For some reason, the sequel to Concrete Utopia is a Netflix original and was released on the platform before most of the globe had a chance to watch the first part. I suppose Badland Hunters isn’t really a sequel so much as a film that exists in the same universe as Concrete Utopia. The film stars Ma Dong-Seok (Don Lee) in his first Netflix original in the leading role of a huntsman in the dystopian ruins of South Korea after a devastating earthquake. Badland Hunters is the story of his search for a little girl, who is under his protection but gets taken away under the pretense of her being offered clean water and protection. In this lawless badland, though, there are many enemies, so will our huntsman be able to save the girl? Or will he end up losing to the dark side? Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the film, I would like to point out that watching Don Lee just punch his way out of this world is positively entertaining, even if it makes no logical sense at all.
Firstly, it’s alright to watch the film without having seen Concrete Utopia, because the connection lies in the callbacks and easter eggs rather than actual characters or situations. Concrete Utopia was South Korea’s submission to the Academy Awards this year; however, personally, I found it not as impressive despite its deep messaging. I suppose I’m a little bit tired of this “humanity is humanity’s downfall” narrative, and there’s only so much you can do with it until everything starts to look and sound the same. Specifically, it’s the appearance of the film that made me a little weary because of the color grading that the Korean entertainment industry loves to add to its dystopian films. It’s almost like they have a couple of filters: “warm tone dystopia,” “grey scale dystopia,” and all their post-apocalyptic films and shows (there are countless at this point) will have the same two filters applied to them. The same thing goes with Badland Hunters. Everything looks really fake because of these colours, making me, as a viewer, feel divorced from the content of the film.
In terms of plot, the film had potential but was completely derailed by the end. The ideas are there; however, they don’t come together very smoothly. However, despite the holes in the plot, this film is highly entertaining because of its preposterous action sequences. I suppose with the resurgence of big budget blockbuster action thrillers in the last year, many people have been attempting to create something exciting and unique; however, most of these films come across as something you’ve already seen. Badland Hunters has some really unique choreography, and despite using a lot of run-of-the-mill formulas, it is a combination of the camera angles and Don Lee’s massiveness, not only in build but in terms of his moves, that really make this film amusing to watch. I suppose you could say that it only works because of Don Lee, because nobody else is going to be able to punch a person in the face so hard that it decapitates them. What I’m trying to say is that it’s like eating bread, butter, and jam every day and then getting your hands on some fancy multigrain bread and premium jam, which makes it feel like something much more elaborate, even if it’s essentially the same thing.
The casting is really good, and I’ve already commended Lee’s performance enough. The other characters are sometimes overshadowed by Lee’s greatness; however, his chemistry with Lee Jun-Young as the young man Choi Ji-Wan, who wishes he were his son, is fantastic. The comedy could’ve come across as rough around the edges, but they managed to pull it off. Interestingly, there were some comedic elements in Concrete Utopia too; however, that film was much darker and more serious than this one (just like its colour grading. I kid). Roh Jeong-Eu is good as the stoic Su-Na; however, it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of her. Ahn Ji-Hye kicks it out of the park in the action sequences and is an agile partner to Don Lee’s brute strength. Lee Hee-Jun, as the mad scientist Yang Gi-Su, doesn’t do anything very different from previously seen mad scientists. I suppose there isn’t much more you can do with such a role, and I feel like the focus is more on the action, so he barely gets any time to shine, which works just fine for a film titled Badland Hunters. I reckon it couldn’t have worked without some sort of antagonist, which is why this fellow feels a little bit tacked on. Jang Young-Nam is so versatile; she’s like potatoes; you simply can’t dislike her in anything, even if she is on the side of the bad guy! Park Ji-Hoon has some interesting scenes, but one in particular during his encounter with Don Lee is truly something to look forward to.
I guess if the film were focused on just people surviving and Nam-San becoming a big leader in the wastelands and amassing a huge following, it would be too political and a little bit boring, so they went the usual route of anti-hero vs. villain. If you’re squeamish, this film is not for you. It’s a bloodbath from start to finish, and despite all the blood splatters, there are actually some really cool beheadings in there (if that’s your thing). If you’re looking for pure entertainment with lots of blood and gore and not much of a story, then I’d say give Badland Hunters a go. If you want something grittier, then Concrete Utopia is the better bet. Personally, I liked Badland Hunters more because the element of entertainment was a little more present in comparison to the bleakness of Concrete Utopia. I’d give Badland Hunters an overall score of 2.5 stars out of 5, but a 3 out of 5 for the action sequences. Also, 100 points for Ma Dong-Seok simply for existing.