- Badland Hunters suffers from an over-reliance on Ma Dong-seok’s popularity, resulting in underdeveloped storylines and characters.
- The film’s fight scenes and practical effects save it from being a complete disappointment.
- The main antagonist, played by Lee Hee-joon, brings depth and charm to his character, making his storyline the most memorable part of the movie.
Standing as South Korean director Heo Myung-Haeng’s first full-length feature film, this cinematic foray into a dystopian world has seemed to suffer the same sort of fate that the catastrophic earthquake has brought to civilization in the movie – pockets of hope in a vast field of nothing meaningful.
Released on Jan. 26, 2024, Badland Hunters encompasses a lively cast such as Ma Dong-seok (better known as Don Lee) as Nam-san and his two younger counterparts, Lee Jun-young and Ahn Ji-hye as Choi Ji-wan and Lee Eun-ho, respectively. The three uncover a harrowing conspiracy around a new community headed by doctor Yang Gi-su (played by Lee Hee-joon). While unraveling the details of its dark and grim plot to viewers, this action movie seemingly reveals its biggest strength and worst weakness at the same time: the enormous reliance that Heo and writers Kim Bo-tong and Kwak Jae-min have on Ma to keep viewers entertained, even if it means at the sacrifice of everything else.
There is no question of Ma Dong-seok’s acting accolades, with twenty award nominations under his belt (having won nine) in just eleven years. But because his persona as a wasteland scavenger in Badlands is over-highlighted because of his popularity, other character arcs and story aspects seem to have been cut short.
For example, it’s apparent that Choi (Nim-san’s companion) has feelings for Han Su-Na (played by Roh Jeong-eui). This is emphasized when Han Su-Na and Choi exchange parting gifts before Han leaves for the new community. This growing relationship never evolves, and Choi doesn’t mature from being Nim-san’s sidekick. Speaking of Han, it is clear that she has superb drawing ability, so much so that Nim-San and Choi have her pictures all around their home. One would think this would somehow have a deeper meaning by the end of Badland Hunters. Alas, this is just another story direction left unconcluded.
Saving the Remnants of Civilization
- Release Date
- January 26, 2024
- Heo Myeong Haeng
- Lee Joon-young , Jun Hee Lee , No Jeong-ee , Ma Dong-seok
- 1hr 47min
- Kim Bo-Tong , Kwak Jae-Min
- Big Punch Pictures, Climax Studio, Nova Film
- The world has come to an end, The world calls upon the hunter.
- Unique and exciting fight sequences will entertain viewers interested in the film.
- A compelling antagonist and special and practical effects keep the movie above water.
- Ma Dong-seok/Don Lee is over-highlighted in the film, leading to other characters and plot points feeling underdeveloped.
- Too many plot holes and unanswered questions ruin the suspension of disbelief.
- Though Don Lee is good in his role, the writing for the character holds the movie back.
Lee Eun-ho was a special forces sergeant who ran away from the camp after discovering the scientist’s disturbing secret. At one point, she is fatally stabbed and thrown from a balcony. Viewers are made to believe that she is deceased – that is, until a loud sound wakes her up, and she gets up. Was this death avoided in order to make Han’s grandmother’s demise the one motivator for Nim-san in this situation? (since he was the one who made her grave?) Viewers will see an odd number of questions and plot holes like this that will stop the suspension of disbelief during this almost two-hour run and gun fiasco.
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Yes, unbalanced character dynamics plague Badland Hunters, but there is something to be said about the performances of the hero and the villain. After starring in comedy and crime movies (most notably, The Roundup franchise), Ma has perfected his archetype and plays a laid-back hero who is heavy-handed when needed. The quirky action sets in when he decides to use a gun as a cane to walk up the stairs because his knees hurt (even though his profession is hunting by foot). In another scene, he settles for a much smaller knife when his enormous hatchet randomly breaks while fighting enemies. While his quips aren’t that impressive (blame the writing, not the actor), his personality helps to keep this film above water.
The Hero and Villain Make This a Worthy Watch
While the fight scenes themselves are attractive enough to enchant viewers, the most exciting facets of Badland Hunters have to be found in its main antagonist and special effects. Even though Doctor Yang has evil and nefarious goals, his reasons for doing so are surprisingly charming. As opposed to anything involving Choi or Han, Yang’s character is multilayered, making his present persona very interesting to witness. Lee Hee-joon shows the camera a morally twisted man obsessed with an intimate goal no matter the cost. Even though everything comes to a satisfying close at the end, Yang’s emotional conclusion becomes the most memorable sequence in this movie.
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Last but not least, the interesting practical (and special) effects featured in this piece of science fiction/action make this a fun small-screen experience. Besides the giant and absurd CGI alligator that almost eats Choi at the very beginning of the film, there is also one of Lee Eun-ho’s former allies who rips the skin off his cheek after she stabs him in the face. Displaying his regenerative abilities is particularly gruesome, akin to peeling vegetables for dinner – just with added moisture. The camera work also isn’t afraid to show the moment a head gets severed from a villain’s body. While ingredients in Badland Hunters will keep certain moments of the movie in your mind for days, the overall end-of-day feeling and supporting character potential are overshadowed by the director’s love for popular action stars and fisticuff delirium.
Badland Hunters is now available to stream on Netflix.
Stream on Netflix