Are you watching AMC’s Into the Badlands? If not, why aren’t you? Don’t just tune into AMC for those doggone zombies on The Walking Dead; Into the Badlands gives you just as much action, drama, and blood. But let’s get into more detail as to why you need to give Into the Badlands a chance. I’ve got three great reasons for you—read on!
1. An Asian leading male star
Before anyone gets all “You’re pulling the race card!” on me, hear me out. First of all, name the last time you’ve seen an Asian actor as the star. Not the secondary character, not part of the main ensemble cast, but the star. Don’t get me wrong, the representation actors like Minority Report‘s Li Jun Li and Chicago Med‘s Brian Tee are bringing is great, and of course, we can’t forget about Glenn-gate 2015, in which The Walking Dead fandom rose up as one to demand Glenn (Steven Yeun) come back, safe from the zombies who looked like they were eating him alive. But 2014 and 2015, this year in particular, have been a spectacular move forward when it comes to Asian representation. Between Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Ken Jeong’s Dr. Ken, and the continued success of Fresh off the Boat and The Mindy Project, there are more options than ever to choose from. What’s unfortunate is that “more options than ever” only means that there are four shows featuring multiethnic Asian perspectives with Asian actors in the leading male or female roles. The fifth to join the club is Into the Badlands, with Daniel Wu playing Sunny, a “clipper” (aka assassin) working for his baron (aka plantation master) Quinn (played by Marton Csokas).
Wu, who is also an executive producer on the show, wanted an Asian lead for Into the Badlands. As he told Slate, “In a lot of ways, we [he and executive producer Stephen Fung] saw this as righting the wrong that occurred when Warner Brothers cast David Carradine over Bruce Lee in Kung Fu … From the beginning, we said that Sunny had to be Asian, and to their credit, AMC was totally down with that.”
2. A type of interracial relationship we hardly ever see on TV
Speaking of representation, Into the Badlands also boasts an interracial relationship. Sunny’s in a relationship with the local doctor, Veil (Madeleine Mantock), a black woman. It’s already pretty uncommon to see interracial relationships on TV. But it’s even more rare to see an Asian man/African American woman relationship on TV.
I don’t believe in relationship and desirability studies, personally, but you may have seen the OKCupid study that found that Asian men and black women are the least desired on that dating site. As I said, I don’t put too much stock in dating-site statistics—OKCupid is only pulling from a limited set of data: their own. However, that doesn’t mean the numbers don’t illuminate some of the issues that are at work in our society. Asian dudes have been consistently plagued with the “nerdy dweeb” stereotype (think the Long Duk Dong character in Sixteen Candles). They’re often stereotyped as being dorky, awkward, and less masculine than males of other races. Meanwhile, black women are seen as being “angry,” impossible to get along with, and overly sexual. The last stereotype dates back to at least the 19th century, when women such as Saartjie Baartman were exploited on “freak show” circuits under the offensive moniker “Hottentot Venus.” Because of their genetically large behinds and genitalia, these women of color (Khoikhoi natives from southwestern Africa) were thought to be more sexual than 19th-century “civilized” white Europeans. These stereotypes are part of what’s at work in the study’s results. Stereotypes are likely also at work as to why Asian women are the most desired, as Asian women are often thought of as an “exotic submissive” stereotype.
Wu himself spoke about the importance of seeing black women/Asian man relationships on screen, particularly the resolution Sunny and Veil’s relationship provides to Romeo Must Die, starring Jet Li and the late Aaliyah. He cited that the audience felt a kissing scene between Li and Aaliyah was “disgusting” and that the official version of the film shows a new scene with them hugging it out, even though they’re supposed to be in love. “… I don’t want to say [Sunny and Veil’s relationship] is groundbreaking … but it’s cool we were able to right that wrong, too. “
So what am I saying all of this for? Basically because Sunny and Veil’s relationship shows audiences (particularly those individuals that believe in stereotypes) that Asian men can be sexy (I mean, look at all the American girls who love K-pop boy bands), black women can be soft, and both of deserve to be in loving relationships. If you’ve been hoping to see more relationships of all shades on television, then Into the Badlands is for you.
3. Action, action, action!
Now that all that civil rights/ethnic studies talk is out of the way, the last reason you should watch Into the Badlands is that it’s action packed! The show is literally a wushu-lover’s dream, with tons of amazing kung fu hand-to-hand and sword fights. To see this on television and not in a movie theater is astounding; probably the last time we got good kung fu on television was when Avatar: The Last Airbender was ruling Nickelodeon.
Into the Badlands is also a blood-and-gore–lover’s dream. Every episode, there are swords impaling people, necks being snapped, a ninja star getting stuck in someone’s eye, arms being broken, and more. Some scenes get to Quentin Tarantino–levels of bloodiness. In fact, some scenes specifically remind me of Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Talk about a lot of blood. But, whereas Tarantino is usually aiming for an unrealistic, almost comedic tone with his blood and guts, Into the Badlands is a lot more somber about the ramifications of being a clipper in a kill-or-be-killed world.
Overall, Into the Badlands is a great show, as well as a great social statement. But what do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Into the Badlands airs Sundays at 10/9C on AMC.