This interview contains spoilers for seasons 1 & 2 of Into The Badlands.
Last week I had a pleasant surprise: an interview Daniel Wu of Into the Badlands.As someone who has reviewed the show since it began airing, I jumped at the chance to pick his brain about how the show has matured this season, what’s ahead for us next year, and how Sunny’s journey will change.
Read on for all the juicy (and suprisingly enlightening) details below…
First of all, I just want to mention that season two finale was incredible. Definitely the most cinematic episode of the series so far.
Yeah, when director Paco Cabezas gets on the cinematography gets really interesting. He definitely has his own visual style.
This season has been gorgeous looking besides that. Into the Badlands’ visual aesthetic has crystallized so well this year. All the colors are popping.
I totally agree. I felt like the first season…we did short-change our audiences in that we talk about the world but we didn’t show it that much. The real reason behind that was because we were really limited by our location in New Orleans. It’s all swamp, swamp, and more swamp. So moving to Ireland really opened up the big views for us and allowed us to really do the world building that we talked about in season one. It’s just much more visually rich, and it’s like a movie more than it is a TV show.
I give a lot of credit to Ireland for giving us the opportunity to make the show so much better. And obviously character development, storylines, and all that were also spiced up as well. We heard everything about what people said about season one and attacked those weaknesses.
It’s gotten stronger for that. This season has truly been a step in the right direction, I feel. So I read a recent interview in which you discussed how Into the Badlands was created to emphasize the spiritual side of martial arts. Do you feel this is now better reflected in the characters themselves?
Definitely. Actually, when we’re [training] in the fight camp, I started to go for a different approach with the actors, because they aren’t originally martial artists. I told them while they were training to think about themselves as the characters. Instead of saying “I’m Ally”, or “I’m Emily”, trying to do these kicks, like right now, you’re not Ally, you’re not Emily. You’re The Widow, and that sidekick you’re throwing is to Quinn right in the stomach. Imagine that. Do all those things. So in the training I add a level of acting to the training to the martial arts as well so they would have an emotional tie-in to what their actions were. Then they tie in the emotional arc of the character with the way they fight.
I think in contrast to season one where you see Sunny fighting all these characters that we didn’t really spend time to develop, they’re just these dudes that I fight. It’s cool looking and all, but there’s no emotional connection. We tried to change that up this season.
For example, the Moon and Sunny fight, to me, was a metaphorical fight more than anything else. It was about two representations. One represents that [Sunny’s] given into destiny. Moon tried to break free of his destiny, but it drew him back in and he’s trying to tell me that the same is going to happen to me but I don’t believe that yet. So we’re on two different levels and we’re fighting each other with that mentality. I think that’s why the fights have a little more impact this season because they’re tied into characters fighting rather than just one guy annihilating a bunch of faceless dudes.
I noticed. The emotions are coming through during the fight scenes now more than ever.
I think it shows when Tilda and The Widow fight too. That frustration between the characters. Their relationship has been on the rocks all season, right? And it culminates in that one big fight where basically it’s The Widow giving Tilda a serious spanking. But it’s also that typical teenager challenging their mom kind of thing on a deeper level. They were building up for that one big fight, and I think it’s powerful because of the emotional relationship between the characters.
Speaking of which, I thought Tilda had died at the end of that fight. In fact, I wrote that she bit the dust in my review of the episode…whoops.
I think a lot of people thought she died. Actually, that shot of the chandelier landing on her…I think was a reshoot. I remember when we shot it, it landed near her. But I think obviously they changed the intention. I wasn’t there for the reshoot, it was done in January. So I think maybe Allan and Miles may have changed the trajectory of what you were supposed to think happened in that fight. It was a cool little thing to leave people hanging with. (Laughs.)
I figure if a character like Quinn can get stabbed like a bazillion times and still live, death might not be the end for most of the characters on the show anyway. Could that give us some hope for Veil, too?
I can definitely say that both Veil and Quinn, after the season finale, are now dead. They’re dead. (Laughs.) They’re not coming back. I don’t think there’s a return [planned] for those characters. If Quinn survived again, I think we would lose some audience members. It’s like, what the fuck? (Laughs.) He died in the first season, he died last season, and now he’s back again? I think definitely think he’s gone, out of the picture, and I think Veil is definitely out of the picture too.
I’ll take your word for that. What do we have in store for Sunny in season three then? Those two characters literally helped define him.
I’m not 100% sure, but I do know that Sunny is probably going to be dealing with a baby. That’s going to make things really complicated because I’m like, shit, how am I going to fight with a baby? How is he going to continue on this journey with this toddler because I have a 4 year old and I went through all that crap and it’s hard to deal with stuff like that. (Laughs.) So Sunny continuing on his journey with a newborn baby is going to be really difficult. And I mean, the fact that he’s a just a warrior dude, he’s not a fatherly type of person…he doesn’t even know how to take care of a baby…that can be interesting as well. I definitely know he’s going to be in a tight situation trying to deal with his baby and trying to move on with his journey.
I think Sunny’s back to rock bottom again. Maybe even a worse situation than being out in the mines. Like, if he stayed out there and didn’t try coming back, maybe Veil would still be alive at least. I mean, she’d be stuck with Quinn, but she’d still be alive. I think he’s going to be dealing with that guilt next season, too.
