Edited by Seo Hae Lan
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Ma Dong Seok, aka Don Lee, has returned to captivate audiences with his latest film. Released on January 26th on Netflix, Badland Hunters portrays the heroic deeds of an “uncle” character, set years after an earthquake devastates his world, striving to rescue a kidnapped girl in a new societal order. The film packs everything you expect from a Ma Dong Seok movie: impactful action, humor from unexpected quarters, and a storyline where the hero triumphantly saves everyone.
Badland Hunters shares its universe with last summer’s Concrete Utopia, seemingly occurring after the events of the latter. Ma Dong Seok’s character Nam San, along with his hunting partner Ji Wan (Lee Jun Young), sustains his livelihood by hunting animals and selling meat in the devastated world. When a group arrives in their village, promising families with teenage kids a better life, the girl Suna (Roh Jeonge Ui) and her grandmother (Seong Byeong Suk), whom Nam San takes care of, decide to follow them. However, Nam San and Ji Wan soon discover that these people, far from being benevolent, are actually abducting children through ruthless means, hurting their families. This prompts them to embark on a daring mission to rescue Suna, and in the course of their quest, they unravel the twisted plot of the mad scientist Yang Ki Su (Lee Hee Jun), who targets children for his horrific experiments.
The action, a vital aspect of any action film, is noteworthy. Ma Dong Seok’s boxing-based action style, known for its impactful movements, is well-translated onto the small screen through choreography and camerawork. The way characters’ traits are reflected in their action sequences is intriguing. Ji Wan’s archery skills, showcased through shooting and close-quarters combat, and the light, agile fighting style of special forces soldier Lee Eun Ho (Ahn Ji Hye), who joins them midway, are particularly captivating. Director Heo Myeong Haeng’s experience in shaping Korean action cinema shines through in the varied action styles and dynamic cinematography. Moreover, Ma Dong Seok’s unique comedic flair, continuing from the The Outlaws series, is still effective. Although at times you’ll find yourself thinking, “Is this Nam San or Ma Seok Do (his The Outlaws role)?” fans of his witty jokes will find much to enjoy.
As mentioned, Badland Hunters shares its universe with Concrete Utopia. However, the ambiance is entirely different. Concrete Utopia was responsible for an in-depth exploration of human struggles and transformations in the aftermath of a catastrophe. In contrast, Badland Hunters features a humanity that has already adapted to its altered world, leaving out the nuanced conflict of survival ideologies. It fills its narrative with archetypal genre elements: a story of a hero rescuing a kidnapped girl, a straightforward structure of attacking, saving, and unraveling the truth, and familiar character tropes like the crazy leader (or mad scientist), their followers, and those exploited by them. The film seems to favor action over depth, opting for scenes where Nam San brandishes his sword and fists rather than delving into the intricate inner workings and relationships of its characters.
Therefore, those expecting a story akin to Concrete Utopia will find themselves disappointed with Badland Hunters. Looking at the story, structure, and characters, the post-apocalyptic setting almost seems unnecessary. The movie could easily be set in 2023 Seoul, with Ma Seok Do resolving everything with his fists and a silly joke. Thus, Badland Hunters is a good pick for viewers drawn by “Ma Dong Seok” and everything he represents. Seeing its success in various countries upon release, it seems to have proven itself as a worthy “home entertainment content” for an investment of 1 hour and 50 minutes. (5/10)
Editor Seo Hae Lan: I’m not picky and like all genres. I am in constant search of a balance between criticism and a fan’s heart.