The stars appear to be aligning for actor Daniel Wu Yin-cho: his latest film, Go Away Mr Tumour (now showing in Hong Kong cinemas), hasn't only been a gigantic box-office hit in China, it is also the country's entry in the foreign-language Oscar category; and his next movie is Duncan Jones' Warcraft. But let it be known that the 41-year-old doesn't have world domination on his mind.
"It's not at all my objective to become an Asian-American star," says Wu, the lead actor and executive producer of AMC's latest show, Into the Badlands. He says it only occurred to him recently that he's now become that rare animal on American television: an Asian lead. " This will only be significant in proving that American tastes are evolving if [ Into the Badlands] succeeds," he says, cautiously.
Created by writers-showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville) and shot in New Orleans, the six-episode martial-arts series is set in a dystopian world where the last traces of civilisation reside in territories controlled by wicked feudal barons. Working for one of these is cold-blooded assassin Sunny (Wu), who embarks on a spiritual journey with a boy, M.K. (Aramis Knight), in tow.
Into the Badlands may remind some viewers of Kung Fu, which saw David Carradine fight his way across the Wild West, and Wu admits that the possibility of remaking the 1970s show was, indeed, floated early in the creative process.
"I was like, 'Please don't.' The fight scenes were not so great and the Eastern philosophy was so fortune-cookie," he says, with a chuckle.
Wu is equally dismissive of the Chinese classic Journey to the West as an influence, even though it's cited as such in the official press materials.
"We're not doing the Journey to the West story," Wu clarifies. "The reference is for the spiritual side. Every challenge [on screen] is supposed to be a part of the life transformation of my character."
For the series' 12 fight scenes, the production team enlisted Stephen Fung Tak-lun ( Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero) and Master Dee Dee ( Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as fight directors, and deployed five stuntmen from Hong Kong.
"In the US, Daredevil comes closest to us in terms of action choreography, but I think we've even surpassed that," Wu says.
For Fung, who is a close friend of Wu and also an executive producer on Into the Badlands, the time and resources they put into the choreography have ensured the show features "sophisticated action scenes that American TV doesn't normally have".
"If me and Daniel had a mission to accomplish here, it was to let the audiences have a better understanding of martial arts," he says. "I hope they find this cool."
Into the Badlands will premiere in Hong Kong on AMC at 11am on November 16, with a repeat showing at 10pm.