So in the future, yeah, gunpowder has been outlawed but that’s ok, because Mad Max has learned kung fu in the Thunderdome and Furiosa stole the breeders and…
… no, wait, hold on.
So in the future, yeah, the crew of Firefly, we’ll they’re sorta trapped in like, this cowboy-esque version of the Divergent books where there are these clans who all have different colours and symbols which are like, indicative of who they are and…
Nope, I’ve got it!
So in the future, yeah, EVERYONE KNOWS KUNG FU AND IT’S TOTALLY FECKIN’ AWESOME!
Welcome to Into the Badlands, one of the very few reasons to toy with paying for Amazon Prime perhaps. The premise is… well, much as expressed above. In a future which may or may not be post-apocalyptic, or maybe alternative, it’s all a bit hard to tell, there aren’t any guns and the way things get done is therefore, inevitably, with swords and wire work.
At the stop of the hierarchy of biggest baddest badasses who know kung fu are the Barons. They’re basically mafioso bosses, but with a real sense of colour co-ordination. For lo, there’s Baron Quinn, who controls the opium poppies and has chosen the armadillo as his symbol with a cry of ‘this sounds like a stupid idea but trust me, it’ll look awesome’ and it sorta does. And there’s the River King (much as it sounds), dressed all in white, and some funky dudes wearing tartan who’ve chosen to fight with pickaxes for a dude in a bowler hat, and of course…
Who is the reason I am personally watching this show.
The kick-ass, dual-sword-slashing, butterfly-symbolled-up Widow with her army of semi-teenage girls in blue, bringing chaos and feminism to the Badlands with a) a single arched eyebrow and b) a whole load of knives. So many knives. And yes, it’s perhaps a wee bit dubious that she’s surrounded herself with nymphette female assassins, but hey, they seem to be doing alright, despite everyone hating them for their emancipated uteruses.
And yes, generally I’m finding the women most interesting. For this is a society where women are property and everything is run by caste, and yet you’ve still got kick-assery from the Widow and her minions, and quiet awesome from Veil, the doctor, in the face of some extreme provocation, and the beginning of Macbeth/King Lear from the two distinctly rival wives of Baron Quinn, and between them all there’s definitely interesting stuff going down.
Sure, there are plenty of men, but my partner, as we watched the latest episodes, was not wrong with his sudden wail of ‘why does all drama have to come from boy-stupid?’ Because there is a lot of boy-stupid. Quinn, at the time of writing, is joyfully chewing up the scenery in a semi-insane, brain-damaged manner. His son is a mopey-eyed loon. MJ, the hugely exasperating boy-child with deeply dark magic powers that turn him into a killing machine of glowy-eyed death, is continuing on his well-established spiritual journey of being a wingy infant twat. And even Sonny, the kick-ass killer who can destroy hoards of enemies with a well-placed spinning twisty sorta kick that’s all whee and whoop and that, is being a bit of a jerk to Nick Frost. Which surely is a mistake, as I’m waiting for Simon Pegg to materialise out of no where with a cry of ‘not cool, Sonny! Just not cool,’ and then we’ll really have to re-think the whole nature of the series.
Thankfully, there’s still Waldo in his wheelchair, being a bastion of intelligent cunning, so that’s nice.
Yeah – don’t get hung up on the plot details too much with this one. In this ensemble tale of double-crossing, betrayal, political rivalry and sure, a bit of love, ranging from the sentimental and sensuous to the really quite weird and icky, there’s a lot of stuff to feel a bit ‘meh’ about, and certainly I spent a large part of my time eagerly waiting for either Sonny to destroy his enemies, or the Widow to be archly cool. The rest… sorta take it or leave it.
Which brings us to the destruction of your enemies.
Oh the kung fu.
Oh the kung fu!
Thank you, dear and beloved producers of Into the Badlands for joyously, gleefully and with all the love, embracing wuxia wire-work and bringing it to the Wild West. Because there’s been kung fu on TV before – Daredevil is particularly beloved for its work – but it’s usually Sensible Fighting, in which people are bound by the laws of physics and have to rely a lot on incising people with handy biros or pushing them in front of on-coming trucks.
Not with Into the Badlands. This is proper kung fu as magic. This is the Widow killing people by doing an aerial splits that incises people with her stiletto heels. This is Sonny destroying fifty people with axes through his ability to do backflips over, like, the moon. This is monks who basically now magic and can turn people’s brains off with their glowy pressure point skills. This is acrobatic, kata-heavy, whoopee-I’ve-got-exotic-weaponry kung fu, and it’s great.
Usually I get edgy about fight scenes. Usually I’m like ‘move your feet!’ Not with this. People don’t move their feet. They don’t need to move their feet. This isn’t realistic fighting. This isn’t fighting as is of any service to anyone at all. This is arterial-sprays-of-blood (which I feel have really upped in season 2, by the way) while spinning in mid-air utterly implausible totally beautiful to look at fighting, and it’s why we’re here.
And thank you, thank you, oh Into the Badlands, for not merely embracing the pure silly joy of aerial stunt work, but giving everyone their own style. I cheer – properly cheer – when Quinn picks up a giant sword and the Widow is using more intelligent blades that suit her body properly. I whoop that the nymphette girls are good with knives and throwing butterflies (literally: sharpened metal butterflies what they throw, like Batman, but less… you know… like a bat.) I am even glad that some guys have specialised in using pickaxe as their weapon of choice, daft though it is, because the opportunities to have fun with this diversity are basically endless.
The plot is clanky, the boys are men-children, the dialogue is lumpen, the design is beautiful if a little hard to read sometimes, everyone has really excessive fringes, but who cares? WHO CARES.
Into the Badlands: I salute you.