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Daniel Wu wants to revive the martial-arts genre absent from TV screens for decades with AMC’s upcoming fantasy drama Into the Badlands just as the U.S. network transformed flesh-eating zombies into American pop culture icons with The Walking Dead.
“The big success of The Walking Dead are the characters, what they need to do to survive. That’s what we’re going for,” Wu told The Hollywood Reporter, as he recalled the 1970s TV classic Kung Fu, starring David Carradine.
Wu knows why the martial-arts genre has long been missing from TV screens. “Martial-arts scenes are difficult to shoot in a short time,” he said, pointing to a fight scene in a whirlpool of rain in Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster that took 30 days to complete.
Into the Badlands, from the creators of Smallville, will see Wu play Sunny, a ruthless, well-trained warrior on a spiritual journey in a dangerous land controlled by feudal barons.
The Hong Kong import is no slouch at fighting. Wu has trained in martial arts since he was 11 years-old, but he hadn’t done many aerial kicks before the AMC show started shooting in New Orleans.
“I can’t jump as high as I could in my 20s, but we have wires to give me more airtime,” he said. Wu added he and his fellow cast did a six-week martial-arts boot camp to become as much skilled dancers as smooth-moving kung fu fighters for show-stopping fight scenes.
“It’s not a typical fisticuffs. It’s dynamic, jaw-dropping fight scenes, visually, and beautiful overall,” he said of choreographing kickass acrobatics for Into the Badlands. The fight scenes are shot with three cameras running simultaneously.
One gets a wide shot, another a medium shot and a Steadicam captures extremely tight and risky shots of fight sequences. “The camera is the third participant in the fight. [It’s] fighting with us,” said Wu.
The third camera has GPS coordinates, so it always stays level when it quickly moves in and out to capture the fighters battling hand-to-hand. Wu said fight scenes in Into the Badlands also call for extended takes, unlike Hollywood action movies with quick-cutting action scenes to ensure audiences never see mistakes by untrained fighters.
“The spectacle is in seeing a fight scene in a long take. We may have 30 or 40 moves in one go. That highlights the skill of the performers,” he said. The series was created by writers-showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar, who will executive produce alongside Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg (Pulp Fiction) and martial-arts filmmakers Daniel Wu (Tai Chi Zero) and Stephen Fung.
Wu toplines a cast that includes Emily Beecham (28 Weeks Later, The Village), Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) and Oliver Stark. The first season of Into the Badlands, which is distributed internationally by Entertainment One, will debut on AMC on Nov. 15.
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