AMC's martial arts western unlike anything else on TV
Wu’s on first, What’s on second, and I Don’t Know is on third.
Wait, scratch that. Daniel Wu pretty much covers all the bases on AMC’s new martial-arts western Into the Badlands. The actor plays a pivotal character, and as an executive producer he has input into every kick, punch and vicious evisceration airing on the screen.
Loosely based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, the six-part series focuses on a warrior paradoxically named Sunny (Wu), who embarks on a spiritual journey with a boy called M.K. (Aramis Knight) across a dangerous land.
Wu, who’s appeared in scores of Chinese-language films, spoke with Postmedia about Into the Badlands, the changing representation of Asian characters onscreen and his gruelling schedule while filming the role.
Q How do you balance the physical side of your role with the non-action side?
A I’d spent about six months training. In order to get this level of action done on a TV schedule, we have to shoot two units at the same time — one unit is shooting drama while the other unit is shooting action.
Because I’m involved in most of the fights, I’m jumping back and forth between sets. So I’ll do a drama scene, and when I’m done with that I’ll run over to the action side and finish off an action scene, and when I’m done with that I’ll run over to the drama side. It’s pretty crazy and intense.
Q After so many years doing martial arts films, is there anything that’s still challenging about the fight scenes?
A Yeah. One of the major focuses is to maintain stamina and not get injured. It’s like being a professional athlete — you want to want to be available for every single game, so you have to take all these steps to prevent it. It’s very different now from when I was in my 20s — I was pretty much indestructible.
But now I’m 40, so physically I’ve gone through a lot already. I’ve torn an anterior cruciate ligament, I’ve broken an ankle, all that stuff. I know I can pull off the moves, but I don’t want to get injured.
Q Growing up, one of your role models was Jackie Chan — is it surreal to count him as a friend now?
A Jackie Chan’s incredible. I’ve had the unique experience of idolizing him for most of my life and then being managed by him for 11 years and having him be a personal mentor. I was inspired to do martial arts by people like Jackie Chan and Jet Li and Bruce Lee. So to be able to do a show like this, which can possibly influence the next generation of kids to want to do martial arts, that’s a full circle. Philosophically, that’s amazing to me.
Q What was the appeal of martial arts for you growing up?
A I think it was mainly because as a Chinese kid growing up in California, I didn’t see people like me on the big screen, except when I saw people like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee or Jet Li in Hong Kong films. I just kind of naturally gravitated to those kind of films. I don’t think it was conscious, per se, that I was looking for “my people” on TV, but they were doing cool stuff.
Q What do you think about how Asian characters are represented on TV now?
A I think it’s got much better. I think it’s been a very slow and cumbersome process to bring diversity to American television, or American screens in general. For many, many years I think many Asian roles were very stereotypical. And in some ways the bane of every Asian-American male is the Sixteen Candles Long Duk Dong character — that really jumped into people’s psyches as what an Asian-American male is. A nerdy dude. Or a kung fu guy, or a triad.
So to slowly be able to break up those stereotypes and create more diverse Asian-American roles on television is a big challenge. I think it’s getting better. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think it’s been amazing to see that other than a Batman, there’s a Rush Hour show coming on, there’s Dr. Ken, there’s Fresh Off the Boat, there are little successes here and there.