Badland Hunters (2024) K-Movie Summary & Review: Ma Dong Seok Ahjussi Wrestles A Gigantic Lizard & More

Usually, whenever I am about to watch a movie, I don’t read the actual synopsis on a site like MDL unless the title is so cryptic that I at least need to have some working information about the movie before diving in.

In this case, I didn’t have to look up the synopsis of the movie because judging by the name and the official poster, plus some conversations I had heard on social media and news, I already knew that it was set in a dystopian world and that our boy from Brave Citizen was in it, so I was going to watch it regardless.

For those who don’t know, I watched Brave Citizen earlier this year and I absolutely fell in love with it because I appreciated how it presented the topic of bullying, as well as teachers’ reluctance to meddle in affairs like this. After all, they don’t want to risk their employment.

At the end of the day, in Brave Citizen, it was an underdog (played by Shin Hye Sun) who decided to take it upon herself to punish the bully, who is our boy in this movie. And even though this drama wasn’t romantic at all, everybody agrees that they have the best chemistry. I reviewed that one in a totally different post, so if you’d like to do that, check out this post.

Our primary male lead in this drama, Nam Sam who is played by Ma Dong Seok, is a veteran actor who I hadn’t really taken note of, and shame on me because after watching the movie, I did my investigation and found out that he has played roles in some of the biggest productions in the past few years – Like Train to Busan, The Royal Tailor, and The Chronicles of Evil

While he has played main roles in several big movies, he is usually a supporting cast in many dramas. So, I forgive myself a little bit for not taking notice of his prowess, but needless to say, he is now very much on my radar.

What Is Badlands Hunter About?

As I said earlier, this movie is set in a dystopian world three years after the entire world collapsed. In fact, the movie starts with the day of the collapse, and we see a scientist, who will turn out to be our villain, attempting to inject his latest potent injection into his comatose daughter to revive her, but then he is stopped right before the world ends.

When we’re thrown three years into the past, which is when, as I said, everything takes place, the world is in total disarray. There aren’t actual buildings, no clean water, no banks, no money, and everyone is pretty much a scavenger. There is no electricity, and even crazier, there are actual cannibals.

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So, with everyone trying their best to fend for themselves, our leads are hunters who kill these alligator-looking animals and sell the meat. They usually accept anything a buyer has to offer as payment, so this is an actual trade-by-barter system.

Our female lead, Han Su Na, is a young girl who just turned 18 and lives with her grandmother. One day, after she is accosted by some rough-looking people, she accepts an offer by an institute to take herself and her grandmother away to the only surviving building in the entire nation.

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At this point, we learn that there is indeed a building somewhere out there that has electricity, running water, and all the comforts of life that had been present before the destruction of the world. But then, when she gets there, she starts to feel a certain type of way.

For one, she is separated from her grandmother on her way there. When she gets there and sees exactly how comfortable life is, she starts questioning everything. Why is the head of the people, that is the scientist shown in the beginning, not extending his grace to the people outside the building? Why do all the other kids look like they’ve been hypnotized? And how come no one is giving her information about her grandmother?

While this is going on, our second male lead, Choi Ji Wan, is missing her fiercely. One day, while he and Nam Sam are out hunting, they see the two individuals who escorted the woman who took away our female lead with our female lead’s grandmother. They then shoot her and they run in to help, but the woman is already dead.

This is when they find out that something is wrong and that Su Na might have just walked into danger. Their fears are made worse by the appearance of a strange ex-military woman who confirms that there’s something nefarious going down at the apartment and that she needs their help, so they decide to storm the building.

We then eventually find out that actually, the professor had been carrying out experiments on little children for years before the destruction of the world. That’s what explains the crackdown on his experiment in the very first scene, and that he was doing all this in a bid to keep his daughter alive.

Eventually, Ji Wan and Nam Sam, as well as the ex-military woman (Lee Eun Ho) get to the apartment, and it’s very bloody because several people are killed. But eventually, they were able to rescue our female lead and also kill the professor.

My Review

The thing with dystopian movies or books or anything is that any conflict they have is something that is contained in that world. So, no matter what happens in the end, it can’t be said that their world will become less dystopian. Rather, it would be that their comforts have increased, and that’s not something that sits right with me.

