Southern Eastern Western
“Into the Badlands” on AMC
Since 2015 has given us the cinematic masterpiece Mad Max: Thunder Road and the addictive video game Fallout 4, we could say it’s been a good year for the postapocalypse. American Movie Classics—already doing what it can for the collapse of modern society with “The Walking Dead”—jumps on that bandwagon in a big way with the cross-genre mash-up “Into the Badlands.” Produced and created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Shanghai Noon, Spider-Man 2, Lethal Weapon 4, “Smallville”) the action/
“Into the Badlands” takes place in an unspecified future America, following some wars “so long ago nobody even remembers.” After this considerable technological setback, the country has worked itself up to a feudal system similar in structure and style to the Antebellum South. Guns are verboten, but kung fu is all the rage. The country is now ruled by a group of seven “Barons,” who control their respective territories with an iron fist. Our main guide through this world is Sunny (Hong Kong actor Daniel Wu from Gen-X Cops, One Nite in Mongkok and New Police Story). Sunny is a private soldier called a “clipper” (this show likes its made-up future words) working for the scary, charismatic Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas from “Xena: Warrior Princess” and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings). From his lavish plantation, Quinn controls the country’s opium trade and trains up a stable of gladiator-like fighters (so you can throw in a touch of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” as well). Naturally, he’s saddled with a scheming son (Oliver Stark) and a Lady Macbeth-esque wife (Orla Brady).
Sent on a mission by Quinn to recover some stolen funds, Sunny discovers a seemingly average boy named M.K. (Aramis Knight, Ender’s Game) hunted by several rival barons, including the deadly and seductive Widow (Emily Beecham). Not only does the kid have mysterious martial arts superpowers, but he appears to have ties to Sunny’s unknown childhood. This causes the sword-swinging warrior to plot against the increasingly erratic Quinn in order to learn more about own hidden past.
“Into the Badlands” is most notable for its unabashed use of Chinese-style martial arts. Wu is an impressive physical presence, spinning through the air and dispatching dozens of foes at a time with flashing swords and lighting-quick limbs. The fight choreography, much of it courtesy of executive producer Stephen Fung (House of Fury, Tai Chi 0), is the purest Hong Kong-style wuxia American TV has ever witnessed. It’s a far cry for the occasional fisticuffs of shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger” and makes for some arresting imagery.
Gough and Millar have created an interesting (if not particularly realistic) crazy quilt of a world in which to play. A sci-fi, martial arts Western? Sure, why not? The long-term addictive nature of “Into the Badlands” rests on whether they can craft a credible tale of postapocalyptic sociopolitical intrigue amid the stylish action sequences or if the plot will vanish under the weight of its frequent fanboy genre homages.