A new martial arts AMC television show, which features two Asian-American leads, is receiving strong buzz ahead of its fall premiere.
"Into the Badlands," starring Daniel Wu and Aramis Knight, is set in a undetermined future where warlord-like barons maintain power through the use of mercenaries known as “clippers.” Although in some ways modern, the world has a notable absence of firearms, so combat is primarily hand-to-hand.
During a panel discussion last weekend at New York Comic Con, Wu was asked how he felt about being one of the few Asian leads of a television show in recent memory.
“I didn’t think about it until after we were done...because I had a career for 18 years in Hong Kong where I didn’t have to think about race at all," Wu responded. "And to come back here and be that, to think about when has it been since we’ve seen an Asian American lead in a show—almost never."
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Wu has had a long, diverse career in Hong Kong, including numerous starring roles and even singing in a boy band he founded.
The 40-year-old actor was originally brought in to produce the show. It was only later that he was cast as the lead role of Sunny, a feared clipper who begins to question his way of life.
"It’s awesome AMC was adamant. They were adamant that the lead was an Asian, [that] there was an Asian American to play this role,” Wu told a packed auditorium of fans.
Aramis Knight, who is of Pakistani and East Indian descent, will star alongside Wu as M.K., a young man with yet-to-be-explained potential, who acts as the impetus for the show. Knight's past credits include roles in “Ender’s Game” and the television series “Scorpion."
"I think not only is the martial arts groundbreaking but casting [Wu and I] as predominant characters is also groundbreaking. It’s never been done before,” Knight told NBC News, adding "I think it's sort of amazing that AMC was really the first to say, 'You know, we can sell a mixed race [person] as a lead."
The martial arts aspect of "Into the Badlands" was what drew in Wu and director Stephen Fung in the first place. Acrobatic combat was so central to the story and look of the show that Fung's Hong Kong fight unit was deployed along with the conventional dramatic unit. The result is a dystopian show featuring a distinctly Hong Kong vibe.
“We had this unit and it was running full time...when we say there’s authentic Hong Kong martial arts, it’s because we used a system that they use in China. This is the system that Jackie Chan uses, the system Jet Li uses, and obviously that Stephen [Fung] and Daniel [Wu] do,” Al Gough, one of the show's creators, said.
“Into the Badlands” premieres November 15 on AMC.