In its first season, “Into the Badlands” took on the grand challenge of exploring the mythology of “Journey to the West” — the classic 16th-century Chinese novel. The series set up the enduring struggles of a clipper named Sunny (Daniel Wu) — doing murderous deeds at the beck and call of Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas) — as he attempts to find a better life outside of the Badlands.
Dystopian, magical, ultraviolent: The AMC series immediately stood out as a genre mashup of sorts — feeling like a Peckinpah-style Western immersed in a martial arts-infused comic-book world. And as the larger than life characters jumped out of the screen, slashing their way through the Badlands, our hopes for Sunny’s well-being only heightened.
From the top of the heap to the bottom of the barrel: Sunny fell from grace in the Season 1 finale. Disgraced in the eyes of his former Baron boss, he was separated from his pregnant wife and thrown in shackles. A lot was left unanswered in those final moments: A power shakeup found Quinn dethroned, The Widow (Emily Beecham) seeking vengeance and M.K. (Aramis Knight) on a mission to hone his supernatural abilities. Where will things go from here?
Screener spoke with Daniel Wu about the heightened stakes of Season 2, Nick Frost’s new role in the show and the epic, blood-soaked battle that’s on the horizon.
A lot of things have changed for Sunny going into Season 2.
Sunny’s in a real different place than he was last season. Last season, he was one of the most respected and revered “clippers” in the land – so he had a pretty high and noble status, even though what he does is a pretty dark job. When Season 2 starts, six months have passed and he has been pulled as a “picker” — which is basically a slave that has to mine relics from the past. He’s gone from the top of his old world to the bottom of this new world. Basically, he’s in the gutter and has to find his way out, find his wife and, possibly, his baby – he’s not even sure if it’s been born yet or not…
Season 1 ended with a power shakeup in The Badlands. How will that effect Sunny’s plans for redemption?
I think that Sunny is more focused this season — he knows what he wants. I think last season, there was an idea that he was going to go to this better world but he didn’t know what that world was. So, he wasn’t completely confident about that.
Plus there was a civil war happening within The Badlands which he felt a duty to sort of take part in, even though he wanted to get away from Quinn. What The Widow is doing is throwing a monkey wrench into the whole system that originally made that society civilized.
So he was struggling last season to take a side – and he doesn’t end up taking a side because he was so frozen by that choice. This season, the gauntlet has been thrown down! He knows what he wants now. He wants his family! Everything’s been laid out clearly. Obviously, Quinn has no allegiance to him anymore. So all he’s got is his family and maybe M.K. (Aramis Knight). So he’s going to find his family, try and find M.K. and get the hell out of dodge.
Nick Frost joins the show in Season 2 bringing a fun new dynamic to the story. How will Bajie’s addition here influence Sunny’s gameplan?
Nick Frost is a great add to the series. You know… It’s a very serious, dark show but it does need some levity — I believe that’s what it lacked last season. So adding Nick Frost to the fray was great because it gave us that. But it also allows Sunny to open up a bit more.
I think last season, Sunny was struggling. He’s in the process of giving up everything he’s ever known about that world and about himself to try and go for what he thinks would be a better life. And so when he meets Bajie, everything has already happened and he’s at the bottom. He needs someone to help him navigate the outlying territories and Bajie seems to know everything about this world. So, he becomes a useful tool to Sunny.
But… Sunny does not like this guy at all! He’s this complete polar opposite — physically, as well as, you know, personality-wise. Sunny is obviously a man of few words. Bajie is a man that likes to talk someone’s ear off. So when you literally and physically chain them together, there’s nothing but comedy that’s going to ensue from this odd couple pairing. It was great to really do that – to give Sunny a sounding board to talk about his ideas and how he’s feeling… That kind of stuff gives the audience a peek into Sunny’s mind a little better, as well.
The introduction of Season 2 features an amazing fight scene that feels slightly comical… Dare we say, Jackie Chan-ish? Was that always the direction the opening would go?
So, he’s wearing this wooden yoke on him, right? And in the script, it was written as: “They get to the prison and take it off, giving Sunny an opportunity to try and get out and fight.” But when we looked at that scene, our choreographer Master DeeDee was like, You know what, it’d be interesting if you just have an entire fight scene with that yoke on. And at the time, not knowing what it was like to wear that thing, I was like Yeah! That’d be pretty great!
It was a very Jackie Chan-esque idea, in terms of using props and things like that. It was an opportunity to add some comedy into the martial arts. You know, this is a show that can possibly run a long time, so we have a lot of variety we’d like to explore in terms of the fights: We wanted to have a fight that’s funny, we want to have a fight that’s evil, a really dark one…
You have to change it up all the time so the audience doesn’t get bored. So we saw an opportunity to do something kind of interesting with the props that we had. That’s kind of how it evolved.
It feels like the fight scenes have become bigger and more cinematic this time around, too.
One thing you’ll see — and it’s alluded to in the first episode — is the fight scenes are more epic and cinematic this season. We have bigger, wider shots. You’re going to see a bigger world, too. All the stuff we hinted at in Season 1, you’ll actually get to see now in Season 2 — and it’s a big payoff. There was a method to our madness. You’ll really be rewarded for sticking with us.
From what I’ve seen, it looks like the battles will be more blood-soaked, as well.
Yeah, I can tell you one thing: It is not going to be easy for Sunny this season.
“Into the Badlands” Season 2 premieres Sunday, March 19, at 10:05 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.