dumb but dynamic dystopian action

Following the success of Chad Stahelski (John Wick), David Leitch (Deadpool 2) and Sam Hargraves (Extraction), the trend of stunt coordinators and stuntmen becoming full-fledged filmmakers has absolutely reinvigorated the action movie landscape over the past decade. After all, who better to craft the visual violence and dynamic kineticism that such storytelling requires than the people who’ve dedicated their lives to the craft? The latest talent to jump from the second unit to the director’s chair is Heo Myeong-haeng, who has previously designed action sequences for South Korean productions such as The Roundup, Narco-Saints and Jung_E. He makes his feature debut for Netflix’s Badland Hunters, a dystopian action blockbuster set in a lawless post-apocalypse.

After a devastating earthquake crumbles skyscrapers and society in Seoul (this isn’t a direct Concrete Utopia sequel but rather a quasi-spinoff), the ruined city is now an arid wasteland plagued by droughts, wild animals, marauding bandits and even undead zombies. Human sledgehammer Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee (Eternals, Train to Busan) stars as Nam-san, a strong and skilled huntsman who’s managed to survive the urban wilderness alongside his trusted ally Ji-wan (Lee Jun-young). As if day-to-day life in this ravaged world wasn’t dangerous enough, things get even tougher when they learn that a teen girl named Su-na (Roh Jeong-eui) has been kidnapped.

Seeing as Nam-san views Su-na as a surrogate daughter of sorts, and that Ji-wan has a crush on her, they both embark on a risky rescue mission. Along the way, they’re joined by Eun-ho (An Ji-hye), a badass special forces sergeant who helps them out. Meanwhile, we learn that poor Su-na has been taken by the deranged Dr. Yang (Lee Hee-joon), a mad scientist intent on using her for his unethical experiments. Promising that his research holds the key to saving humanity, the insane boffin has built up a large cult following. Encamped in a residential compound serving as his makeshift lab and fortress, the work that this madman and his legion of armed acolytes is engaged in harbours some unspeakable horrors.

Predictably, the action in Badland Hunters is top notch. Heo Myeong-haeng is a master at concocting visceral, heart-pounding set-pieces that are brutal and breathtaking. From the gunplay to the hand-to-hand combat, this film’s gleeful savagery is exhilaratingly shot and choreographed. At the heart of it all is the director’s frequent collaborator, Don Lee, who has made a career of playing loveable lunks who protect the innocent and bash the bad guys. We’ll never get tired of watching him make quips and kick ass, which is a good thing because this movie delivers an abundance of that. Props must also go to An Ji-hye who reportedly performed all her own stunts – her physical performance here is something to behold.

Unfortunately, Badland Hunters offers very little beyond its glorious and gratuitous close quarter fights. While the script does try to inject some emotion into the proceedings, the underlying drama behind our protagonists’ relationships are so painfully cliched that it’s difficult not to roll your eyes at certain moments. We’re not saying that movies of this ilk require deep insights into the human condition, but what makes some of the finest action flicks of our modern era – like Mad Max: Fury Road or The Raid Redemption – stand out is that they’re able to balance their propulsive momentum and incredible action with simple character beats and ingenious worldbuilding that either strike a chord or give you something to think about.

Badland Hunters is simply in it for the mayhem, marvellous though it may be, but ultimately mindless. Nevertheless, it is difficult to fault the film for its narrative shallowness. This B-grade flick is exactly what its trailers and promotional materials promised it’d be – a rip-roaring, beat-em-up, shoot-em-up bloody good time – featuring one of the most charismatic action stars of our time doing what he does best.

Badland Hunters is available to stream on Netflix exclusively


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