“Smallville” production duo Al Gough and Milers Millar are looking to create a martial arts frenzy on AMC with their new show “Into the Badlands,” premiering Sunday at 10pm EST, right after “The Walking Dead.” The series is one of the very few martial arts shows on U.S. TV in the last decade or 2. In fact, there hasn’t been once since “Martial Law” on CBS 15 years ago.
Gough and Millar told us they knew AMC was looking for a martial arts show and they pitched them Into the Badlands. AMC called an hour after the pitch and said they wanted to buy it, an experience all show runners dream about, they said. The pair has always been huge martial arts fans and has been wanting to create a TV show that had martial arts at its center, they said. In the series, the pair teamed up with Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg, who produced “Pulp Fiction,” and Hong Kong cinema legends Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung.
Daniel Wu, who plays lead role “Sunny,” a warrior, in the show, is also the executive producer. The story took ideas from the ancient Chinese tale “Journey to the West,” featuring Sunny and a young boy who journey through a dangerous land together seeking enlightenment. “What attracted me to the character is he changes overtime. Not that many TV characters do that,” Wu said in an interview. Sunny transforms from a ruthless cold-blooded killer to someone who desires to change and become very different person, he said.
Wu hopes the show will open up more interest in the martial arts genre, just like what Walking Dead did with the zombie frenzy. “It’s a start. Our goal is to be the first one to do it. We will see what happens.” he said. While martial arts action is a big part of the storytelling, character development holds everything together, he said. It’s viewers’ connection with the characters that make them want to follow the journey of the show.
For Gough and Millar, the key is to be authentic in everything, from the action, the world, to the characters and the wardrobe. The goal is for the series to be grounded in reality but also be visually bold so the audience can get a visceral sense of the distressed future that was created, they said. They were aiming to create film quality fights, the complexity of which can rarely be found on U.S. TV. There are fight sequences in every episode.
The show is really a mashup of different genres, from Hong Kong martial arts movies and Japanese Samurai films to Spaghetti westerns, the pair said. The aim was to defy convention and easy categorization. The idea of blending Western and Eastern genres and dramatic styles of storytelling excited them, they said. And if you strip back the action, the story really is about Sunny’s quest for spiritual fulfillment, something that spans both cultures.