Call me a romantic dreamer or even something else, but I always love a happy ending. And there is literally no way I can envision a happy ending if the world is still incredibly dystopian and they still have to live in it that way. So, that is my major dissatisfaction with the end of this movie.

Aside from that, I actually feel that it was somewhat short, coming in under 2 hours, and because of that, some things in the movie felt somewhat underdeveloped – so much so, that it felt like there wasn’t an actual narrative to point to. For example, whose story are we telling? What exactly are we supposed to be following? And what arc is being built in the movie?

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This might sound a little odd and a little vague if you haven’t watched this movie, but stick with me; I’ll explain this:

Han Su Na gets to the apartment, and she is a little rebellious because she questions everything to the hearing of her superiors. There are also our male leads who are outside and putting plans in motion for her rescue. Then there are the parents who are doing all they can to make sure their children are okay, and also another character who volunteered herself for our professor’s projects.

With all these arcs, what exactly are we supposed to focus on? You know, this is my problem with watching movies rather than dramas, and I feel that watching dramas, especially longer ones like Chinese dramas, has sort of conditioned my mind to look at story development as a closed endeavor where there shouldn’t really be any errant plot threads.

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In this case, it generally felt like none of the arcs were fully developed, and it felt like everyone was just doing this to do that. I don’t know if this was a deliberate effort in order to amplify the dystopian feel of the book because it worked in this regard. In my opinion, the stumbling around militated against whatever development was at foot and that was somewhat annoying to see.  

I mean, in the beginning, Ji Wan kept talking about how he wanted to explore and how he had heard about this mysterious apartment out there, and then there was also the lore about Nam San which I feel could have made the movie all the more interesting, but neither of these were fully explored.

There were two very familiar faces in this drama. One is our male lead from Brave Citizen, as I mentioned earlier, and our sight-seeing grandmother from Lovely Runner (Sung Byung Sook), which just concluded its run last week. It’s always a treat to see familiar faces, so I was very happy, and even though one of the characters I just mentioned was killed off prematurely, it was still great seeing her.

But one big disappointment as it concerns the casting was the secretary of our villain (played by Jang Young Nam) who is essentially one of the most recognizable faces if you watch Korean dramas. In this movie, she was mean, but she never really did anything noteworthy, and then she died at the end, which just felt like a waste.

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As I said in the recap above, the dystopian feel is very heavy in this one in every way you can think about, but the drama doesn’t necessarily add anything to the genre. This drama shows the aftermath of the collapse of society, and that is very scary no matter how you look at it. But one thing I did find curious was that the average dystopian household looked like the house of a low-income earner in Nigeria (my country), and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Scientists get a bad rep in most dystopian, apocalyptic, and science fiction movies and books, but I have to say that for our villain in this movie, he was very much an opportunist. From wanting to properly create a serum that would preserve or extend the life of the average human, he ended up with a cult of very devout worshippers, and that was just crazy.

A very important highlight for me in the movie, though, was the relationship between our male leads. And even though, as I said earlier, I never really took notice of our first male lead, Ma Dong Seok, he was so incredibly beautiful in this movie. I liked how he was something of a father figure to our second male lead and the action scenes were inspiring. 

We never really understand what relationship they share, but my guess is that they simply met each other and clicked. But you guys, he threw himself into the line of fire several times for our boy, and that was lovely. That doesn’t take away the fact that some backstop would have been very much appreciated. 

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The better part of this movie is set in and revolves around the apartment, which as I explained earlier, was sort of a mysterious, never-before-seen thing in their world. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between that and A Shop for Killers, which also takes place primarily in one building.

And just like A Shop for Killers, this movie, I believe, takes place in the span of a day or at most two days. But unlike A Shop for Killers, which is predicated on the death of a leading character, this movie is more about them trying to protect every member of their found family.

Now, if I were asked to describe this movie, I would say it is a hero-less one because, as explained earlier, it’s not about any person in particular, and it doesn’t exactly have an arc that you could point to. But it’s still very much interesting.

Badland Hunters is worth watching if you are in the mood for a fast-paced dystopian thriller about found family, botched experiments, and the importance of asking good questions.

There are so many other reviews on the blog, so make sure you check those out. But for now, if you’d like to watch some more movies on Netflix, I’ve got some pretty awesome recommendations. And if a thriller Korean drama is what you like, there are so many you could watch.

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