'Warrior': Olivia Cheng plays Ah Toy, the most desired Chinese woman of the wild wild west
Ah Toy left China with nothing but by the time she made it to the West, she was already sought after for everything that she was.
Cinemax's upcoming series, 'Warrior', is a subtle replication of a very clever art of showmanship, and let's just say, it is the actors who have truly given the show its much-required edge. Based on the writings of Bruce Lee, 'Warrior' is set in Chinatown in the late 1800s, a time when San Fransisco was known for the notorious slave trade as thousands of Chinese men and women would be shipped in each day. Chinatown became a tiny and rather defamed replica of the nation in the West, and within itself, it managed to develop a living organism with its desirous lust and needs. Although Andrew Koji's Ah Sahm is the expected protagonist, yet, it is Olivia Cheng's Ah Toy who will certainly become a talking point on the show.
Cheng, who is renowned for her bold portrayal of unconventional women, holds up the real-life story of Ah Toy, a Cantonese-born American prostitute and madam in San Francisco, California, during the California Gold Rush, and perhaps, the first Chinese prostitute in San Francisco. Life was not a gold rush for Ah Toy, although as Cheng explains on the show, she was the only woman in Chinatown who was not for sale. Ah Toy endured an excruciatingly long travel across the sea on a steamboat, along with her husband, but was widowed even before the journey would take her to her destination. However, her quick wit and charming face soon made her an object of interest for the Captain and considering her own hapless situation, Ah Toy turned her misfortune into her greatest advantage.
She was a free woman in a new land, and after pleasing the Captain, she was showered with money that could have led her anywhere. However, she chose to remain with her own people and soon made a name for herself as the first Chinese prostitute in the area. With customers coming in from all over the land, she quickly realized that she was being considered a rare species in the otherwise white-flooded land. She soon understood the economy of the nation, and after that, it was easy to just lure the hungry, bawdy men. It was reportedly known that Ah Toy was a woman a man had to earn, as she would not charge a penny less than an ounce of gold to only let them look at her.
Her clean perception and acute sense of judgment kept her away from the dirty business of the Tong Wars, and by staying away from the unnecessary affairs of men, Ah Toy soon became the empress of her own kingdom. From being one woman with many men, she gradually owned two brothels (or "boarding houses", as they would be known) and as the kingdom of the Madam expanded, the newspapers began to term her as "strangely alluring". However, with all the success in all the wrong places, she would often be under the radar of the anti-Chinese laws, but even when she was brought to court, Ah Toy would maintain her distinct sense of style.
Familiar with California's judicial system at a very early stage, she had reportedly appeared in court dressed in an “apricot satin jacket and willow-green pantaloons.” She was apparently brought in then because some miners had dared to pay the Madam with brass filings instead of gold. However, as every judicial system goes, Ah Toy's claim was lashed at by the judge claiming a suitable explanation for the men's presence in her residence. While Ah Toy remained shut about it, a newspaper report leaked out the miners' urge for a "lookee", by stating, "They came to gaze upon the countenance of the charming Ah Toy." Her popularity spread like a wildfire among the white citizens, and with that the law came hurling down upon her kingdom.
During the year 1854, she had been arrested several times for "keeping a disorderly house", and this is exactly where the law pulled the line between Ah Toy and her white contemporaries, who were left unchecked. However, the woman who had mysteriously appeared in the nation disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and her legend became so voguish that several women would come around claiming that they were Ah Toy. However, it all came to an abrupt halt when, in 1928, a small notice appeared in the San Francisco Examiner announcing the death of a Mrs. Ah Toy of San Jose. To this day the true identity of this Mrs. Ah Toy who passed away only a few days after her 100th birthday remains a dubiously unknown fact, but it can be said, that no gold in the California Gold Rush was as desirable as the Golden Woman, herself.
'Warrior' premieres on Cinemax on April 5, and you can buckle up for one heck of a mind-boggling ride. Watch the trailer below: