Into the Badlands S3E1 – Some Quick Thoughts

Season 3, Episode 1: Enter the Phoenix

Wow. What a season opener! I was thinking of writing something after each episode, but don’t want to make it too long either, so here’s where I landed. My goal will be to post some hopefully-weekly quick thoughts about what stands out, no more than 2-3 days after each episode. I feel like they should be pretty spoiler-free, since I don’t see myself spending too much time on the specific events of the episode. But, in the event that I do, I will definitely give you a SPOILER ALERT.

This post will be SPOILER-FREE. Though I will have some screenshots.

Thought #1: A Reference to a Classic
Zhang Yimou’s 2002 martial arts epic, Hero, was undeniably a beautiful film. On a purely cinematographic and formal level, it’s pretty dang flawless. Its episodic narrative and unreliable narrator harks back to Kurosawa’s Rashomon. It’s a pretty fantastic film, and one of my favorites. During my dissertation research, I actually came to find some problems with the film, particularly if it’s looked at through a more political or ideological lens.


There’s this beautifully filmed moment where hundreds/thousands of arrows are heading towards Jet Li’s character that was echoed within the opening minutes of Into the Badlands’ third season opener:

Bonus Points: this specific moment was also the cover of a book I went back to over and over and over and over again throughout my grad school career:

Thought #2: The Full Embrace of Wuxia Physics
So there’s a genre of Chinese fiction called wuxia, which is often used to generally talk about all kinds of stories that have to do with martial arts heroes and kung fu adventures. On film in particular, the wuxia tradition has come to encompass a number of tropes that are familiar to many who are fans of the genre. Many of these tropes – tied to particular martial arts skills – have already been on full display in Into the Badlands: hand-to-hand martial arts combat, use of a wide range of weapons and other objects as weapons such as all manners of swords, double swords, hooks, axes, chairs, tables, pans, nunchucks, etc, as well as making use of acupuncture points in order to disable, heal, paralyze, or otherwise immobilize friends and foes alike.

Until this season opener, however, I hadn’t realized that one component had been sorely missing: the suspension of gravitational rules. The pre-credits fight scene with the Widow made use of this skill/trope in ways that made my heart a-flutter. Below: two moments from Into the Badlands and two moments from some Chinese martial arts movies:

Thought #3: Loving the Costumes
The colors and textures are really beautiful! Just look at these!

Aaaaaand…they also remind me of Zhang Yimou’s works. Two images from House of Flying Daggers below:

Thought #4: And Baby Makes…Everything Extra Stressful for this Dad!
I don’t know how many parents out there are reading this, but when I became a parent, watching movies became an entirely different experience. Any time – and I mean ANY. TIME. – a child is on screen, and especially if that child is crying or in any state of supposed danger or distress, it instantly becomes that much more stressful as a viewer. I mean, come on! Sunny’s a single dad! Trying to protect his son! And trying to teach him to be good! But people keep attacking him! So he has to kill them all…even if he doesn’t want to.

Sigh…the parenting struggle is real, Sunny. I completely understand.

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