FISTS & FURY: Why Cinemax's 'Warrior' is the best show you will see this year
Jonathan Tropper has come close to creating a masterpiece of riveting violence and scalding sexuality.
If Cinemax had released 'Warrior' 20 years ago, it would have been an instant hit. Jackie Chan and Jet Li were in their pomp, and the memory of Bruce Lee had not yet faded into track-suited memory. Kung Fu was still king. But then the fists stopped flying, the roundhouses ceased, and the shrieking fury was silenced. All that changed last year when 'Cobra Kai' brought martial arts back with commendable skill as it took the iconic 'Karate Kid' films and gave them legs, as it were. But where 'Cobra Kai' caters to a millennial generation who are still learning to wax one off, 'Warrior' caters to the generation who went out and bought nunchucks and then stood in front of the mirror, bare bodied, and skillfully hit themselves in the nuts.
Based on a concept by Bruce Lee (yes, the man who entered a dragon and lived to talk about it), 'Warrior' pulls no punches, literally. The show revolves around a Chinese immigrant to 1870s San Franciso. Ah Sahm, played absolutely spectacularly by Andrew Koji, is an English-speaking Chinese martial artist (and I do not use that word lightly) looking for his sister in the squalor of Frisco's Chinatown. Needless to say, Ah Sahm is a warrior, but he's not the only one...over here they are legion. Ah Sahm ends up in the middle of a Chinatown gang war, using his exquisite skill set to get by while juggling a sister (who turns out to be a conniving sociopath), his equally psychotic friend-in-arms, and a white woman he rather fancies.
On the sidelines of this internecine war, another equally riveting story unfolds, one where two police detectives navigate (or attempt to) the corruption and racism that pervades the city as they look to maintain a semblance of order in a Chinatown on the cusp of catastrophe. Throw a bunch of working class, hard-as-nails Irishmen into the mix, add a dash of cut-throat politicians, a sprinkle of razor-sharp prostitutes, and what you get is 'Deadwood' on steroids.
The cast are outstanding: From Koji's simmering rage to Olivia Cheng (Ah Toy) and Diane Doan's (Mai Ling) calculating and sensual powerbrokers, every character trills with authenticity. Be warned, 'Warrior' is not your stereotypical, over-the-top kung fu fare, this show operates on a skill level that far outstrips the current crop of meandering dross out there.
The soundtrack reverberates to every punch, raising the tempo and then cutting it off at the knees after the bloodletting is done. The direction is masterful, and the script doesn't faff about with inanities. The beauty of 'Warrior' is that there's no waste; everything serves its purpose perfectly — round pegs round holes.
Jonathan Tropper has come close to creating a masterpiece of rivetting violence and scalding sexuality. There is no curtain-twitching, just a full-on drape dragging pace that pulls the viewer into the muddy squalor of San Francisco, stamps their face into the quag, and then delivers them up to the most beautiful women in the world to be soothed back to a dreamlike state.
'Warrior' season 2 is a given (you'd have to be a complete dolt to cancel this, so yeah, there's a chance), and this is also not so much a feather in Cinemax's cap, as a whole bloody plumage. It says much about a network in this day and age of the Netflix mediocrity factory, that a show like this can not just be made, but made to such a high level of art. If you haven't seen it yet, you're missing out on some essential viewing.