Daniel Wu is an American actor of Chinese descent who has acted in, directed, or produced over 60 films in Hong Kong, the United States, and many other places. He is one of the most well-known actors in Chinese-language cinema. Since 2015 he has been a producer and actor on Into the Badlands, the only martial-arts focused television show on US television. His dedication, intelligence, and charisma have helped make Into the Badlands popular across a surprisingly diverse array of demographics in the US and abroad.

 Into the Badlands premiered on AMC in 2015. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the show stars Daniel Wu as Sunny, a martial artist on a quest for enlightenment. Critics have praised the show’s action choreography and cinematography, saying it continues the tradition of Hong Kong cinema’s martial arts excellence. Into the Badlands has recently been renewed for a third season.

Don’t miss the Season Two finale of Into the Badlands on May 21st 2017!

A Look at the Series: Into the Badlands

Interview with Daniel Wu about Into the Badlands

What is your martial arts background?

I started learning traditional Shaolin style because I saw Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple in 1982 in a cinema in San Francisco’s Chinatown. My mother didn’t want me to learn martial arts; I was a hyperactive kid and she was afraid I would just get into fights. When I was 11, my mother found a teacher she could accept. YC Chang taught kung fu and tai chi, and he was also a Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner.

At 17, I switched to Wushu because I wanted to compete. I studied with Zhang Hongmei. In college I started studying Muay Thai and boxing, and some Krav Maga. I even boxed at n amateur event during college, and I won my bout. I continued studying boxing and muy thai after I came to Hong Kong.

Did you ever study or learn action and stunts for movies?

I never studied it, I just did it! I learned by doing it on movie sets, basically through repetition. The action directors and stuntmen would show you things if they thought you needed it, but if you looked like you knew what you were doing they left you alone. My first action movie was Young & Dangerous: The Prequel (1998). I played a Thai boxer. There’s a big gang fight with about 100 people.

The action director just said “Okay, you fight with these four guys. Action!” I had a fake bicycle chain made of rubber. The others had fake pipes made of plastic. I’m pretty sure that these extras playing gangsters weren’t acting. They were real gangsters. I started yelling, “C’mon! C’mon!” in Cantonese, and they took it as real. I was acting, but they weren’t! Luckily for me, they were all smaller than I was, and at one point I just picked one of them up and threw him. The shot seemed to last forever, but I got through it.

into the badlands Daniel Wu
Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Gallery
Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao/AMC

What is filming like in the US compared to HK/China?

I’ve worked in Hong Kong, mainland China, Europe, Japan, the US, and elsewhere. I like Hong Kong the best, because it seems to be the most efficient industry, and gets a lot done with relatively few people. In the American industry, there’s a lot of people who do one thing. They do it really well, but they might only do it one or two hours a day. The rest of the time, they’re not really working.

I understand the value of their expertise, but it seems really wasteful to me. As a producer, it bugs me to see people being paid for doing nothing a lot of the time. At the same time, it’s not good to be short-handed either.

In terms of doing action scenes, Hong Kong is also more efficient. They seem to get it done in fewer takes, which is faster and therefore cheaper. I try to use this approach on Into the Badlands; we’re telling a story with each shot during an action scene.

But in other productions, especially big ones, you have the action choreographer designing it, then the cinematographer figuring out how he’s going to cover it, then the editor puts the fight together in the editing suite. So it’s not a unified process. I don’t understand why they do it that way.

In our case, our action choreographer Master Dee Dee tells the director of photography how the shot should be, and I guess in the US you don’t do that.

What I don’t like about it is that it’s really inefficient, because we have to do the fight scene like 25 or 30 times from beginning to end so the DP can cover it all. Not only is it tiring, but you also increase the chances of getting injured. I’ve had to do scenes where I’m jumping, running and falling a couple dozen times from beginning to end, because I might be in the background of certain shots.

