Story: Three years have passed now since an earthquake razed all of Korea to the ground. People still don't know what happened in the rest of the world, because all contact with the outside world has broken off. In this post-apocalyptic world, Nam-san (Ma Dong-seok) and Ji-wan (Lee Jun-young) hire themselves out as hunters. The eighteen-year-old girl Su-na (Roh Jeong-eui) was once rescued by Nam-san as a child and now lives together with her grandmother in a tent settlement, where Nam-san sometimes also trades his game for other goods. One day, a group passes through the settlement and offers Su-na and a few other young people to come along with their closest relatives to an apartment building in which there is enough fresh water and food. Su-na and her grandmother go along with them, but it turns out that in the only apartment complex still standing in Korea, the crazy doctor Yang Gi-su (Lee Hee-jun) and some ex-military men are conducting experiments on young people in order to change the human organism so that people could survive without water and food in the future. Above all, however, the doctor wants to bring his dead daughter back to life. When Su-na realizes that something is wrong in the apartment complex, she tries to escape, but Nam-san and Ji-wan have also gotten wind of the fact that weird things happen in the apartment building and are on their way to rescue Su-na.
Review: As time is increasingly precious these days, you might tend to look for reviews of a movie before you invest a few hours. Which is also the point of this page: to draw attention to a few insider tips and to warn people about sleep-inducing movies. For this reason, I'm not quite sure what the purpose of a review about "Badland Hunters" is supposed to be, because apparently most people have already seen it. After all, it is (at least in Germany) not only in the top ten movies on Netflix but was even in first place for a few days. Maybe some of you are still undecided whether the movie is worth watching or not, and so this review can at least warn you about the fact that "Badland Hunters" might not be to everyone's taste, but that action fans should definitely take a look. However, the movie comes across a little outdated sometimes. There are heroes who stand in the middle of a corridor and shoot everything down, while the bullets of the opposing army completely miss them, and then there is an extremely shallow plot including a serum that mutates people into super soldiers. On the other hand, the action is unforgiving.
An earthquake that lays everything to waste, no explanation for the apocalypse, and just a single apartment complex that is still standing? At the latest, when we get to see the building, it becomes clear that this is actually a continuation of the outstanding "Concrete Utopia". Or rather, the movie is set in the same "universe". First of all, it's surprising that this wasn't mentioned on the movie poster for marketing purposes. Then again, the "predecessor" is not so internationally known that it would have made things worthwhile, and the number two in the title probably would have confused Netflix viewers too. Be that as it may, it was a smart choice, because that way I went into the movie with an open mind, and so should everyone else, because "Badland Hunters" can't keep up with "Concrete Utopia" and its socio-critical tone. Even though the movie also makes fun of the fact that the last hope of humanity is an apartment building, in which society has committed itself to socialist ideas and a personality cult, there is no real depth to it.
Despite that, "Badland Hunters" also wants to be a completely different movie. An action flick with a bit of zombie apocalypse, although the latter aspect is fortunately kept within limits because (most) of the undead retain their cognitive abilities. Where the movie's strengths and weaknesses lie becomes clear right from the start, though. The characters are rather flat, but Ma Dong-seok ("The Roundup") still manages to display his typical charisma with great ease, all the while spouting one-liners here and there. Even though the story hints at a not-so-heroic past of the protagonist, Ma's character is not that different from his previous roles. So, there are no surprises here. Same goes for his combat skills. Nam-san is an unstoppable machine that never gets into dire straits, so there's never anything at stake, even when he's facing an army of adversaries. And once again, Heo Myung-haeng is the choreographer, just like he was in Ma's other movies, and he makes the hero's massive punches knock everyone out within seconds. So, as is always the case with his fights, there is a lot of power driving the action. Nevertheless, it's also Heo's first foray into the world of a director.
As a director, Heo does a pretty good job, too. Only the fact that he emphasizes each punch by artificially shaking the image seems like unnecessary cheap showmanship. On the other hand, it's nice that Heo as a choreographer puts a few grappling and wrestling moves into the fights. Sometimes, Ahn Ji-hye as the ex-military also steals the show, as she is allowed to show more agility and acrobatics. Apparently, Ahn did (most) of the stunts herself too. An action flick with her would allow Heo to take his choreography into another direction, as he already did with "Brave Citizen". However, Heo doesn't just rely on unarmed combat, there are also some gunfights. Most of them are quite unspectacular, but when Nam-san gets his shotgun out, the movie becomes a lot more violent, and scenes like these are actually the movie's highlights. With his machete, the hero also knows how to chop off limbs and heads, but since we unconsciously think the villains are all undead - even though that's clearly not the case and you could argue whether you can be considered undead at all, if you are still able to think clearly -, the sometimes extreme violence seems a bit too wacky and adrenaline-pumping to actually make you feel sick.
So this is Ma Dong-seok's most violent movie so far, but since there are a few jokes and we get some occasional slapstick comedy, and the apartment community almost feels like a caricature of a socialist society, you don't take everything too seriously here. Around halftime, though, "Badland Hunters" reveals its greatest weakness. Su-na finds out about the Doctor's secret and the plot as well as the clichéd characters (especially Doctor Yang) make the movie lose steam, so that we even start to get bored. This is mainly due to the fact that Ma then doesn't play a huge role in the movie for quite some time. When he later embarks on his rescue mission, things get entertaining again, and you can't help but wonder what it would have been like if Nam-san had been allowed to fight his way through the entire building, just like in "The Raid". I would have been up for it, and the level of violence already would have been fitting as well. Thus, the action is the clear selling point of "Badland Hunters", and fans of the genre will have a lot of fun. In general, though, there are too many clichés and 90s borrowings, like invulnerable heroes and stupid decisions, which can't be compensated by a little self-ironic tone. Fans of Ma Dong-seok, on the other hand, will be happy that he is allowed to be a good deal more violent here, and that might even be enough to give "Badland Hunters" a recommendation.