Hong Kong-style Kung Fu action made a welcome and thoroughly entertaining return to the small screen with AMC’s 2015 series “Into the Badlands”. Set in the post-apocalyptic future where territories are divided up among powerful warlords known as “Barons”, the series follows the hardened anti-hero Sunny, played by Daniel Wu, the Badlands most feared “Clipper”, who tries to escape his life of violence to find his lost love and finds himself watching over a teenager with supernatural abilities named M.K., played by Aramis Knight. Season one’s cliffhanger ending ensured that a second season would soon follow, and at last the wait has come to an end. We had the privilege to see the first three episodes of the second season – read on if you want to step Into The Badlands!
As the season picks up, Sunny finds himself an imprisoned miner outside of the badlands, and in his efforts to escape, he forms a shaky alliance with the fast-talking schemer Bajie, played by comedian Nick Frost. Meanwhile, M.K. has been taken to a monastery in the mountains, where the monks and their master attempt to help him hone his martial arts skills and control his supernatural gifts, but M.K. remains unsure if their intentions are truly pure. Unbeknownst to them, the icy Baron known as The Widow continues to consolidate her power as she prepares to wage war on her rival Barons.
Daniel Wu continues to shine as the hardened and cynical Sunny, a once amoral killer who gradually regained crumbs of his humanity in season one and whose cold exterior continues to thaw in season two. Aramis Knight is equally strong as the confused but formidable budding warrior M.K., while Emily Beecham’s portrayal of The Widow is arguably the best villain on television at the moment, a conniving femme fatale who can effortlessly ensnare her enemies like a Venus fly trap. Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” fame proves to be the most welcome addition to the second season, injecting plenty of much appreciated humor into the show’s overall dark, sombre tone. While it’s not exactly a “Rush Hour”-style buddy pairing, he and Daniel Wu are a perfect pairing of straight man and comedy sidekick. Between that and Bajie’s own namesake, the show’s “Journey to the West” influences expose themselves further in the duo they form, Bajie clearly intended to be Pigsy to Sunny’s Monkey King.
When it comes to the action of the series, we can go ahead and call it right now – “Into the Badlands” has the best, most fine-tuned martial arts action you’re going to find on television today!
Action director Huan-Chiu Ku, whose credits include “Black Mask”, “Once Upon A Time in China II“, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, “Tai Chi Master”, part one and two of “Kill Bill”, and “Fist of Legend“, puts together fight sequences far more intricate and elaborate than the parameters of television production usually afford and includes some of the best, most pragmatic, use of wire-fu you’ll ever see. The season kicks off with Sunny’s first bid to escape his captors, his head and hands restrained in a stock, forcing him to improvise new methods of attack.
In fact, a common trend in the season seems to be handicapping Sunny in some way during a fight to force him to think outside the box. One such magnificent duel sees Sunny chained by one hand to Bajie and forced to do battle with an enemy three times his size, which takes his left hand out of the equation while allowing him to use his chained comrade as a weapon of combat. Out of all the Easter Eggs to martial arts cinema to be found in the show, and there are quite a few, this is actually one of the most clever, a clear homage to 1997’s cult classic “Drive“, specifically the sequence seeing Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison chained together at the wrist leading to some creative action and a little comedy as they evade their pursuers. As viewers venture “Into the Badlands” with Sunny and Bajie, they’ll definitely want to keep their eyes peeled for little winks and nods like those.
Going by the first three episodes, “Into the Badlands” is off to a fantastic start in season two, and signs already point to it surpassing the standards set by season one. It’s certainly not for the squeamish (when quantifying how many gallons of blood are spilt, it’s actually not as far off from “The Raid” films as you might think), but for lovers of post-apocalyptic adventures and good ole’ fashion butt-kicking, “Into the Badlands” is the place to be right now on the tube!