Into the Badlands, by now, is a show that everyone probably knows of, if not about. With the mass popularity of other AMC shows like Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, high viewership was not difficult for the show to obtain. I checked it out on a whim back in 2015, and was instantly floored by the show’s combat. The first fight scene happens fairly early in the first episode, with one of the show’s main character’s, Sunny, dispensing lethality to a group of outlaws along the side of the road.
I continued to watch. The second thing that drew me in was the show’s world building. The titular location of the Badlands is a place that appears as a cross between a southern plantation, and a feudalist monastery. After some sort of unnamed fallout or disaster, the use of guns was abolished and powerful warlords called barons rose and claimed the territory. The barons exist in harmony but rule with iron fists, sending “Clippers” like Sunny to eliminate resistance to their power. Most enticing about this world though is the fact that pretty much everyone seems to grasp at least a basic knowledge of martial arts combat, opening the door for a variety of complex and vibrant combat set pieces that blend slick choreography with Tarantino grade stylized gore. Think of the beautiful poetry of fight scenes in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon combined with the arresting blood spatters of Kill Bill.
Our story picks up when Sunny, our anti-hero discovers the strange abilities of a boy named M.K. who suddenly gains superhuman strength, speed, and poise when his skin is broken. He also bears with him a pendant indicating that there is a place beyond the badlands, where Sunny and his lover Veil — to whom he is essentially married — can escape and raise their soon to be born child.
A lot of what makes the first season of Into the Badlands so compelling is the fact that as a pilot season, its six episode deadline makes it a very self contained story. There is a definite beginning and end to the narrative, and there is very little fluff along the way. I won’t say that the plot was the most powerfully moving story ever, but it was simple enough not to trip over itself and allow the show’s excellent choreography and action cinematography shine through.
The way that this fight scene is shot goes beyond cool looking moves. Look at how the rain drips off the brim of a fedora; how the muddy water splashes up out of a puddle. This is a show that understands how to shoot a scene with an atmospheric tension that makes the ensuing battle that much more fascinating to watch.
If I haven’t made it clear enough, the sword fighting is the star of the show here; Not the acting, or the score (as catch as the theme song is). But the story is just coherent enough to string together some of the best action sequences you will ever witness. As far as martial arts TV is concerned, that’s about all you can ask for.