But in Hong Kong, they know that if they move the camera a little bit, I’m out of the shot so they don’t have to worry about it. They won’t make me take those risks just so I appear out of focus in the distance of a shot. It seems inefficient and disjointed to do it the other way.

For Into the Badlands, we cut it together before we submit it to the editors, who usually just make cuts for time. The rhythm and tempo of the scenes is already in place before they see it, because we’ve created the fight for them.

into the badlands Daniel Wu
Vidan Tran, Daniel Wu as Sunny, Aaron Gassor - Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Gallery
Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao/AMC

Congratulations on being renewed for a 3rd season. Season 1 was shot in the US, Season 2 was shot in Ireland; any idea where you will film season 3? 

We’ll still be in Dublin. It’s really expensive to move 22 containers of equipment! The reason we moved after Season 1 is that the tax credit in Louisiana has changed to the point where it may not be financially worth it. We also moved because Louisiana is great if you want to film in a flat, swampy setting, but there’s not much geographical diversity.

Being based in Dublin is great, because in a half hour you can be at the ocean, or in the mountains, or at a waterfall, or in the forest! The weather is also much more tolerable. We were really lucky last winter because it only rained for 5 days. Normally it rains from October to April.

You are a producer on Into the Badlands as well as the lead actor.  Will you try directing episodes too in the future?

I would love to direct but I don’t like directing myself. So I don’t think I’d direct an episode of Into the Badlands. I did direct a small fight scene in Season 2, because we were short-handed, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but that’s the only directing I’d do.

into the badlands Daniel Wu
Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Gallery
Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao/AMC

You’ve managed to work with your friends Stephen Fung (Enter the Phoenix, House of Fury, Tai Chi Hero, etc) and Cung Le (Man with the Iron Fists, Bodyguards and Assassins, etc) already on Into the Badlands. Who else would/would you like to work with? 

There’s so many people we’d like to get on the show. I’d love to get Michelle Yeoh on the show. I’d like to get some iconic people on the show, because it’s about martial arts and Wuxia-style action. It would be great to get some of the old-school people on the show, to pay homage to them. Jackie Chan probably wouldn’t do it even though he said he would.

People like that, like Donnie Yen, or maybe Tony Jaa or Iko Uwais. I’ve talked to Mark Dacascos and Ray Park, so I’m trying to get people like that on the show, because for martial arts film geeks, it would be cool to have those iconic people on the show.

For season 3, we’ve got to replace some of the characters we lost in season 2. Nick Frost was an amazing addition. A lot of the new fans of the show came to us because of him. He totally changed the face of the show. The chemistry between Sunny and Baji has been fantastic. Adding people like that to the show really benefits it a lot, so we’re looking to add more characters who can do the same.

into the badlands Daniel Wu
Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Gallery
Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao/AMC

What sort of contribution would you like to be able to make to the action cinema tradition?

In the simplest, most humble way, Into the Badlands has brought a new level of martial arts action to American television. We were able to bring the Hong Kong style of action to middle America, who may not have ever seen stuff like that on television. I hope that Into the Badlands sparks an interest for people to delve deeper into movies a lot of us watched growing up.

I’m also very happy that I’m now meeting kids who want to start learning martial arts because they think Sunny is cool. I got into martial arts because of Jet Li in Shaolin Temple. If kids do it because of me, I feel like that’s coming full circle.

That’s already happening, and I’m just glad I don’t have any hopes beyond that. We just wanted to bring the show to America to show people what was possible. There were movies before like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or House of Flying Daggers, but nothing really followed that. So I’m really happy to have a TV show that’s on every week, bringing this level of action into people’s homes.

The diversity of the fans of the show is really amazing. We’re getting fans who are grandmothers, or other people you’d never think would be into this kind of show. So to have a chance to educate people about Hong Kong style action, I couldn’t be more proud or grateful. I feel like I owe my entire career to Hong Kong cinema, so to be able to honor it this way is really cool.

into the badlands Daniel Wu
Aaron Gassor, Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 2, Gallery
Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao/AMC

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