This review contains slight SPOILERS for the Badland Hunters movie on Netflix.

Badland Hunters movie poster
Photo: Netflix

Badland Hunters

Directed by Heo Myung-haeng
Written by Kim Bo-tong & Kwak Jae-min
Starring Ma Dong-seok as Nam-san, Lee Hee-joon as Yang Gi-su, Lee Jun-young as Choi Ji-wan, Ahn Ji-hye as Lee Eun-ho & Roh Jeong-eui as Han Su-na

Set just a few years after the cataclysmic earthquake shown in the film Concrete Utopia; Badland Hunters follows a group of survivors who must return to the fated Hwanggung apartment complex to confront a team of military personnel conducting inhuman experiments to evolve the human race.

If you’ve seen 2023’s Concrete Utopia, watching Badland Hunters makes you do a double take regarding how different it feels despite taking place in the same universe. While Utopia is more of a psychological thriller that confronts the evils of humanity on a personal level, Hunters is an action-packed sci-fi romp that confronts the evils of humanity with hard punches.

Badland Hunters works as a standalone

Choi with a flaming arrow
Choi with a flaming arrow

If you haven’t seen Utopia, Hunters also works as a stand-alone. It does not require any knowledge of its predecessor to watch it. Their connection is downplayed in their releases, as Hunters is on Netflix and doesn’t seem to be advertised as part of Utopia‘s greater cinematic universe, so you might not be aware of that detail if you decided to stream Hunters via a Netflix recommendation.

However, there are very real connections within the film itself, such as confirming that the earthquake shown in Utopia was a worldwide phenomenon, the Hwanggung apartment complex as the primary setting in both films and the blink and you’ll miss it Easter egg in Hunters that shows one of the red X’s smeared on several apartment doors in one of Utopia‘s key scenes.

What is Badland Hunters about?

Nam-san taking down a gangster
Nam-san taking down a gangster

The film centers on a man named Nam-san (Dong-seok, Marvel’s Eternals), his steward Choi Ji-wan (Jun-young, former singer for U-KISS and UNB), and a young girl, Han Su-na (Jeong-eui, The Day I Died: Unclosed Case), who is kidnapped by a group of people who claim to be run a school, yet actually run a front for an operation by military survivors and a mad scientist that experiments on kids to try and build reptile-human hybrids. Nam-san and Choi, along with the help from a former soldier, Lee Eun-ho (Ji-hye, Slate) must then rescue her.

The scientist, Yang Gi-su (Lee Hee-Joon, The Man Standing Next), is a survivor of the cataclysm and is driven to save his daughter by any means necessary, even if that means being a by-the-numbers bad guy whose motivation is all we learn about who he is as a person. Indeed, many of this film’s characters play a singular part, often not branching out beyond the three-dimensional. Nam-san, for instance, is hinted at having a past reputation by those who fear him, but we don’t often see that explored.

In sum, Nam-san is our good guy, and he will get the bad guys no matter what. Despite much of this movie not rising above the surface level, I still enjoyed watching it. Nam-san is a force to root for, and his actions are brutal and often hilarious—a balance well-played by Ma Dong-seok, who seems to be having a lot of fun. Lee Jun-young as Choi also looks like he’s having a blast as the lovable loser who can’t quite get the girl to notice him and can’t live up to the same moniker as Nam-san.

Emotional performances and stand-out action

Han Su-na alongside other survivors
Han Su-na, alongside other survivors

The shining performance, however, goes to Jeong-eui as Han Su-na, who gets much of the actual emotional beats in the movie. Forced to try and outsmart Yang Gi-su and his men while worried about her grandmother, who’s supposed to meet her at the apartment, Han Su-na is the glue that binds this entire affair together, though everyone does a wonderful job with their parts in this movie (there’s no one I would say is a weak link, and that’s nice to see).

One element of Hunters that’s worthy of praise is the action. This is a tough-as-nails movie; the hits come in fast and hard, and you can almost feel the broken bones when contact is made. The fighting is well-choreographed, and many heads are exploding, so if that isn’t your thing, maybe avoid this movie. However, it added to the cheese factor for me, and I was eating while watching this movie.

VERDICT: If you watch Concrete Utopia and Badland Hunters back-to-back as a double feature—I watched them months apart—it will result in an incredible experience of tonally disparate films. However, it certainly won’t result in a bad time, as both films do a great job with what each of them is trying to do. I don’t know if Hunters needed to exist in an established world, but it’s still a good time, and I can easily recommend it.

Concrete Utopia is available for rent on Viki, while Badland Hunters is available globally on Netflix.


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