Post-Apocalyptic Badass Kung-Fu; or how to make an Oriental-like TV series for Western people like Into the Badlands

Into the Badlands, this series AMC has kinda made out of the blue and that although it seems incredibly popular in Spain, the USA and elsewhere, it seems the folks in the UK are just not aware of it. Why though? Who doesn’t want Daniel Wu doing some crazy Kung-Fu? Perhaps you just haven’t realise the show is actually out there. To be honest, I wouldn’t blame you. Unless you are very much into your martial arts and wuxia kinda thing, the announcement of the series was fairly underwhelming when the first season came out. AMC did a very short run of 6 episode for the first season back in 2015, and it has taken them 2 years to get season 2 out. A lot of people thought the show wa snot gonna get a second chance, and I suspect that may be the reason why the season why so short. Yet, I insist, why wouldn’t you give this series a go? It is refreshing, the acting is good, and it is just not more of the same. Perhaps we should talk about this so you can get what I mean.

Martial arts are not a popular theme for TV – at least not in the west, or in non-animated form. Why? Well, it may have something to do with its oriental traditions and the fact that every time a white guy tries to do something of the sort people call it white-washing – I refer myself to Iron Fist. (Now for those of you who do not get the fact that Iron Fist is NOT white washing, but part of the colonialist themed comics…I am not gonna bother, but I suggest you speak with my friend Nick from AUS about it, and he will give you a lecture on it. Please refrain yourselves from just slacking term like white washing on to things you do not fully understand…). Of course,e I do appreciate there is an audience issue there as well: that is the reason why China produces hundreds of martial arts films a year that we will never see on our screens. Okay, fine. Yet, you would sit through the Last Air Bender, Naruto, and a long list of shōnen animes which include this at the core of their narrative…This may be the time to expand your horizons. Now, what they have done here, is not just throw in some Kung-Fu cause it’s fun – well, that too –  but because it is fitting.

Into the Badlands takes place in a post apocalyptic world where a new order has been established through barons that control domains. If you are not part of this system, where you will likely start off as a glorified slave (or “cog”, as in part of the machinery), you will eventually find your way around because this is the only way to survive. It is either that or making it to the other side of the wall and hope the wastelands do not kill/rape/robe you…potentially in that order…Each baron ahs at their disposition these “clippers”: assassins. These are supposed to be the badassess of the badassess, the toughest of the toughest. And as you may, they know how to work in some moves. Not everyone knows Kung-Fu, btw, just the real cool people, like Sunny or The Widow. You never know under what circumstances you may need to protect yourself in these situation. Makes sense to know everything you can to save your own skin. I think it is rather refreshing seeing some actual fighting skill on the screen, and put down the heavy guns and what have you down for a moment.

Into the Badlands is also a very inclusive programme. We have a great variety of ethnicities, accents and personalities. This is ACTUAL representation, and not just of skin colour or religion, but also sexuality and gender, which as the series advances becomes a more poignant theme. And again, it does not seem forced or out-of-place, it makes sense for these diversity of people. It doesn’t feel like the producers decided that the show needed this degree of diversity to make it politically correct, but rather because this is just about mankind and the end of the world as we know it, where everyone has a role to play in, regardless as to whether you are white, black, homosexual, religious or otherwise. I feel like the variety of characters should make it easy for the audience to bond, identify and engage with the story and these people.

You are a hardcore feminist? This is the show for you! What do you want: women fighting like bosses, trying to free the slaves, ruling their own baronies, taking justice in their own hands, saving people’s lives…I can keep going! You’re the religious type? Okay, well I am not going to lie to you, you wont find Jesus and the church in this, but there is a clear sense of religiosity and morality that is present. We have buddhist like organisations, purists, people who believe in nothing, struggle between people because of their believes. C’mon, even one of the most interesting characters is a disabled man in a wheelchair, and there is a legit and interesting reason for it. If you can’t find something you like, do not blame it on the martial arts, cause there is plenty to go around. There is intrigue, there is romance, there is fight for freedom, the will to improve society, those who seek to destroy it…I mean, in many ways some of the basic drives are as quotidian as a soap-opera – but well narrated, and acted throughout. I must say, as much as I love Sunny and MK going full on people, Emily Beecham is amazing, but perhaps the best is Marton Csokas – who was going to tell you kids, that you’d see Celeborn himself dealing in opium, being a right-on tyrant, yet having the most amazing character developments? Yeah, I thought so. But even if you are not sold yet, hold on to the cart, cause guess what? Nick Frost, yes “our” Nick Frost, has joined as part of the main cast for season 2. And this is such a surprise, because although to begin with it seems he is just there to play himself…Well! I will not do spoilers, but it was a rather interesting addition to the series.

So, what i am trying to say is: I do not fully understand why it seems to be such an unknown show when the time and effort has been put to make sure the production values, acting and story line are certainly worth while. This is a new combination of genres that is very fitting to our bizarre modern-day world and that hints at some of the issues mankind could face if the right circumstances were given. Once again, this is a series about people…Just enhanced by kick as crazy Kung Fu. And from the sounds of it, it seems likely that this will not become a never-ending saga with thousands and thousands of seasons yet to come. So if you are reluctant because you do not want to engage in such a long commitment, don’t worry: the 2 seasons this far are all of 16 episodes.

Is it possible it will die out? Maybe. It certainly has been on the tight rope for a while, but I think the possibilities it is opening for the viewers and the renewed season with more episodes gives us some hope. So catch it before the trends change their mind.

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