Black Belt's entertainment blogger takes a look at the new AMC series Into the Badlands, starring Daniel Wu. It's Wu's real-life martial arts skills that make this post-apocalyptic series a cut above the rest.

No American-made TV show — whether it's produced by Netflix, the networks, cable or the premium channels — has come close to capturing the essence of Hong Kong cinema's frenetic-paced, over-the-top, highly stylized martial arts action. Until now. I am, of course, raving about the outrageous and audacious martial arts action served up by the hit AMC series Into the Badlands. More than 8.2 million people tuned in for its premiere in November 2015, making it the top-rated new fall series on either cable or broadcast television. It was also the third-largest audience for the launch of a cable series. I interviewed Badlands star Daniel Wu a wee while ago for the cover story of the February/March 2016 issue of Black Belt. He discussed in depth his martial arts pedigree and philosophy, as well as how he got into filmmaking and why he wanted to do the series. Don’t worry! This blog won’t give you deja vu if you’ve already read that article. All I’ll say is that Wu, a Chinese-American, is a legitimate martial artist who’s famous in Asia for his non-martial arts roles. His latest film, a doctor-and-patient-who’s-going-to-die tear-jerker called Go Away Mr. Tumor, is China's 2015 Academy Award contender for Best Foreign Language Film. Inasmuch as there's been some decent martial arts action in series like Netflix’s Marco Polo and Daredevil, several fair stabs with ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a few good seasons of the CW's Arrow, none has gone beyond the call of duty the way Badlands has.


Photo by James Dimmock/AMC

Badlands is being labeled a martial arts drama, akin to Chinese television’s lien xu zhu, or “kung fu soap operas.” It just so happens that this is the genre in which I honed my choreography skills while attending National Taiwan University circa 1979-81 as a graduate student. (Yes, I fake-fought my way through college.) Because I’ve seen so much in this wonderful genre, I knew the martial arts world would love Badlands as soon as I watched the opening episode's first fight. In it, Sunny (Daniel Wu) takes on a band of Mad Max-ian, apocalyptic ruffians using a combative tai chi skill that’s never been seen on American television. The technique was first featured in Hong Kong cinema by Donnie Yen in his debut film Drunken Tai Chi (1984). Yuen Woo-ping choreographed the scene, in which Donnie Yen kills a crazed villain named Iron-Steel, played by Yuen's brother Sunny Yuen. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the fight choreographer for Badlands is one of Yuen Woo-ping's disciples, a man named Dee Dee Ku. He choreographed Donnie Yen's fights in Iron Monkey (1993) and Jet Li's action in Tai-Chi Master (1993), both of which were directed by Yuen Woo-ping. It's an interesting yet convoluted tie-in.

Photo by James Dimmock/AMC

Filmed in Louisiana, Badlands takes place 500 years into America’s future, during a time when a feudal society known as the Badlands is run by seven barons. Each baron controls a vital resource and owns a private army of enforcers called “clippers.” Sunny is the head clipper for the most powerful baron. No wonder all Daniel Wu's fights end up being close shaves! I’m not joking. I’m referring to the rain-drenched sword showdowns, slice-and-dice mayhem, blood-squirting gore and broken-bone bashing that viewers get in every episode. "We had six days to do each fight, compared to two weeks in typical Hong Kong films,” Wu told me. “When we got into it, we were like, Now we know why no one else is doing this — because it’s so hard!”

Image Courtesy of AMC

Unlike his Hollywood counterparts, Badlands executive producer/action-unit director Stephen Fung, who directed Tai Chi Zero (2012), doesn't have to use the “earthquake cam” effect or extreme close-ups to hide the fighting ineptitude of the star. That’s because Wu is a skilled martial artist! Instead, Fung uses wide angles so you can see that, in this case, it’s actually Daniel Wu who’s fighting 10 opponents in one scene. Furthermore, Fung ensures the stunts are filmed so you can tell that Wu (and a few other talented Badlands actors) really have been knocked backward by a strike and really have crashed into a wall.

