s not long before we are introduced to the show’s dark, grim and violent millieu with dead bodies piling up and Wu whipping out several cans of Wushu against nomads. From there we meet Aramis Knight in the role of M.K., a seemingly harmless boy with a secret more mysterious than Sunny’s own past.
The rest of the pilot opens ground for interfamilial drama, politics, espionage and conflicts of interest. Orla Brady and Oliver Stark do fantastic as Lydia and Ryder, Quinn’s respective wife and son in a family on the fringes with personal ambition and age factoring in. We are also introduced to actress Madeleine Mantock in the role Veil, Sunny’s lover and an unshakeable twist in the story as things slowly begin to unfold.
Sunny’s been a killer for all of his young life but the day he meets M.K. is the day that everything begins to change. Quinn’s interests are at stake as he controls Opium, one of the main trades among five other local areas with other powerful Barons in the town ready to capitalize at the first sight of weakness, including the one they call, The Widow, played by Emily Beecham, who is also much more than a pretty face in this epic tale of espionage, deceit and self-discovery.
As such, the groundwork is laid for slick, dazzling, bloodletting and bone breaking martial arts sequences properly tuned for a dystopia where guns and all other automatic weaponry are banned. Action director Stephen Fung (House Of Fury, Tai Chi Zero) and fight choreographer and trainer Ku Huan-Chiu (Monk Comes Down The Mountain, Monster Hunt) offer good and plenty here to fill in the blanks with perfect cinematography and smooth editing to accompany the brutality. And none of this is for naught, what with Wu himself being no stranger to martial arts movies with roles in films like Naked Weapon and House Of Fury among others.
Creators and executive producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are two of the best minds in television with shows like Martial Law and Smallville, although I did have minor doubts that an epic kung fu series like this could leave the impact it did. It took some surprising, albeit delightful turns apart from my earlier expectations and yet still executed its formula in a way that not only offers something to TV viewers, but does so in a way that a lot (and I mean a LOT) of big budget Hollywood features have failed at in the past.
Alas, the fact that this show even exists is proof positive that there are TV stalwarts in the industry who are definitely listening to what is being said. It’s an ambitious venture, but clearly one worth taking and especially considering how good it will be for AMC with what they have for its Fight Fest line-up this month.
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