Thanks to the success of “Walking Dead,” AMC has now become a destination spot for genre shows willing to push the boundaries of television. One such new series, the six-episode long “Into the Badlands,” made its Comic-Con International debut this summer, with a panel featuring the cast and creators of the new AMC series, which debuts in November.
Joining series creators Al Gough and Miles Millar were executive producer and star Daniel Wu along with cast members Orla Brady, Marton Csokas, Emily Beecham, and Aramis Knight. The panel was rounded out with director David Dobkin and fight director Stephen Fung, who is also an executive producer.
After introductions, the panel kicked off with the premiere of the series’ trailer. The footage screened of the post-apocalyptic martial arts drama blended a number of genres together, ranging from Western to fantasy, and was well-received by the audience. Cheers broke out during several of the trailer’s martial arts sequences.
Moderator Ruth Cornet asked Gough about the genesis of the show and its influences. “Miles and I had wanted to do a martial arts series for a while,” said Gough. “We know martial arts is a huge thing and it’s something that you hadn’t seen on television.” He described how executive producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg had also been looking to start a martial arts series and were connected with Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung.
“We basically all got together and that’s how this whole thing got started,” continued Gough. “Miles and I used a lot of different influences for this. ‘Journey to the West’ was one of the influences. There’s also ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ and ‘Shogun Assassin,'”
Cornet asked about the show’s setting, to which Gough explained that it was set sometime in the future after the fall of our current civilization. The producers wanted to create a scenario where there were no guns in order to highlight the martial arts action.
“It’s basically run by seven barons and each baron has what’s called a ‘Clipper Force,'” explained Gough. “Clippers are these martial arts soldiers who keep the peace and are enforcers for the baron.
“Sunny, played by Daniel Wu, is the best Clipper in the Badlands,” continued Gough. “He’s killed the most people, and he works for a baron named Quinn, played by Marton [Csokas]. And then there’s a newcomer, a baron who’s starting to rise, and that’s the Widow, played by Emily [Beecham]. She’s very interested in finding this boy, who has a secret, and Sunny meets this boy and saves him from the Widow. That boy is named MK, and that’s played by Aramis Knight. Orla Brady here plays Quinn’s wife, and she’s connected to the secret as well.”
Cornet asked Miles about the significance of the trailer’s tagline: “There is no God in the Badland.”
“The show is very much a Western,” said co-creator Millar. “By way of Kurosawa, but the show is, at its core, about spiritual enlightenment. It’s about people who live in this brutal world in which there is no God that feel empty and are searching for something.”
“That trailer is beautiful,” said Cornet, who turned the questioning over to director David Dobkin. “David, could you talk a bit about setting up the aesthetic for the series and tell me what a few of your influences were?”
Dobkin stated that he was a fan of Wong Kar-Wai, Ang Lee, and Jackie Chan from Hong Kong and Kurasawa from Japan. “I love the martial arts,” he said. “These guys envision martial arts in the way that I believe good, epic cinema does, which is, ‘What is the location, What is the visual poetry of the violence?’ And that’s what martial arts is about.”
Cornet asked Stephen Fung about the challenges of choreographing the fight scenes. “Did you gear it towards what the cast was able to do?” she asked.
“Not really,” laughed Fung. “I think the only actor here who has previous martial arts experience is Daniel.” He spoke to the importance of communicating with the showrunners about the environment. “In Hong Kong cinema, we do a lot of fighting where we do a lot of improvising. We fight with what’s there.”
“We did also have a fight camp,” pointed out Daniel Wu, “for the actors that [had] no martial arts experience at all, to bring them up to par.”
“I must say also that we had Master Dee Dee,” said Fung. “He’s our martial arts choreographer and he really helped us. There is no good action without good drama.”
Cornet then showed a short behind the scenes documentary about the fight camp that the actors attended in New Orleans. It showed how they assembled a strong martial arts training team from Hong Kong, starting with Master Dee Dee. “He’s like a dictionary of Kung Fu,” stated Fung.
Wu was asked what it was like to return to martial arts filmmaking after taking a break to pursue dramatic and comedic roles. “I’d stopped doing martial arts movies, but I wanted to do one last hurrah before I got too old,” he said. “Although I hadn’t been doing martial art films, I’d still been training on my own to stay in shape.”
Cornet laughed, noting that “this is one last hurrah that could last several years, potentially.” She asked Aramis Knight about his experience with the martial arts boot camp.
“I think having Master Dee Dee as my Mr. Miyagi helped a lot,” said Knight. “I had very little training in martial arts before this. After seven weeks, I’d gotten a lot stronger and faster and flexible. Now it’s just sort of maintaining it and keeping it because we use it so much in the course of making the show.”
Emily Beecham then spoke about her character, the Widow. “She was a really exciting character,” said Beecham. “It was so much fun to play that empowered character and walk in and be so controlling, just to own everything. She has very strong motives.”
Orla Brady pointed out that in the Widow’s introduction, she instructs a subordinate by saying “it’s not about strength. It’s about skill.”
“That’s what’s great about martial arts,” said Gough. “It’s equal opportunity. This show has very strong male characters and very strong female characters and martial arts is kind of a great equalizer.”
When Brady was asked if her character was a physical fighter or a mental fighter she answered, “I wouldn’t call her a manipulator. I’d say you’re meeting her on an off day. [Marton’s character Quinn] is currently looking her over in favor of a 23-year-old. A lady could be forgiven for getting a little cross.”
Cornet then asked if the cast had been fans of the genre prior to working on “Into the Badlands.” Gough raised an eyebrow and joked, “Daniel, were you a fan of the genre?”
“Actually, it was this genre that got me to learn martial arts as a kid,” replied Wu. He recounted seeing “Shaolin Temple” with Jet Li and how it sparked his desire to train, which he began doing at 11. Gough and Millar talked about how they had been out in front of the superhero television show with “Smallville,” and how they hoped that “Into the Badlands” would spark interest in martial arts television shows.
“Into the Badlands” premieres in November on AMC.
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