Cinemax's 'Warrior' brings Bruce Lee's 50-year-old script to life with an Asian lead

Cinemax's 'Warrior' brings Bruce Lee's 50-year-old script to life with an Asian lead

Bruce Lee's eight-page long script about a young Asian warrior who arrives on the shores on the 19th century San Fransisco was rejected by many major production houses due to its demand for an Asian lead. Yet, almost a year after Lee had pitched the idea, in 1971, Warner Bros. aired a series called 'Kung Fu', which was based on the exact premise of Lee's idea but had whitewashed the lead character with David Carradine playing the role of the Asian lead. Just as Lee's story went, 'Kung Fu' followed a Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine played by David Carradine, as he traveled through America's Old West looking for his half-brother, Danny Caine. As he travels across the land, all he has to help him is his spiritual training and his skill with martial arts.

While the show is still criticized for its utilization of the "yellowface" phenomena in Hollywood that would often see white actors painting their faces yellow in order to play extremely demeaning representations of Asian characters, Cinemax picked up the script in all its authenticity. Lee's daughter Shannon had herself brought in the scripts for the show, creator Justin Lin immediately knew that the show had to be made. 'Warrior' follows a young skillful martial arts warrior, Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), who arrives in Chinatown in San Fransisco looking for someone close to him. However, he soon finds himself between the gripping racism of the white supremacists and the ongoing secret battle between the Tongs.



Trained in martial arts, and educated in the foreign language, Sahm soon attracts the attention of several people all of whom want him to work with them. Sahm has to choose his alliance but he needs to be careful because he is always being watched. This is the premise of the show, and although it sounds almost like a Western ballad which has been sung since the olden times, 'Warrior' is just as refreshing as its cast. For once there is a show which does not look into the first-class problems of white supremacy as they struggled to keep their calm in mansions in a foreign land while driving out the natives and converting them into their slaves. 'Warrior' is actually about the slaves. 

For once there is a show which does not look into the first-class problems of white supremacy. 'Warrior' is actually about the slaves (IMDb)

On one hand, there is Chinatown built by the Chinese immigrants who came from across the world and started their own little, yet prominent, community in the heart of America. On the other hand, there are the Irishmen who were first brought in as slaves and later became the rebels in society while trying to drive away their Asian counterparts considering their intelligence in trade as a major threat. Finally, there are women whose major roles on the show revolve around the brothels but at the same time, they are the ones who spearhead the action scenes which fortunately in 'Warrior' are not wired. Moreover, the two leading female characters Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng) and Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) are far beyond their real-life counterparts in the 19th century. 

The female characters clearly do not represent their age. (IMDb)

Perhaps for the need of the contemporary era, both the female characters are nothing like the Chinese women who had arrived in San Fransisco back in the 19th century. On the contrary, there are times when they seem to be pulled straight out of a 'Matrix' movie and made to put on some periodical make-up and clothes only to give the essence of that century. There are several parts where we would love to see some authenticity. Ah Toy was a real-life character with a tragic yet flamboyant life but the Ah Toy we meet has none of that flamboyance although that is an essential part of her persona. 

Olivia Cheng's character has been shaded in bold colors but she is unable to match the life of the real Ah Toy  (IMDb)

Overall, the first episode of 'Warrior' is just a mild and rather deceptive indication towards all the battles that are about to follow. You might even get distracted by the action sequence on the show since it has been pretty cleverly made. Now and then, it seems the creator has slipped trying to showcase the hard-hitting life of the immigrants who not only left behind their homes but also parts of their identities in order to become a resident of the New World. 

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