Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Post-apocalyptic Punch: Badland Hunters (2024) Review

Director: Heo Myeong-haeng
Notable Cast: Ma Dong-seok, Lee Hee-jun, Lee Jun-young, Roh Jeong-eui, Ahn Ji-hye, Park Ji-hoon, Jang Young-nam, Park Hyo-joon

The Netflix-produced Korean film library has... a certain reputation. Some works I believe are great, such as Unlocked or Kill Boksoon, although I seem to be more in the minority on that one, but I digress. We get some titles, like... well, like Carter, which unfortunately speaks for itself. We also have that Yoo Ah-in-led driving film that I can't be bothered to remember the title of, and so on. Regardless, Netflix churns out quite a few Korean productions of varying quality, and 2024 kicks off with yet another film under their banner. This time, however, we also have the big man himself, Ma Dong-seok, a.k.a Don Lee, a.k.a. Isn't that the Train to Busan guy? Yes... the arm wrestling champ himself is kicking off 2024 with action, lots of action. Oh, and it is set in the world of last year's absolutely brilliant Concrete Utopia, which I dubbed my favorite film of 2023. How does it stack up? Muscle up, and let's get to punching down with Badland Hunters.

South Korea has been absolutely ravaged by a world-shattering earthquake that decimated the country and set everyone at a ground zeroes state of being. There are no more buildings, and all live in the wastelands, which have become a desert, with no water falling from the sky in many months. Water is scarce, and so are food resources. There is a small community of people who have banded together, and in that group of survivors is Nam-san, played to muscular perfection and with charismatic charm by one Ma Dong-seok, who I've been a longtime fan of since seeing his mug in Kim Jee-woon's The Good, the Bad, the Weird. It's been awesome seeing Ma grow into the worldwide phenomenon he is, and I've been hoping to see this for quite some time, and here we are. He has been punching baddies left and right with the Outlaws, a.k.a Round-up series, which is set to be 8 films in length, and formed his own production company in the meantime, who worked on this production, among others. Needless to say, Ma has become a household name, and his brand of action and comedy are loved by many across the globe. So, in Badland Hunters, the film's strengths certainly lie within the action department, but unfortunately, the film falls pretty flat otherwise.

I went on a tangent, but the plot is straightforward, with the singular high-rise apartment that still stands from Concrete Utopia becoming a building where only the elite stay and where the military is using children to exploit for a serum to inject into super soldiers. I don't think there is much to spoil; it is a simple tale of people on a journey to retrieve someone who was wrongfully taken from them, and along the way, there is plenty of bloodshed and some humor that is hit or miss. The action, as I mentioned beforehand, was quite good. The odd edits and framerate manipulation in spots hinder things a bit, but rarely does it detract from the carnage unfolding. This takes action from The Round-up films and adds guns and a lot of blood and gore into the mix. Some of the kills are outright vicious, and I ate up every moment of it. Ma is a powerhouse per usual, but Ahn Ji-hye is exciting to watch as Lee Eun-ho. She has been in some memorable action roles as of late, which is yet another fantastic turn for this rising star. Lastly, Lee Jun-young, who isn't typically known for his onscreen action until last year's Brave Citizen, gets more of the humorous bits here but does an adequate job and is certainly worth mentioning.

If there was something I wish were done better, it would certainly be in the development of characters. They are fun to watch as they band together to stop the evil scientist and his supersoldier gang, but it's just all rather thin and leaves a lot to be desired. The previous film, and while yes, this technically is not a sequel to Concrete Utopia, one can't help but compare the two. That had brilliant writing, the characters were absolutely memorable, and you really got into each of their head spaces. This is clearly geared towards cool action sequences, and it does that quite well, but to come from a film so excellent at it, you would hope this would've had a bit more effort put in. I almost wish it was just another generic post-apocalyptic film, as that is how it felt overall. The budget certainly isn't up there, but that doesn't bother me too much. It was a missed opportunity to take a solid action foundation and elevate it into something truly special, but instead, it just feels a bit above run-of-the-mill.

Another year, another Korean action film from Netflix. Honestly, that will never get old to me. I love a good action flick, and certainly Badland Hunters is one of them. It can feel a bit generic and lackluster sometimes, but when the tensions rise, and the mayhem unfolds, it is one bloody romp. I will certainly be returning to the badlands to visit Ma and company. Who knows, maybe there will be more entries in this franchise, and it will be the next Outlaws, or Round-up, or whatever you want to call it. In any event, I am so glad to have spent time with this one, and I certainly can recommend it to action junkies. It's not perfect by any means, but there is a lot to love here, warts and all.

Written by Josh Parmer

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