Badland Hunters

Badland Hunters
Badland Hunters
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This dystopian world, which is a first feature film by South Korean director Heo Myung-Haeng, seems to have met with the same fate as that brought on civilization in the movie by a catastrophic earthquake — bits of hope here and there in vast nothingness.

Badland Hunters was released Jan. 26, 2024 and stars Ma Dong-seok (better known as Don Lee) as Nam-san along with Lee Jun-young and Ahn Ji-hye as his two younger counterparts, Choi Ji-wan and Lee Eun-ho, respectively. The three discover a chilling conspiracy around a new community led by doctor Yang Gi-su (played by Lee Hee-joon). While exposing its sinister plot to audiences, this action flick shows off what could be seen as both its greatest strength and biggest weakness: Heo’s, Kim Bo-tong’s and Kwak Jae-min’s enormous reliance on Ma to hold viewers’ attention at any expense.

Ma Dong-seok is no stranger to acting nominations or wins — he has received 20 in just 11 years, nine of those being victories. But because his character as a wasteland scavenger in Badlands is overemphasized due to his fame, other characters’ arcs and storylines seem cut short.

For example, it is apparent that Choi (Nim-san’s sidekick) has romantic feelings for Han Su-Na (played by Roh Jeong-eui). This is highlighted when Han Su-Na gives Choi a parting gift before she leaves for the new community. Yet this budding relationship is never developed; Han does not grow beyond being Nim-san’s love interest. Speaking of Han: It is clear that she possesses exceptional artistic talent — so much so that Nim-San and Choi have her drawings all over their home. One would assume this becomes significant later on in Badland Hunters; unfortunately, it serves no further purpose.

Lee Eun-ho was a special forces sergeant who fled the camp after discovering the scientist’s horrifying secret. At one point, she is stabbed and tossed from a balcony, seemingly to her death — until a loud noise wakes her up, and she gets back to her feet. Was this a cheap way of avoiding another character’s demise as Nim-san’s motivation in this situation? (since he made Han’s grandmother’s grave?) Viewers will find themselves asking odd questions like this that will shatter suspension of disbelief during this nearly two-hour run-and-gun fiasco.

Yes, unbalanced character dynamics plague Badland Hunters — however, the hero and the villain each put on noteworthy performances. Having starred in comedies and crime dramas (most notably The Roundup franchise), Ma has perfected his archetype and portrays a laid-back hero who is heavy-handed when necessary. The quirkiness ensues when he decides to use a gun as a cane to hobble upstairs due to his knees hurting (despite being a foot hunter by trade). In another scene, he resorts to using a much smaller knife once his massive hatchet randomly breaks while fighting foes. While his one-liners are not particularly impressive (blame the writing, not the actor), his personality helps keep this film above water.

The fight scenes themselves are attractive enough to captivate an audience, but the most thrilling parts of Badland Hunters come from its main villain and special effects. Dr. Yang is evil, but he’s charmingly evil. Unlike anything with Choi or Han in it, Yang has many layers which makes his present persona very interesting on screen. Lee Hee-joon shows us a morally twisted man who is willing to do anything to achieve his goal; whatever that may be. Everything does wrap up nicely at the end however it’s Yang’s emotional conclusion that sticks with you the most.

Last but not least, the practical (and special) effects are what make this sci-fi/action flick a fun watch on your home TV set. From the giant and absurd CGI alligator that nearly eats Choi at the start of the movie – to one of Lee Eun-ho’s former allies ripping off her own skin after she stabs him in his face; then showing us how he regenerates it back is just disgusting… think about peeling vegetables for dinner – only wetter. The camera work also isn’t afraid to show us when a head gets severed from a villain’s body either though! While the ingredients in Badland Hunters will leave certain moments of this movie stuck in your mind for days afterwards; unfortunately overall end-of-day feeling and supporting character potential is overwhelmed by the director’s love for popular action stars and fisticuff delirium

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