Badland Hunters (109 minutes, MA)
The spirit of George Miller's Mad Max films is alive and well in this Korean post apocalyptic film that mashes genres, throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the screen.
Netflix has helped change international audience appetites in the past few years, and finding success with The Squid Game, they've been pumping cash through their South Korean arm and the investment is paying dividends.
Badland Hunters is everything we've come to expect from Korean cinema - inventive and dark, with top-notch staging and CGI, and performances that jump between meaningful and some parody of a masked clown dance.
It stars Ma Dong-seok, hero of a series of disaster films including Train to Busan and Ashfall, making him the Steve McQueen of the Korean Peninsula.
As the film opens, we are coming in on the tail end some hinted-at drama with authorities bashing down the door in a scientific laboratory where we can see a woman strapped to a table and escaped lizard creatures scurrying across the floor.
The authorities have pulled a gun on a man who has shot himself up with a green serum and is about to use it on the woman on the table, only nature interferes as we see in the window behind him the city's skyscrapers falling one by one in some disaster, before the laboratory also is destroyed.
A few years later, in the rubble-piled wasteland that is Seoul, Nam San (Ma Dong-seok) and his sidekick Choi Ji-wan (Lee Jun-young) are scraping together a living hunting the mutant crocodiles we met in the opening scene for meat.
The men have become skilled hunters and they also use their prowess with weapons to protect their friends, including Choi Ji-wan's crush, the schoolgirl Su-na (No Jeong-ee) and her fragile grandmother.
Su-na is recruited by missionaries and taken with her grandmother to a community supposedly established to give young people a normal life amidst the dangerous new world, but in fact they have been kidnapped and the compound is where scientist Dr Yang Gi-su (Lee Hee-joon) is experimenting on young people.
Nam San and Choi Ji-wan get wind of the truth and travel to rescue Su-na, through the dangerous badlands.
Director Heo Myeong-haeng started his career in the stunt department of some of Korea's bigger action films, and this film's strengths are in its well choreographed action scenes.
This being a post apocalyptic fantasy world, the fight scenes aren't just fun martial arts, they come with inventively staged gore.
Ma Dong-seok also produced the film, and his screenwriters ensure he comes across as a loveable action star, a big-hearted violent clown.
Writers Kim Bo-tong and Kwak Jae-min don't waste too much time on character development beyond the cursory, or the violent, but I'm not sure we're really looking for any.
The camerawork from cinematographer Kim Bong-sun brings you up close and personal during the fight scenes, and the digitally generated landscapes and creatures are gorgeous, they look very expensive and well executed.
The film continues that long tradition of the mad scientist on screen, from Frankenstein and Dr Jeckyll, only James Whale wishes he had anything like this budget and special effects department.
It also is a cousin of sorts to the Korean series Sweet Home and the film Concrete Utopia, post-earthquake, creature-filled action scarefests.
Concrete Utopia had subtlety and was a critical darling, becoming South Korea's nomination for the Academy Awards, but nobody could accuse Heo Myeong-haeng of subtlety with Badland Hunters.