AMC’s new offering, Into the Badlands has “clippers” as the new samurai and is martial arts heavy with flashing swords, Katana blades and, in at least one scene, a fight in stiletto heels. This action drama features beautifully choreographed fight sequences, exemplary wire work and plot that moves at a snail’ s pace.
Starring Daniel Wu, Emily Beecham,Marton Csokas,Orla Brady and with Avatar’s Stephen Lang as the requisite “Hollywood” star on the cast list, Into the Badlands is a hybrid series. Shakespearean with a touch of Curse of the Golden Flower, mixed with Crouching Dragon Hidden Tiger and a tinge of the Spaghetti Western mythos.
The series also appears to be Influenced by role-playing video games but with a post-apocalyptic vibe sans zombies, nuclear wastelands and dragons. There is, however a touch of the supernatural, or even paranormal as the young M.K. (Armies Knight) eyes fill with a unnatural light when his blood is spilt and he turns into a super martial arts warrior.
Despite the very obvious Akira Kurosawa influence (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai) and the John Woo nuances, the series feels cumbersome, except for the fight scenes that are, in a word; spectacular.
Like some of the best martial arts films to come out of Hong Kong in the past decade, the fight scenes are intricate set pieces that include brilliant, and seamless, wirework and breathtaking choreography. At one point, a character called “The Widow” (played with impressive panache by Brit actress Emily Beecham) takes on a bar full of badmen wearing almost thigh high laced boots with a stiletto heel so long and sharp is could be counted as a lethal weapon on its own.
The cast is full of non-American actors. Most notably, scenery chewing Kiwi actor Marton Csokas and Mancunian actress Emily Beecham (who features in the highly enjoyable, if improbable, martial arts fight scene where her character kills a number of foes whilst wearing those stiletto heels mentioned in the previous paragraph.)
Filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, Into the Badlands has enough English actors filling “American” roles that it is surprising that the SAG -AFTRA are not up in arms. This new action themed series also has another actor from “down under” filling a major/starring role. Although Csokas is from New Zealand and not Australia, like Blindspot‘s Sullivan Stapleton, this is, apparently the face of US television in the new millennium.
Show creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have given viewers a world full of modern day (Futuristic?) feudal barons who are all shoving one another in a power struggle to control the whole area. There are, according to the verse, five barons in total, although the audience have yet to meet more than two; Quinn and the Widow.
Quinn is the son of a former worker whose father was beaten to death without ever lifting a finger in his own defense. When he got older, the lad volunteered to become a “Clipper” (this world’s version of a samurai) and kills his first man, by breaking his neck in five seconds flat. The laborer’s son goes on to become baron and his faction grow poppies and produce drugs.
The Widow’s “oil” allows Quinn to process the poppies and at the start of this series, these two are engaged in a power play that eventually becomes a war. Quinn has headaches and this violent man kills the family medical retainer who diagnoses his “death sentence.” We are spared the sight of the Baron killing his loyal doctor and wife, after the doc discovers that Quinn has a malignant brain tumor, but this becomes a defining moment in the life of his head clipper Sunny (Wu).
The Widow is searching for M.K. (Knight) who becomes a killing machine when bloodied. The lad is saved from Nomads, hired by The Widow to find the boy, by Sunny who takes him to Quinn’s fort. The boy escapes, with help from his savior, and stumbles onto the woman’s lands who wanted him kidnapped in the first place.
There is much subterfuge and double-dealings going in, similar to the Shakespearean in scope, Curse of the Golden Flower, Quinn is turned into cuckold by his own son, like Emperor Ping in CotGF, and The Widow’s daughter Tilda (Ally Ioannides) helps the boy by tricking her mother.
In terms of plot versus action, Into the Badlands may prove to be too slow for its target audience. Infrequent fight scenes, despite being incredibly well done, may not be enough to sell the plodding storyline. The world that Millar and Gough have created is one without guns, only a few cars (and these appear to be outdated “classics”), at least one motorcycle, a few horses and a lot of people on foot. This means a verse that will, by necessity, move slowly.
This slow approach may alienate the very audience the show wants to ensnare. Into the Badlands is gorgeous and lovely to look at but this may not be enough to bring viewers rushing back to see the next installment. It airs Sundays on AMC and may turn out to be as addictive as the product of Quinn’s poppies. With a nod to the Bard, Kurosawa and Sergio Leone, this may prove to be the best of the network’s lineup or a complete turn off.