Badland Hunters or Hwang-ya, is a new Korean film that has arrived on Netflix and belongs to the very popular dystopian action-adventure genre. Set in Seoul of the future, many years after a devastating earthquake destroyed the entire country, the plot follows a pair of men, Nam San and Choi Ji-wan, who work as professional hunters in the open wastelands. The two are very close friends with a young woman named Su-na and her aged grandmother, and so trouble brews when the two women are seemingly kidnapped. Although Badland Hunters does not have any profound or brain-racking plot, the gory violence and the fast action scenes make for a fairly entertaining watch.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
Badland Hunters begins on the very fateful day when the condition of the entirety of South Korea, and maybe even the world, is about to change, for a fierce earthquake is about to cause massive destruction. Minutes before the disaster, we are taken inside the laboratory of a doctor who has been researching some strange matter. As empty ampules of some drug lie around, a few lizards are seen roaming freely. The big blister-like growths on the bodies of the reptiles and one of them roaming around after having been cut in half make it evident that the creatures had been the subject of the experiments. Soon, we are introduced to the doctor himself, Yang Gi-su, who is desperately looking for a treatment for his dying daughter, So-yeon, and his experiments have been for this very reason. But there is something very suspicious in the whole circumstance, as dead bodies of doctors are seen lying around, and a team of soldiers barges into the place almost immediately, intending to stop Gi-su. However, the fateful earthquake hits at this very moment, and everyone present inside the laboratory seemingly dies as the place collapses.
A few years have passed since the horrific earthquake, and South Korea has now become an open wasteland, with all modernity completely destroyed. People live with the utmost difficulty, staying together in communities and villages, while food and water resources are extremely scarce. In this world, two men named Nam San and Choi Ji-wan work as professional hunters, venturing into the wastelands and killing whatever animal they can find. They then sell the meat in the village market in exchange for other resources, as a system of barter. The two men, who are more like two loving brothers with a significant age gap, are very good friends with a young woman named Su-na and her elderly grandmother. Ji-wan also has a romantic interest in Su-na, as they are of similar age, and so when a gang of bandits tries to harm the woman, Ji-wan jumps in to protect her. As a result, Nam San also gets involved in the fight, and it is revealed that the man is a legendary hunter and fighter, the mere name of whom is enough to scare away baddies. However, Nam San and Ji-wan have to go out on a long adventure very soon after realizing that Su-na is in grave danger.
Why do Su-na and her grandmother agree to go to the apartments?
When Nam San and Ji-wan walk towards the tent where Su-na and her grandmother live, they find the two women talking to a group of outsiders. This group, headed by a woman, explains that they are from a community that has been living in an apartment complex some distance away from the village. This apartment supposedly has a number of luxuries, the most remarkable of which is a supply of running water in taps and also a large source of clean drinking water. This statement, in itself, is enough to convince anyone living in this dystopic Seoul city to uproot their lives and move to the apartment, simply because of the dire conditions outside. The city, or whatever remains of it, has not received any rainfall for many months, and because of this, there has been severe drought in the entire region. Clean drinking water is an utmost luxury since people have to purify dirty water themselves, which ultimately leaves them with very little to drink. Therefore, the clean living conditions in the apartment, coupled with the free, clean drinking water, entices Su-na and her grandmother.
The group of outsiders states that they are looking for more people to take back to their community, and it is mentioned that youngsters below the age of twenty and their parents are the ones being given admission. Su-na is quick to question this rule, to which the woman states that her community believes in taking care of the youth, who will drive the country forward in the future. Interestingly, when Su-na asks whether Nam San and Ji-wan can accompany them, as they are like family to her, the woman denies them, stating that only biologically related family members are allowed. The reason for this is revealed later, when the actual reality of the apartment becomes evident. As the two women bid their goodbyes and leave with the group of outsiders, Nam San and Ji-wan still do not suspect anything is wrong. However, things start to stick out to Su-na during the long walk.
Firstly, the soldiers accompanying them seem a bit strange, and Su-na even spots some strange blister-like growths on one of the soldiers’ skins, making her slightly concerned. When her grandmother’s body gives way after the heavy exertion of walking, the soldiers escort her and another old man away from the group, telling the youngsters that they will be taken to a rest camp nearby. Only those under twenty and their parents are made part of the journey ahead, but Su-na finds it very odd that cars have been waiting for them only a little distance away. When she asks why her grandmother was sent away if they were so close to cars, the girl is not properly answered.
The real frightening situation is revealed to Nam San and Ji-wan, who are out on a night hunt, and on their way, they spot the two soldiers kill the old man and Su-na’s grandmother. As the hunters try to intervene, they realize that the two soldiers are almost immortal, for they do not die even with the most serious blows. It is only after their heads are cut off that the mutated soldiers die, and the whole matter becomes extremely suspicious for the hunter protagonists.
What is the real state of the apartment complex?
