Daniel Wu promotes “Into the Badlands” in New York


On the front and back covers of the 2015 New York Comic Con program, only one human being made it – and it was someone few expected to see in a publication outside of Hong Kong.

In fact, that cover subject, Daniel Wu – the Chinese American actor who made his debut in Asia nearly two decades ago in films like “Bishonen” – didn’t think he would be involved with AMC’s new martial arts television series, Into the Badlands, beyond his duties as an executive producer.  But when AMC told him that they wanted an Asian American male in the lead, Wu suddenly became the obvious choice.

“I’m 40, I’m not 20,” Wu said to much laughter in the audience at a panel promoting the series at New York Comic Con.  “I had a producer’s cap on for various reasons of age, like I just said.  But in the end I just started falling in love with the character.”

Wu, who founded the University of Oregon Wushu Club in 1994 as a student, prepared for the role by undergoing four months of training: 12 hours a day, six days a week.  “It was a slow and steady process, as it should be,” said Wu, who had not shot a martial arts film in awhile.

Set 500 years into the future and filmed entirely in Louisiana, the first season of Into the Badlands comprises six one-hour episodes.  The focus on martial arts is initially how Wu and his good friend (and “Bishonen” co-star) Stephen Fung got involved.  Fung is not acting in the series but is its fight director and co-executive producer.  He started in the Hong Kong entertainment industry earlier than Wu and has made a transition into directing, having completed six films including “Tai Chi Zero,” which he and Wu also co-produced.  Their involvement enabled them to bring in some renowned martial arts coordinators and choreographers from Asia, notably Huan-Chiu “Dee Dee” Ku, who has been a stunt double for Jet Li on multiple occasions.  Other martial artists, such as former UFC competitor Cung Le, will make appearances throughout the series.

“You’re going to see some amazing stuff on the small screen that you’ve never seen before,” Wu said.  “As the series goes on, the fighting is going to get crazier and crazier.”

The Badlands in the series title refers to the area controlled by seven barons who are competing with one another in turf battles.  To assist their respective power trips, each has a squad of assassins called Clippers.  Wu plays Sunny, a Head Clipper – or Regent – who has already amassed 400 kills in serving the top baron named Quinn (Marton Csokas).  Other characters enter the fray and threaten to topple Sunny’s existence, including The Widow (a new Clipper and soon-to-be Sunny’s biggest rival, played by Emily Beecham) and M.K., who has a mysterious past (Aramis Knight, the youngest cast member).

“He’s known nothing his whole life but killing,” Wu said of his character.  “As the story starts, he realizes, maybe that’s not for him anymore.  It takes a big move for him to open up and change.”

The audience question-and-answer session at the panel inevitably shifted to what Wu thought of playing an Asian American lead character on television.

“I didn’t think about it until we were done with the show and people started writing things about it…because I’ve had a career for 18 years in Hong Kong where I didn’t have to think about race at all,” Wu said.  “It’s awesome.  It’s awesome that AMC was adamant that the lead was an Asian American to play this role.  It takes progressive people like AMC to really make that decision…because that is reflective of what this country is about.”

Into the Badlands makes its premiere on Sun., Nov. 15, at 10/9 Central.