The Korea Herald


[New on the scene] Martial arts director-turned-filmmaker confident of Don Lee’s international appeal

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Feb. 1, 2024 - 15:15

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Director Heo Myeong-haeng (Netflix) Director Heo Myeong-haeng (Netflix)

The post-apocalyptic action film "Badland Hunters," which topped the Netflix global chart immediately after its release on Jan. 26, is a work by director Heo Myeong-haeng and his longtime partner, actor Don Lee, also known as Ma Dong-seok.

“We were looking for something to do together and because he (Lee) works often on new scenarios, he discovered this story and suggested we do it together,” Heo told The Korea Herald in an interview in Seoul on Tuesday.

Having spent more than 20 years as a movie action choreographer and martial arts director, Heo said he had long dreamed of making a bridge-like martial arts studio that connects filmmaking and stunt action training.

“I had that dream for about 10 years. As a martial arts director, I had great opportunities to meet and discuss with industry insiders, directors and producers what kind of film I could make. I chose to do an action film with Ma Dong-seok and, although this may sound too cliche, I also questioned my ability for a directorial debut,” he said, adding that he was lucky to have worked with Ma for his debut film.

“Badland Hunters” revolves around fearless hunter Nam-san (Lee) who goes out to rescue Soo-na (Roh Jeong-eui), a teenager who has been kidnapped by Yang Gi-soo (Lee Hee-joon), a doctor who survived an earthquake Seoul.

Heo, who has designed the action sequences of many hit action flicks including “The Roundup” franchise, “Hunt,” “New World” and “I Saw the Devil,” said the focus of his direction was to show a different side of Don Lee’s action.

“Badland Hunters” (Netflix) “Badland Hunters” (Netflix)

“My purpose was to create a work that can promote and let the world know about Korean actor Ma Dong-seok and his indispensable character. Globalization of Ma Dong-seok was my purpose, I would say,” Heo said.

Such purpose was well-met with his desire to do a higher level of action, more violent and more ruthless. “Badland Hunters” is recommended for viewers ages 18 and above on Netflix due to its intense violence, mature themes and strong language.

“This movie shows Ma Dong-seok's action at the highest level, but at the same time, I also wanted to put Ma’s sense of humor in the storyline. I’m sure that no one in the world can replace Ma in this category. I wanted to focus on the global appeal of Ma’s character,” said Heo.

“I’m sure that Ma can be an actor like Dwayne Johnson one day,” he added.

Heo is set to return later this year as a director once again, this time with the much-anticipated fourth installment of “The Roundup: Punishment” which also stars Ma. The movie was invited to the 74th Berlin International Film Festival’s Special Gala, marking the first time for a Korean action series to be invited to a gala screening.

“I wish for the audience to have zero expectations of my next movie. If they have high expectations, they may be disappointed,” Heo said.

“Badland Hunters” is currently available on Netflix.

The following article is the 14th in a series that introduces Korea’s new and emerging actors and directors. -- Ed.