There’s juicy political intrigue, forbidden love and plenty of kung fu fighting in warrior, a new ten-episode series from Cinemax. The series is an adaptation of a treatment developed nearly 50 years ago by legendary kung fu master Bruce Lee, and while it has been adapted to today’s tastes and trends, it still manages to capture the essence of Bruce Lee’s philosophical worldview. to capture.
(Slight spoilers below.)
According to Hollywood lore, Bruce Lee pitched an idea for a TV series in 1971 about a martial artist in the Old West. Skittish studio heads passed on the project (and Lee as its star), choosing to make kung fu with David Carradine instead. Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, also heard these stories. When she took over management of her father’s legacy in 2000 as president of the Bruce Lee Foundation, Lee’s original treatment was one of the archived materials, along with several drafts and notes. It remained in storage for several years, until Lee told executive producer Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift† Lin loved the treatment and thought they could make the series her father always intended.
When Cinemax gave the project the go-ahead, they brought on Jonathan Tropper as creator and executive producer. Tropper just finished the last season of banshee for the cable channel, and he was a Bruce Lee uberfan, so he jumped at the chance to work on the project. “I could quote any” [Bruce Lee] movie,” he said. “So the little kid in me was super excited.” He was surprised to find that the original treatment also featured plenty of illustrations: Bruce Lee had an artistic bent, drawing various characters and fighting moves to augment his writing Treatment was so sparse that Tropper had the freedom to flesh out the plot and create new characters.”All I had to do was stay true to the integrity of the themes he wanted to explore,” he said, namely, the Chinese immigrant experience in San Francisco from the 19th century.
Starring a martial arts prodigy as the protagonist, Warrior has an impressive fight choreography.
In the pilot episode of warriora young Chinese martial arts prodigy, Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji, Fast and Furious 6: HK Police), arrives in 19th-century San Francisco. He left China in search of his sister, but soon becomes embroiled in the Tong Wars, a period of particularly violent disputes between rival Chinese gangs called tang in the Chinatowns of several American cities. (There were as many as 30 pincers in San Francisco alone at the height of the Tong Wars.) Ah Sahm also has to contend with rising anti-immigrant sentiment against the Chinese.
Tonally, the series is akin to shows like Peaky Blinders and Boardwalk Empire-all the gritty period dramas centered on criminal pursuits of one kind or another. But with a martial arts prodigy as the protagonist, warrior also has some impressive fight choreography. And it very much reflects a 21st-century sensibility in its predominantly Asian cast; there is no trace of money laundering in sight. There’s also none of the dated, cheap aphorisms that made kung fu such a hit with mainstream white audiences in the 1970s. Instead, Lee’s personal philosophy is deftly woven into the fabric of the show.
Lee’s original treatment followed a typical 1970s episodic format, each with a self-contained adventure. “TV isn’t really made that way anymore, so we definitely had to update it for how stories are told on TV these days,” says Shannon Lee. “But the bones of it are all in the treatment: the time period, the San Francisco setting, the politics of the time, the fact that [Ah Sahm] is looking for his sister.” The martial arts master did his homework on the history of the period, researching the Chinese Exclusion Act and other details of 19th-century San Francisco. That historical element of the Sino-American experience was also a draw for Lin. It is an important period in US history, and yet: “Growing up, we are lucky to have two sentences in a history book,” he said.
warrior focuses on corrupt politics and simmering racial tensions—something that could have been obscured by Hollywood in the 1970s. The Chinese immigrants are ‘onions’. The white people are “ducks” shocked that Ah Sahm speaks impeccable English, and they still turn their noses at having to share a stagecoach with “dirty” foreigners. There are opportunists like Wang Chao (Hoon Lee, Banshee, Iron Fist) who want to play both sides and deliberately harbor hostility between the tongs for fun and profit. to quote Game of ThronesLittlefinger, “Chaos Is a Ladder” – and Chao and Mai Ling (Dianne Doan, Vikings), Ah Sahm’s estranged sister, wants to climb that ladder to wealth and power. Moreover, love is not lost between the Chinese immigrants and the Irish working class, who compete for the same grueling jobs in an increasingly tight economy.
The same goes for the series’ unabashed use of profanity, nudity, and explicit violence and sex (aka “going tacky”), though Lee points out that Enter the dragon got an R for exactly those reasons (even if it’s still quite tame by today’s standards). “My father certainly wasn’t shy about that,” she said. That said, “He didn’t believe in… [gratuitous] violence for its own sake, so the action in the show is all thought through as to why it’s happening.”