Into The Badlands, Season 1, Episode 1: “The Fort”
Original airdate November 15, 2015.
The most powerful warrior of the Badlands is Sunny, a Clipper fighter for the strongest Baron in the lands, Quinn. Sunny finds that a shipment of his Baron’s servant Cogs has been attacked, so he investigates and finds out that a band of Nomads had been hired by a competing Baron to capture a mysterious boy named M.K. Easily defeating the nomads, Sunny retrieves M.K., who is unwillingly inducted into the Baron Quinn’s Clipper army. Battle weary, Sunny finds out that his lover is with his child, a crime punishable by death. M.K. reveals to Sunny that he is in search of his mother and also that he is from a land beyond the Badlands, as evidenced by a mysterious pendant with the image of a city on it. Also, M.K. appears to have some kind of special fighting ability that activates when he is wounded and bleeding. Sunny helps M.K. escape from Baron Quinn’s fort.
There’s martial arts action in it. At least that’s good for me and anyone else who is into martial arts. Word of warning, though, it’s rather brutal martial arts action, though, which is kind of old school, but it takes that old school to another level. For example, instead of breaking a back, people are being folded in half. You have to expect that kind of brutality in the sort of post-apocalyptic feudal environment the story is set in. It’s definitely not for kids.
The martial arts is pretty legit and very throw-back to a lot of kung fu movies I grew up watching. There was a moment when Sunny (Wu) did a spinning dragon tail whip kick and I was all like “Aww yeah” because I’d been practicing that kick myself recently.
There was also a fight scene in rain. I love fight scenes in rain. Like in Wong Fei Hong and The Matrix. Heck, I even put one in my own martial arts novel. It’s classic kung fu movie.
Whenever I see good martial arts choreography, I usually watch it again and again and again. So Jacky Chan? Jet Li? Donnie Yen? They’ve each made like what, 60 movies each? I’ve not only watched them all, I’ve watched them multiple times each, primarily because I’m analyzing the choreography to pick up every little detail. There were some serious sword fight scenes, Clipper on Clipper action basically, that I didn’t even realize I had leaned forward in my seat to try to catch the exact choreographed detail of each exchange.
The premise is interesting, and there are a lot of mysteries in the story that makes audiences wonder about characters and worlds hinted to but not yet fully introduced yet. Although Sunny is sort of the main character, there are quite a few other characters that are “main”, such as the boy M.K. I didn’t get lost and was curious about some of the backstories of some of the characters, so there were a lot of seeds planted. At the end of the pilot, I did have a feeling of need to see what’s next, so the plot’s got momentum.
A big positive is that the two starring actors are in fact Americans of Asian descent, adding to a clearly growing roster of Asian American television shows. I would like to see more Asian American characters in the show, but hey, I’ll take two leading roles any day over a bunch of Asian extras.
Wu and his character Sunny is breaking a lot of major negative stereotypes against Asian American men. Whereas Asian American men are often cast as bad guys, Wu is the nice guy protagonist poised to be the hero of the story. Whereas Asian American men are often treated as undesirable and unattractive, Wu is the guy who has the intelligent and gorgeous girlfriend, is the alpha male in his society (under the Baron, of course, but that will probably be changing soon), and is the guy flexing his muscles shirtless every chance he gets or wearing cool samurai/ninja looking outfits when he is clothed. Whereas Asian American men are often cast in “Asian” roles, the character “Sunny” could actually have been anyone of any race. Sunny is not an Asian character. He’s just a guy who kicks ass and is having an identity crisis, who happens to look East Asian. The only accent he has is a totally West Coast American English one. It’s downright revolutionary if you think about it.
Wu is American. He’s not some Asian actor brought over here to win over an international audience nor is he some token Chinese actor being used to break into the Chinese market and get the stamp of approval from the Ministry of Culture or whatever that propaganda place in China is called. Wu has starred in a number of Hong Kong movies and is of Shanghainese descent, but the guy was born in Berkeley and raised a California boy through and through.
Aramis Knight, who plays M.K., was born in Los Angeles and is of German, Eastern Indian, and Pakistani descent. In 2012, Knight played Bean in the film Ender’s Game and has been in various productions acting and voice acting.
The Not So Good
Okay, so like no one’s probably going to care about this, but I guess I can’t help it. Being a martial arts fanatic means I’m sort of a connoiseur of the genre. It sounds ridiculous to me to call myself that, just like calling myself a martial artist sounds stupid because I’m so not good at it. But here goes.
First of all, I think the brutality of the martial arts is a bit much, to the point of being a little comical. I wasn’t the only one in the room chuckling when arms were getting twisted 500 degrees and people were getting folded in half.
Next, although throwbacks to the old school are cool and nostalgic, there was this one part where bad guys circle the protagonist, then the protagonist fights them off with some of them running around like Power Ranger Putties in the background waiting for their turn to be flung around by the hero. This killed the action a bit for me. But I get it, it wows the average viewer.
Finally, the wire work inhuman flying through the air and ballet-like martial arts style made it a little too Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for me, as in too much dance, not enough punch. Being in the Badlands environment, where it’s all about survival of the fittest, there’s got to be something grittier and less ballet about the fighting. The over-brutal violence seemed to be an attempt to make up for the dancy-ness of the martial arts. This could be a personal preference, of course, since I’m more of a Jet Li’s Fist of Legend gal myself, but I felt a more grounded martial arts stylistic approach would be more appropriate.
For those who are wondering what I’m talking about, less ballet martial arts like this:
More packs-a-punch martial arts like this:
I didn’t really *feel* the hits of the fights in Into the Badlands pilot as I would like.
The story and the characters are good but definitely not blow-my-mind ground breaking–at least not yet. I really can’t tell until I see how the whole things plays out and how the characters develop. So far, plot and characters are a bit on the predictable side.
Overall, I think this show has got good footing for a start, and I whole-heartedly support it because I want to see more martial arts on TV and more Asian American main characters too. Although I’m being nit-picky about the martial arts and story, I think there’s time for that to grow and develop, and I would be very disappointed if it wasn’t given the opportunity to do so.