It’s pretty much a given that every Asian has a favorite martial arts/kung fu movie, or at least enjoys watching some good ol’ fighting action. However, very rarely do we see martial arts make its way into America’s television shows. That’s about to change as the new six-part genre-bending series “Into the Badlands” is set to premiere on AMC Network. The creators are Al Gough and Miles Millar. Their goal? To craft a show that includes a compelling character drama, and to introduce the highest caliber of martial arts filmmaking to a weekly, ongoing series with some of the best martial artists and martial arts filmmakers in the world.
Generasian was so fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a round table interview with the executive producers and lead actors Daniel Wu, Aramis Knight, and Stephen Fung to get an insight on the show and production process.
Loosely based on the classic Chinese tale “Journey to the West”, “Into the Badlands” stars Asian-American actor Daniel Wu (Tai Chi Zero), as Sunny, a ruthless, well-trained warrior, and Aramis Knight (The Dark Knight Rises), as M.K, a young boy with a secret, who embark a spiritual journey across a dangerous land together. It is set centuries from now, where a feudal society has emerged and only the strongest and most brutal control wealth and power. This area, the Badlands, is divided among seven rival Barons who control daily life resources and enforce their rule with the aid of loyal armies known as Clippers.
Coming from Hong Kong, I admit having a slight fan girl moment when I saw Wu. To draw a comparison, he would be the Michael Fassbender of Hong Kong. As one of the few Asian Americans to have a leading TV show role, questions were directed straight away to Wu, wanting to hear his thoughts on this significant moment, and on the show being a game changer for the portrayal of martial arts on American screens. He brought up how this show is righting the wrong that occurred 40 years ago, when legendary Bruce Lee was replaced on the show “Kung Fu” by a Caucasian actor in yellow face because the studio thought no one would watch an Asian on TV. Even though they did not have the intention of changing the portrayal and stereotype of Asian masculinity, it seems even simple “sexually provoking” scenes will counter traditionally emasculating views of Asian Males on television.
With Wu and Fung’s influential Hong Kong film background, one would think there would be many points of conflict when creating a show with American filmmakers for an American audience. However, Wu explained that visual language is universal, and physical action and fighting can be understood by any country and culture. As the martial arts director, Fung expressed how his goal was to simply have the fights “look cool” on screen. Though Fung did point out that he was used to focusing on one camera when filming, so he made sure to be very hands on during the editing process due to the use of additional cameras in the West. You may notice Fung’s HK film style evident with 20-30 fighting moves done per take, which means approximately 30 seconds of a continuous shot to showcase the actor’s skill, compared to the constant cuts that are seen in American action films. Fung said it wasn’t a priority to represent only kung fu, instead they wanted to showcase different kinds of martial arts (like Krav Maga, Jiu Jitsu and sword fighting) and simply present whatever would be effective for the specific fight.
Needless to say, Wu and Fung were persistent in expressing that cultural differences should not be the focus or emphasis. They simply wished for the audience to see a different side to martial arts, in which the spiritual aspect is highlighted instead of the typical violent nature of it. For Wu, martial arts is a medium of attaining enlightenment, not as a means of winning or proving one’s power… “because after you win, what do you have beyond that?”
Be sure to check out the premier of “Into the Badlands” on Sunday, November 15th at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on AMC. I got to take a peek at the first two episodes, and let me tell you, it is amazing. Get your popcorn ready!
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