The next morning, Su-na is introduced into the community at the apartment complex, along with the rest of the group. Although the place indeed has running water in the taps and clean flats given to every family, it is actually a cruel camp with a very different intention. It becomes clear that the doctor seen earlier, Yang Gi-su, did not die in the earthquake. In fact, it is Gi-su who runs the apartment complex, with the help of a few soldiers and henchmen, and the whole purpose of it is to run his strange experiments. Even before the natural disaster had destroyed the country, Gi-su had been experimenting on how to turn a human immortal by injecting them with a certain serum that he had managed to create. However, he was in dire need of more supplies for the serum, and for this, he had set up a network to bring more families to the apartment complex. The local goons who had come to Nam San’s village earlier had also been paid off by these people to get hold of families, and this was the reason why they were trying to kidnap some of the villagers.
It is also made clear that the youngsters, meaning those who are below the age of twenty, were more in demand. While they were given residence on the eighth floor of the building and even made to attend classes like in a school, their parents were taken down to the basement and forced to work all day. The parents were actually made to manually purify all the water used in the building, making it safe for drinking. The men and women were told that they had to run the purification process at all times in order to provide for their own children. This is also possibly why only biological parents were brought to the place, so that they could be threatened with the safety of their children and made to work.
However, any other relative or someone having no biological ties with the youngsters could refuse to work after realizing the trap they had stepped into, and hence, they were not allowed. Similarly, old people like Su-na’s grandmother were deemed useless, as they could not work because of their age, and were therefore simply killed off by the soldiers. It is evident that the soldiers, led by Captain Kwon, were working with Dr. Gi-su only because they were getting supplies of the serum, which was making them invincible and very powerful. It is possible that Kwon, who had once been part of the military, now wants to become immortal and take control of the wastelands.
Who is Lee Eun-ho?
During their difficult fight with the two mutant soldiers, Nam San and Ji-wan are helped by a woman who introduces herself as Lee Eun-ho. It is Eun-ho who provides the context of the apartment building, stating how she, as part of the military, had found the apartment relatively undamaged by the earthquake. Therefore, they had set up a camp at the place with the remaining survivors, and Dr. Yang Gi-su arrived at the place a few days later. Having secretly made a plot with Captain Kwon, Gi-su then started running his experiments at the place and, in the process, killed many teenagers. When Eun-ho found out about this, she refused to be a part of such cruel experiments and escaped the place.
The woman still intends to return to the apartment and help the people there, and now the two hunters agree to accompany her. Realizing that Su-na is in trouble, Nam San spends no time agreeing to the plan, since the young woman is like a daughter to the man. It is revealed that Nam San had lost his own daughter, possibly during the earthquake, but had been able to save Su-na at the time. Ever since then, he has been very protective of the girl, and since Ji-wan is also very fond of the girl, both agree to go rescue her.
Why was the doctor in search of youngsters for his experiment?
The real reason behind Yang Gi-su’s experiments and his specific search for youngsters gets revealed when Su-na finally finds herself in tremendous danger. Gi-su’s daughter, So-yeon, had fallen sick and died around the time of the earthquake, but the grieving doctor was confident that he could bring her back to life. Having experimented on reptiles, he had tested the serum on humans, who were killed by it, and this was why the authorities had come to stop him. The man had injected himself with the serum as well, and this is why he survived the effects of the earthquake. After his survival, it seems like Gi-su had managed to develop the serum further, and it had finally worked when the soldiers showed signs of immortality. But the doctor needed more of it to completely revive his daughter, and for this, he was in search of subjects below the age of twenty.
As Gi-su himself explains, the pituitary glands of those below twenty generate some materials that are crucial in the production of the serum, although the secretion from the gland does need to be slightly tweaked. This is ensured through the bottle of water that is given to each of the students, as something mixed in it changes the characteristics of the gland’s secretion. This is also probably why the students are extremely docile and almost in a daze after they drink the water. Gi-su then brings the teenagers to his laboratory and extracts the materials from their bodies, which he then uses for the serum.
Did Nam San and Ji-wan save Su-na?
Although Gi-su extracts the materials from Su-na, his habit of injecting some of them into his own body leads to his ultimate downfall. Su-na had already guessed that something was wrong with the setup at the apartment, and so she had not drunk even a drop from the bottle of water that she had been given. This meant that the secretion from her pituitary gland was not tweaked to be used, and thus, Gi-su started turning into a mutant after he injected it into his body. On the other side, Nam San, Ji-wan, and Eun-ho fight off the soldiers, clearing their way towards the laboratory. Nam San has to face off with the mutated form of Captain Kwan, and the skilled huntsman wins the battle. Realizing that his camp is about to be destroyed, Gi-su orders for his daughter’s body, or whatever is left of it, to be secured into a suitcase and carried away. However, when the doctor angrily shoots at the people around him who had tried to beat him to death, Gi-su accidentally damages the suitcase, killing his daughter in the process. As he is engulfed by grief, Nam San shoots the man dead. The region suddenly also receives rainfall, symbolizing that evil had been truly destroyed.
During Badland Hunters‘ ending, we see Su-na living with Nam San and Ji-wan, and the three are now part of a happy family. The woman in the village who had earlier expressed romantic interest in Nam San now returns once more, much to the dislike of the huntsman, ending the film on a comedic note after all the intense action.