Let’s talk about the City of Azra for a minute. There’s this Lost-esque mystique about it (and the Book) that appeals to me and a large portion of your fanbase. The way season two left off, it seems like we’re closer than ever to gettng some answers. Obviously we’re going to see more of this side of the show developed next year, but I’m just wondering – can you give us any insight into what the actual heck is going on?
I’m kind of in the same boat. (Laughs) I know about as much about it as you. About season three, we really haven’t talked about that yet, about how to move on with the story. But the City of Azra will obviously be a big focal point, because it has a relationship to where M.K. is from for sure, but where maybe The Widow and maybe Bajie have come from as well. It’s going to be a very important thing. Whether it shows up in season three or season four, it’s going to be talked about for a while for sure.
But I think there’s a connection there between all the characters – or those characters at least, and that place. It’s their identity. It’s their origin. They don’t know anything about it because when they left, or when they were taken away from it one day, or whether it was just destroyed – I don’t know. They don’t remember it. So their journey is to remember that.. M.K. has the clearest memory of all of us of [Azra]. But we don’t have a clear picture of it. So that’s going to be a fun part of season three or following seasons is fully discovering what the meaning of Azra is for the whole spiritual journey of these characters. It’s basically tied into their identity, who they are, and where they come from.
Maybe we’ll figure out how old Bajie really is in the process. That would be nice. Anyway, after having completed two seasons and going into a third season with a boosted episode count (congratulations, by the way), how is Into the Badlands different now than it was when you originally pitched it?
It’s interesting because basically what’s happened – when we pitched the first pilot, and we thought that we’d be doing one episode, shooting one episode and letting the network decide if they were going to give us more, and then eventually they gave us six episodes so we changed the plan for that. So originally Quinn dying, Veil dying, all that happened in the pilot episode.
Wow. I didn’t know that.
So it was like Veil died at the end of the first episode and Sunny goes on this revenge thing, right? That totally changed. We drew it out over the course of two seasons, basically. I think it’s much better for that. We were trying to make a really sizzly pilot episode with a lot of stuff happening, to make the studio want more of us. But when we got the six episodes they told us we didn’t need to pack all that stuff into one episode, so then we drew it out over those six episodes and later over the second season as well.
The two seasons put together make one insanely long movie if you think about it.
I actually feel like this season is the real season and last season was like the extended pilot. It was the backstory.
Yep. I thought so too. Do you feel like Into the Badlands has found its audience this year?
It’s really interesting the kind of audience we’ve drawn to us. When we’re live tweeting stuff it’s cool to see we’re reach out to people in Africa and South America and all these places that love this show that we never really thought of because the first incarnation of the show, the idea was to put Hong Kong style martial arts on American television. We didn’t realize how much effect it would have globally. But also locally as well. It’s different types of people that get into this show. I mean we have the most diverse audience and the most diverse cast. Al, our showrunner, said, “We’re probably one of the only shows that has equal amount of Trump supporters as Bernie or Clinton supporters.”
I can totally see that.
Right? Because there’s different archetypes throughout the whole show that people gravitate to. And, hey, we have a wall. (Laughs)
So that’s really interesting. Also, for me it’s interesting because twenty years of my life has been in Asia. And so my whole fanbase is Chinese. And now you have American fan base that really only knows me from this show. I have a really strong African-American fan base, and a really strong caucasian fan base, and a Latin American fan base and all these people that are following the show because they love the action, they love how beautiful the show is and all that stuff…and they don’t know anything about my twenty year career before. It’s interesting to see that contrast and how that sort of just opened up. It’s really cool.
The other day I was at the post office and this woman, a nurse, was standing in front of me in line. She turns around and she goes, “You look a lot like Sunny.” And I go, “Cause I am.” And she freaked out. It’s crazy how much she freaked out. And normally in the past, coming back to the States was me kind of escaping, becoming anonymous. I mean, I couldn’t become anonymous in Asia. I can’t really walk out in the street. But I come back to the States and I have a lot of freedom here. Now I’m realizing that’s totally starting to shrink away. Which is fine, I love this show and I love the people.
Pretty soon you won’t be able to hide anywhere. Everyone will know who you are…dun dun dun.
Y’know, I would like [Into the Badlands] to get more mainstream. You guys have covered us throughout the whole season and even last season…but I don’t see any mainstream media talking about us at all. So I’m wondering when that will flip over.
Which is strange to me, especially with having The Walking Dead as a lead-in. I tell people about it. Lately I’ve noticed that it’s starting to slowly come into their awareness. They say, “Oh yeah! You’re talking about that kung-fu show, right?”
Knowing it’s a martial arts show, some people get turned away from it. Then they realize, oh there’s much more to it than that, and then they get back into it. Hopefully that helps turn a bunch of other people who aren’t necessarily martial arts fans onto the show. I don’t think The Walking Dead was a smash hit right away was it?
Not sure. I’m not a huge fan of that show, to be honest. But I do know they had the built-in comic book audience from the get go.
Okay, last question: is there anything about Into the Badlands that you want to share that you haven’t had the opportunity to in recent interviews?
Yeah. The show is bloody and violent and all that stuff, but we’re also trying to show the spiritual journey, the spiritual side of martial arts. It’s not all about fighting. It’s not about the brutality of it all. That’s only one aspect of martial arts.