[HanCinema's Film Review] "Badland Hunters"
By William Schwartz | Published on
"Concrete Utopia" was a major gem at the South Korean box office this year- ostensibly a disaster movie about a massive earthquake, "Concrete Utopia" was in practice a harsh social commentary about how well-meaning attempts to enforce a pre-apocalyptic hierarchy in a post-apocalyptic world are doomed to failure. "Badland Hunters" is, somehow, based in the same setting, but with a radically different tone. The mutant lizards in the first few shots are the main obvious clue.
But the more relevant clue is how Ji-wan (played by Lee Jun-young) is introduced attempting to kill an alligator for meat using a bow and arrow. When he fails, Nam-san (played by Ma Dong-seok) has to save the day by finishing the alligator off with a machete. "Badland Hunters" is, to put it bluntly, a much sillier movie. Although bless their hearts, the performers do an admirable job of taking it as seriously as they can. The closest we get to a self-deprecating laugh is when Ma Dong-seok is so exhausted by dealing with stairs that he uses an assault rifle as an impromptu cane.
If there's any flaw to Nam-san as a lead, it's that he's not really much of a character to begin with. Nam-san is just the stock Ma Dong-seok archetype that appears in any vaguely action-oriented appearance. He's well-meaning, but exhausted, and when the first emotion overwhelms the other, he starts hurting people. Ji-wan and Nam-san both work as hunter-scavengers in a Seoul that's been destroyed by earthquakes. And years later apparently still has living alligators that escaped from the zoo.
The worldbuilding as a contrast to "Concrete Utopia" is almost interesting. Ji-wan and Nam-san appear to exist in a setting where digging up supplies from the pre-apocalypse doesn't really work anymore. Their village is functional, but only just barely, is why an obviously too good to be true offers pops up from an apartment complex that apparently has clean water. In "Concrete Utopia" clean water would have been game-changing. That was a movie with a strong grasp of materialist circumstances.
"Badland Hunters" not so much. The preamble of mutant lizards predictably leads to a main feature of Ma Dong-seok getting into vicious fistfights with mutant humans. Gi-soo (played by Lee Hee-jun) is the mad doctor who leads an apparently functional society astray and I was just left wondering, why, exactly. Sure, an earthquake destroyed the world as we know it, and doctors are in short supply, but the military characters backing Gi-soo seem to have given up remarkably quickly based entirely on Gi-soo's practical application of evil biology.
In a smarter film, these elements would be satirical. In the hands of director Heo Myung-haeng, best known for his past work as a martial arts choreographer, these plot points exist mainly to set up some admittedly fun action setpieces where Ma Dong-seok first punches out regular old post-apocalyptic gangsters, and eventually lizard people. "Badland Hunters" isn't exactly a bad movie, there's just not very much about it you can treat very seriously.
Written by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea from 2011 to 2021. He is currently located in the Portland metropolitan area. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org, and is open to requests for content in future articles.