I’ve never been a fan of spectacle martial arts movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Sure the action sequences are cool looking, but the hyper-choreographed style tends to take me out of the narrative. I wasn’t impressed when Into the Badlands kicked off its series premiere with a standard spectacle martial arts fight scene in the first five minutes, but what followed quickly made me a regularly watching fan of the series.
Into the Badlands is set in a feudal future that combines feudal Japanese and American Civil War era southern societies to create a dystopian future where Spartan-esque warriors fight with feudal loyalty for plantation-like land owners called Barons. Overall the episode did a great job introducing us to such a unique setting, quickly establishing the Badlands as a dangerous barren lawless wasteland before showing us the lush plantation life of Baron-owned property with carefully watched over miserable laborers and all.
Everything was established through a combination of narration and visuals. The audience is plucked from obscurity and dropped into this odd dystopian future with characters who’ve lived in this world their entire lives. There aren’t any “John T. Morrison, you better get out here this instant” moments. Plot devices and character development is introduced naturally without flourish, and the episode continued to reel in my interest with each scene.
About the Fighting
The main pull of the show is undoubtedly the martial arts fight sequences. You don’t hire a well-known martial arts actor like Daniel Wu if you aren’t going to use his talents. While the first fight scene didn’t impress me, the rest of the action in the episode was pulled off wonderfully. It was still the same style but brought just a hair more down to Earth.
Even though the main character is established as the badass to end all badasses, he still gets hit. He’s not invincible, he doesn’t have ESP or eyes in the back of his skull, his skin isn’t like steel and he doesn’t narrowly escape every blow by a hairsbreadth.
The fighting in later sequences was impressively choreographed. It’s still very spectacle but there’s a ferocity to it that balances the dance-like nature of the combat. Like most of AMC’s series nowadays, Into the Badlands doesn’t shy away from blood and gore. It also doesn’t take either over-the-top though, limiting the suspension of disbelief solely to the combat itself.
The action style is clearly a creative choice and ultimately works well with the setting. You’ll either like it or you won’t, but don’t start watching Into the Badlands expecting an ultra-realistic environment.
It’s Too Short
My biggest issue with the episode was that it moved too quickly. The episode flew by with new information coming almost every minute. Blink and you could miss something important, but it’s not necessarily the show’s fault. AMC is only giving the series a six episode trail run, which doesn’t give Into the Badlands much time to work with.
I ultimately liked Into the Badlands even though I thought it wouldn’t be for me. The best advice I can give to people interested in trying the show out is to at least watch through to the 30th minute. By then you’ll probably have a good idea as to whether or not you want to watch the next five episodes.
Personally, I already hope the series gets renewed soon.