AMC’s ‘Into the Badlands’ Takes Fans Behind the Martial Arts [WonderCon 2019]

With the stakes hitting their highest peaks in the last episodes of AMC‘s Into the Badlands, Sunny’s Journey is coming to a close this season. The team took some time at Wondercon 2019 to answer some questions about the show and its production that have been on the minds of myself and other fans.

Star and executive producer, Daniel Wu, joined members of the cast and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar to answer some behind the scenes questions. While they were not able to share where the story is going, they gave us insight on what the last five years of production looked like, and the things they accomplished with the show.

into the badlands
Left to right: Ally Ioannides (Tilda,) Aramis Knight (MK,) Sherman Augustus (Moon,) Al Gough (Showrunner,) Miles Millar (Showrunner,) Daniel Wu (Sunny,) Orla Brady (Lydia,) Lewis Tan (Gaius)

Writing & Production

“We always wanted it to have a Hong Kong, martial arts feel,” said Gough. Each bout was treated like a musical number, in that they were showstoppers and plot movers. What they did not want was the traditional Western style of filming fight scenes where the shooting footage to edit is more important than the choreography. After each fight was planned, much care went into making sure it carried the emotional tone of the show.

The tone being paramount, the insertion of Bajie as a comic foil did raise some eyebrows. As a fan, it had to be asked: was he always going to be a permanent main character? The team had felt there was something missing from the show’s first season. Miles Millar said, “When you infuse comedy into drama, it raises both. We need a Nick Frost character.” After some talks, he was brought onboard and the serious nature of their experience of the show was that it tempered and elevated the experience.

Diversity of the Team

One of the things that has been widely noticed by fans is the diversity of the cast and crew. Sherman Augustus noted that on his first day on the bridge, it felt like he heard almost every language in the world. Gough confirmed that they had flown in people from all over the world for the show. Augustus’s experience with the multicultural team made other productions touting diversity in the states feel phoned in.

“If you go to anyone in Hollywood and say, ‘we want to have a diverse cast,’ they’re going to be like ‘great, absolutely.’ No one is against it philosophically, it’s when you have to actually go and put it into practice.”

Gough talked about the challenges when it comes to touting diversity vs putting it in practice. Planning that the world they created represented the world we live in now was difficult enough. Practicing that while filming in one of the ‘whitest places in the world,’ Ireland made that exponentially harder. He laid the term ‘colorblind casting’ bare as he acknowledged much of the issue not being conscious, but rather institutional.

“It’s not that people don’t want to do it, it’s just that people don’t think about it enough, so you have to make a conscious effort.” said Gough.

Daniel Wu’s Experience

This was the first series that Wu had produced, as most of his work had been in movies. His involvement level multiplied as they moved to Ireland. He started taking ownership over the show as they retrained the new staff. Eventually becoming so immersed in the production that he became the go to guy for the fight team. He ensured the stunt team and the crew had everything they needed, even assisting in seeking talent as he would scour the internet for new people to bring on to elevate the show’s fights.

As his investment in the show grew, he learned the most important lesson from his daughter though, “You have to persevere to be a good parent.” He took the lessons from his raising of his five year old to heart which he paralleled with his in show son, Henry.

He took more lesson was from his co-star, Aramis Knight, whom he watched grow up before his eyes. In Knight’s words, he gained discipline and skill beyond what he expected from being on the show. Learning more about martial arts and production, he was grateful for the experience. Watching this, Wu shed a tear, thinking about seeing him become a man before his eyes.

The Future

AMC’s Into the Badlands comes to a close with the 16th episode of the third season. The showrunners mentioned they suspected this might be their last season before getting the cancellation news. They pressed on, knowing full well it will leave a lasting legacy.

“We set out with a very simple goal: ‘to bring this level of action to TV’, and we succeeded! We accomplished so much in a short amount of time. I think this show is going to live on in the cult world and the streaming world.” Said Wu.

Millar gave a forlorn, “It’s bittersweet, but we leave with pride.”

Just as he was leaving, I asked Wu if the show might live on through comics or video games. His response left some hope:

“We’ve planted the seeds.”