Good news for mixed-martial-arts addicts, old-time Kung Fu buffs, and fans of plain, old-fashioned knuckle busting: AMC, a network with a rich history of making smart, niche-genre shows (see: zombies and westerns), is at it again.
Into the Badlands, which airs Sunday nights, stars Chinese action-movie veteran (and, in this case, exec producer) Daniel Wu as Sunny, a heavily tattooed warrior—no joke: his 404 tats mark 404 kills—who sets out on a journey with his young protégé MK (Aramis Knight) to escape a reign of terror brought on by seven Badlands barons.
This sets the stage for a visual martial-arts feast (Jackie Chan–style kung fu, Israeli Krav Maga, samurai sword fighting) that’s presented not with the typical digital effects, shaky-cam footage, and vertiginous, fast-moving editing, but with long scenes and wide shots that’ll make your eyes bulge. “This is all about seeing how good the kicks and punches really are,” says Wu. Note to Grasshopper: You’ll want to free up your Sundays.
The Art of Fake Fighting
With close-ups like those in Into the Badlands, you can’t leave all the dangerous stuff to stunt doubles. Oliver Stark and the rest of the crew spent six weeks at hand-to-hand-combat boot camp training under Master Dee Dee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
MF: Was training solely focused on fighting?
OS: Yes, but sometimes we’d learn a fight scene that’s not even in the show—they are trying to train our minds, so if something needs to be changed on set, we can adapt quickly. Everyone has to be able to hold their own.
What did you do to prepare?
I started doing yoga about 3 1/2 months before. And I tried bulking up—as an ectomorph, I struggle with putting on weight. So I did a lot of compound exercises and big lifts and began eating between 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day.
So you’d do pretty well in a fight now, or just a fake fight?
At first, I’d walk down the street and think, “I know martial arts, I can do anything!” But I had to calm down, because the truth is, I’m really good at almost—but not quite—hitting people.