Badland Hunters (2024) Review
Badland Hunters (Hwang-ya, 황야) is the latest film starring action hero Ma Dong-seok, and that is bad news for Korea. He was in Train to Busan in which the country was overrun with zombies, and in Ashfall where a massive volcanic eruption laid waste to the entire Korean Peninsula. And the amount of property damage he wracked up in The Outlaws and its sequels The Roundup and The Roundup: No Way Out would bankrupt most insurance companies.
In the opening scenes, Seoul is levelled by a catastrophic earthquake as the military are about to arrest Yang Gi-su (Lee Hee-joon, The Man Standing Next, Humidity Alert) for the murders and human experiments he’s committed trying to bring his daughter back from the dead. The building collapses on him, but you know he’ll be back later in the film.
Three years later, the city still looks like a set from a Mad Max movie and Choi ji-wan (Lee Joon-young, Brave Citizen, You Have Done Well) has ventured out into the wasteland to hunt, and he’s just found himself a target. Unfortunately, it’s an alligator which shrugs off his arrows and turns the tables on him. Luckily, Nam San (Ma Dong-seok) is there to dispatch it with his machete.
Badland Hunters is director Heo Myeong Haeng’s first film, although he’s worked as an actor and stuntman in films like Oldboy and Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan. Writers Kim Bo-Tong (D.P.) and Kwak Jae-Min (Amanza) give him plenty to work with, as the gator is quickly followed up by a gang of bandits that have to be taken care of. And it only briefly slows down after that before Su-na (No Jeong-ee, Phantom Detective, I Want to Know Your Parents) and her grandmother accept an opportunity to move to a fortified safe haven which turns out to be anything but.
Nominally a sequel to 2023’s Concrete Utopia, Badland Hunters has all new characters and only shares the idea of a surviving high rise, it’s essentially a stand-alone film, and I was able to follow it without having seen the original. And that’s a good thing because there’s more than enough going on here as Choi ji-wan and Nam San team up with ex special forces Lee Eun-ho (Ahn Ji-hye, Project Wolf Hunting, Slate) to battle Yang Gi-su and his seemingly immortal troops in order to rescue Su-na.
Part cult thriller, part mad scientist horror film and part post apocalyptic action, the film is never dull, even if it’s not always original. While it isn’t a copy of any single film, there are scenes that recall everything from V, The Girl With All the Gifts, The Raid, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, some of the better Italian Mad Max rip-offs and several others. The best, however, may be the massive Nam San wading into a group of soldiers armed with only a machete, hacking off arms and heads as though he were Jason Voorhees.
Badland Hunters is certainly bloody enough to be a prime 80s slasher as machetes and knives are used as often as guns and bodies are frequently hacked apart and cut open, a head is sawed off on broken glass, you get the idea. The effects are a mix of practical and mostly good CGI. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for much of the CGI used to show the remains of Seoul, it frequently looks like a 70s or 80s vintage matte painting.
The best scenes though, as with most of his films, are the scenes where Ma Dong-seok is set loose to wreak havoc on everyone and anyone in his way. And Badland Hunters lets him do that frequently, both with hoards of cannon fodder and a final fight with an enhanced super soldier. The result is a wonderfully gory and action packed post apocalyptic film that should keep viewers more than happy. After watching it, I can see why they decided to re-team Heo Myeong Haeng and Ma Dong-seok on The Roundup: Punishment. Hopefully it can get that franchise back on track after the disappointing thirds film.
Badland Hunters is available on Netflix in a variety of subtitled and dubbed options. This review is based on the English subtitled version.