Photo by James Minchin III/AMC

It's rare to see a fresh Asian-American face burst onto the American small screen. It’s ever more rare to see someone do it by busting the Asian-American stereotypes that the major networks seem to be perpetuating. Daniel Wu is doing both. Yet there's an ironic conundrum attached to his portrayal of Sunny. "He's Asian but not an Asian character,” Daniel Wu said. “There's nothing Asian about him — Sunny could have been black or white. So on the cultural side, it wasn't the point for him to be from Asia or have a Chinese accent. He's born and raised in America, like me, so you won't see any Asian-ness. But then it's tricky because one might argue that an Asian doing martial arts is a stereotype." The way Daniel Wu manages the challenges associated with Into the Badlands seems to be resonating with audiences. It’s been announced that the series likely will be picked up for a second season. If you’re wondering where Wu might take Sunny’s character in Season 2, read the story in the February/March 2016 Black Belt. Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors. Subscribe to Black Belt here.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

The UFC returned to American network television for the first time in more than two years Saturday on ABC while former featherweight champion Max Holloway returned to his winning ways following two straight losses, earning a unanimous decision over Calvin Kattar in Abu Dhabi. Holloway showed he still has plenty left as a fighter dominating Kattar from the opening bell of the main event with a mix of punches and low kicks.

It appeared as if the former champion might stop his opponent in the fourth round landing a series of vicious body blows followed by hard elbows to the head as a bloodied Kattar sagged against the fence. But Kattar somehow survived managing to keep himself upright through the fifth stanza as well, only to lose a lopsided decision. After dropping his title to Alexander Volkanovski and then losing a controversial rematch, Holloway may have put himself in position for one more crack at the championship following Saturday's impressive performance.

The Legendary Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame has never before been documented in a single location. Now, you can learn about all the icons that have achieved one of the greatest honors in all of martial arts.

Black Belt Magazine is proud to announce the NEW Member Profiles feature for the Hall of Fame. At the time of this article, the online records account for every inductee from the inaugural year of 1968 all the way through 1990 (upwards of 200 martial artists). The page will be updated continuously and will include every inductee through 2020 in the near future. For now, you can enjoy images and facts about the legendary members for each induction they received before 1991. Take advantage of this never-before-seen opportunity to learn about many of the martial artists who contributed to the lifestyle, culture, and community that every martial artist experiences today.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE BLACK BELT HALL OF FAME

Black Belt Magazine Subscriptions

When it comes to grappling arts most people have heard of Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo, and Sumo. The dynamic art of Shuaijiao, though it is not as well known as the others, should be.

What is Shuaijiao?

Shuaijiao (also spelled Shuai-Chiao) is a Chinese martial art that is approximately four thousand years old. Shuaijiao was born in a time of warfare long ago when to fall on the battlefield meant likely to never get up, and in that spirit, the curriculum of Shuaijiao focuses on throwing in a variety of ways. It is a standup grappling style, meaning that although there are hip throws, leg sweeps, and hand techniques, like many other arts, there is no ground grappling. The goal of Shuaijiao is to end up in a dominant position standing.

Keep Reading Show less

ONE Championship's first event of 2021 is on the horizon as the company returns to the Singapore Indoor Stadium for ONE: Unbreakable on January 22.

In the main event, bantamweight kickboxer Capitan Petchyindee Academy challenges ONE Bantamweight Kickboxing World Champion Alaverdi "Babyface Killer" Ramazanov for his crown.

The Thai challenger has a chip on his shoulder for this contest. Capitan mentioned that he wants to prove all of his doubters wrong with a title-winning performance on Friday in a video detailing the matchup.

Keep Reading Show less
Sign up for our weekly newsletter!
Stay up to date in the martial arts community with news from around the world, techniques of all styles and all around guiding you in your martial arts journey
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter