Last year, Um Tae-hwa’s Concrete Utopia became a bona fide hit in South Korea and internationally. It was critically acclaimed, a festival darling, South Korea’s entry for Best International Feature at the Academy Awards, and it was in the top five highest-grossing films in Korea in 2023. The sequel to the film, Badland Hunters, takes an unexpected turn, focusing on the survivors on the outside, on the streets, among the rubble where a wayward doctor threatens to upend what little is left of humanity.
Here’s what happens at the end of Badland Hunters, Netflix’s new post-apocalyptic action movie that serves as a sequel to 2023’s Concrete Utopia.
Starring Korean legend Ma Dong-Seok, Badland Hunters takes us to the lawless badland that was once Seoul. Dong-seok plays Nam-san, a strong and fearless hunter who goes on a rescue mission to save a sweet teen girl, Su-na (Roh Jeong-eui) from a mad doctor (Lee Hee-joon) and his cultists. For his directorial debut, Heo Myung-haeng takes on Kim Bo-tong and Kwak Jae-min’s screenplay to craft an action thriller that takes its cues from the thriving zombie genre.
Badland Hunters is a South Korean action film directed by Heo Myung-haeng and released in 2024 and is the sequel to 2023’s Concrete Utopia. After Seoul is nearly annihilated following an earthquake and the land is turned into a lawless wasteland, a retired hunter named Nam-san returns to the field to save a teenager helped captive by a mad doctor and a group of cultists.
Badland Hunters doesn’t feel like a natural successor to Concrete Utopia, mainly because there aren’t any zombies in the first film. The horror in Concrete Utopia was made of ordinary flesh and bone. Badland Hunters is only a sequel because it exists in the same place and is explicitly set a few years later. Watching the first film is almost unnecessary. This one catches us up but doesn’t directly connect to the events that took place. Badland Hunters is a sequel that stands on its own, and if viewed from that lens, it makes its shortcomings less of a problem.
The action scenes are perhaps the greatest highlight of the film, as they are exciting, visually interesting and effectively used.
Story-wise, the film follows a basic formula — a mad scientist is motivated by his god complex and creates a “cure” to death. A good guy driven by his humanity knows there is an innocent girl in need and leaps into action. The rest is just details. Concrete Utopia tells a complex and compelling narrative about the unexpected conflict between survival and humanity. Here, such complex themes are whittled down to very basic ideas of what it means to survive in an apocalyptic scenario. The subtlety of Concrete Utopia’s allegory at play is replaced with brutal action and bloody violence.
The screenplay doesn’t dive deeper into the minds of people who are surviving a world-changing disaster. The intimacy of the first film is lost, but what is gained is Ma Dong-seok kicking butt. It’s a fair trade, so long as you’re willing to let go of the expectations that Concrete Utopia has set in terms of story and character development. Otherwise, it feels like a missed opportunity not to follow the thematic thread.
Badland Hunters is not a bad movie. Despite my criticisms, it is a good time. The characters are fun, the acting is superb, and the filmmaking is exemplary. The writing is lacking at times, but the action makes up for its lesser qualities. The action scenes are perhaps the greatest highlight of the film, as they are exciting, visually interesting and effectively used. The makeup and practical effects are also impressive. As minimal as it is, the work done adds to the tension and scares.
Badland Hunters is bound to be a massive success for Netflix, and that’s in large part due to Heo Myeong-haeng’s history with martial arts and his cast. He more than proves his worth as a director, and hopefully, this will launch him as a mainstay in action films. It’s not easy to overcome a generic screenplay, but his skills and the actors take what little is given to them and make something that’s enjoyable. A film starring Dong-seok is hard to pass up. In addition to his magnetic presence, Ahn Ji-hye holds her own as an action star.
Badland Hunters may not be a worthy successor to Concrete Utopia, but it is an entertaining zombie actioner. If Concrete Utopia laid out the foundation for a cinematic universe that explores the stories and adventures of the surviving population, there is potential to see new creative takes with various genres to tell these stories. Concrete Utopia was a character-driven thriller, Badland Hunters is a zombie actioner.
So, what’s next? A romantic comedy? An apocalyptic noir? A musical? The creative decision to deviate from the original setup is a bold one and one that does pay off because the casting is excellent and the directing is effective. The creative drive to try something new and different could make for a fascinating series of films, or Badland Hunters could be part of a duology comprised of diametrically opposing films.