Into the Badlands is gnarly.
Debuting Sunday night after The Walking Dead, this is a new martial-arts series you'll assume high-kicked its way out of comic book source material. Not the case; Badlands is the original creation of Smallville and Shanghai Noon writers Al Gough and Miles Millar, who recruited Hong Kong action superstar Daniel Wu to ensure an American martial-arts show would contain actual martial arts. Still, calling a story so obviously collaged from bits of The Hunger Games, 1984, David Carradine's Kung Fu, Alice in Wonderland, Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster, and Game of Thrones “original” is advantageous. It is gnarly in the gnarled sense -- a twisted mash-up of every genre trope imaginable.
But Badlands is also gnarly gnarly. Set in a dystopian, American future where gun-hoarding “barons” rule over us common folk with an army of “clippers,” henchman trained in the art of backflips and swordplay, the show slathers its fantasy mythology with violence. Splashy, saturated, and satisfying violence. The show isn’t as easy to digest as its lead-in -- a lifetime of pop culture consumption makes, “Watch out for those zombies!” more down-to-earth than, “Watch out for those blade-wielding employees of competing poppy flower farmers who will stop at nothing to kill a boy with magic powers!” -- but Badlands does draw blood like its predecessor's greatest kills.
As you’ll see in the show’s opening scene (below), Yu’s training allows directors to pull back and show him off. He strikes like a lethal ballet dancer. And because this is AMC, the gore isn't skimped on. In the grand tradition of the Shaw Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and The Raid, Into the Badlands prioritizes the fights. If you can keep up with the bizarre plotting, it’ll only ramp up in episode two. Yes, it gets gnarlier.