While we pine for more of the insane martial arts shenanigans from Marco Polo, we’ve had a handful of reasonably decent martial arts stopover shows, and among them, Into the Badlands finds itself somewhere close to the top of the pile. The show’s premise (think post-apocalyptic Game of Thrones set in the Victorian South) was basically designed to showcase martial artistry, and it doesn’t shy away from any opportunity to scratch that itch. Don’t expect the level of character development you see in The Walking Dead, the complexity of Game of Thrones, or the maturity of Breaking Bad, but there’s still plenty of well-choreographed combat to be found in this show.
That said, hardcore martial arts fans might be just a tad turned off by Into the Badlands’ heavy use of effects to enable some of the more outrageous maneuvers. Part of the fun of martial arts film and TV is the illusion of realism, which is one of the things Into the Badlands would benefit from paying a little more attention to. Even outside of the characters that have some kind of bizarre martial arts magic in their arsenal, there are still a fair few scenes that would cause a few involuntary eye twitches in any martial artist or physics instructor.
Don’t let that discourage you from watching it though; when the martial arts happen right, they really happen right. The setting is fun and unique, the cast is extremely diverse, and it’s hinting at some socially progressive undertones regarding racism and violence against women. Daniel Wu plays a very human character as Sunny, and his expertise lends a lot of credibility to the martial arts elements of the movie. The end of the season feels more like a midseason finale though, and there’s still so much of the story world to explore. So here’s hoping for a second season.