'Warrior': Cinemax's series follows the secret society of the Tongs as they battled for territory and control in Chinatown
These organizations, known as Tongs, were chiefly formed to look after the community's own people but they soon took a violent turn.
Based on the writings of Bruce Lee, Cinemax's 'Warrior' is bringing back the American-Chinese society's secret history of gambling, prostitution, and opium. With an extremely clever storyline projected through wide frames and dubious characters, 'Warrior' is one show which is defying every unnecessary convention that had been held by Hollywood for so long.
Through a cast, chiefly led by skillful Asian actors, 'Warrior' tells us the story about Ah Sahm (played by Andrew Koji), a newly arrived Chinese immigrant with some serious fighting skills, who finds himself thrust in the midst of the Tong Wars. While creator Jonathan Tropper puts Ah Sahm as the representational face of the reckless existence of the society, the Tong Wars soon take up the center stage and quickly become one of the chief characters on the show. So what were the Tong Wars?
At its core, the Tong Wars were nothing different than the street gang rivalry which we have seen in shows like BBC One's 'Peaky Blinders'. Rich mafia families trying to cut off each others' roots in order to establish their total rule upon the land, but when it comes to the Tong Wars, there is one extremely significant element playing here. These wars, unlike the gang brawls in 'Peaky Blinders', are being fought by immigrants on foreign soil. In that case, a more appropriate reference to the Tong Wars could be given through the Order of Elks, which was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1899, after two black men were denied admission to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, the then highly discriminatory religious body.
However, while most of these societies- that were established in the late 19th century- soon merged with the societies of the native white people, the Tongs continued to remain an autonomous body. The word 'Tong', in Chinese, indicates a hall or a gathering place, and it was in these places that rival organizations would begin to recruit men and women for their own army. The process of recruitment was a secretive one, but those who could project the skill of bashing an enemy or bravery in blatant murder were immediately taken by any one of the organizations, which also came to be known as Tongs. It didn't matter if they were chiefly Chinese or not; Japanese, Filipino, and even Caucasians were known to join Tong organizations, which deceptively carried the names of rather peaceful societies- such as The Society of Pure Upright Spirits and the Peace and Benevolence Society.
Although the Tongs that 'Warrior' is referring to were known to have started brawls even at the least provocation, the traditional Tongs were actually formed to protect their countrymen from discrimination by others, as well as criminals in general. 'Warrior' actually gives us a glimpse into the traditional Tongs through one character, but we won't speak about him much, yet. However, as the show has very subtly depicted, the Tongs' method of attaining peace, through bloodshed, soon became their virtue, and the violent series of gang wars became their chief objective while peace and settlement were pushed to the sides. In fact, the organizations were so well established that they had managed to keep men and women who were fluent with English, and could help them decipher the daily newspapers and everything that was being spoken against them.
The San Fransisco Chronicle of May, 1854, actually describes the Tong Wars, as: "For several weeks the tongs all over Chinatown have been playing war music in their rooms, and while the shrill, saw-like sound of the Chinese fiddle and the squeak of the Chinese clarinet are common sounds in the Mongolian quarter, those familiar with Chinatown and Chinese ways know that when the music continues until late in the night . . . some lodge of tongs is at work offering sacrifices to the god of war and preparing to wreak vengeance upon its enemies.” Although the Tongs were spread all across the US, thanks to the nation's ancient trade in human life, it was California which was highly populated by the Tongs, and San Francisco was at the center of it all.
It was the home of the first Tongs in the United States, and was formed as a reaction to the hostility that Chinese immigrant workers had to face from their American counterparts upon their arrival to the nation. During the plague outbreak in Chinatown of San Francisco in the 1900s, the Chinese Six Companies which held the higher positions among the Tongs- to name a few Bing Kong Tong, Suey Sing Tong, and Hop Sing Tong - recommended the vaccination plan to their members and the Tongs. Doubting the effectiveness of vaccinations, many Chinese residents of Chinatown refused inoculations. Several Tongs went so far as to threaten harm to those who did get vaccinated, as well as the Chinese leadership that endorsed doing so.
Perhaps nothing would have been able to stop the Tongs from growing had it not been for a militant style police force led Donaldina Cameron and a group of Chinese organizations who had predicted the Tongs' presence as a severe threat to their community. However, what truly helped in demolishing the Tongs for good was the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that brought the end of the Tongs and the Tong Wars.
'Warrior' follows the Tongs, when they were at their peak, and soon brings out the harsh realities of these so-called Robin Hoods of Chinatown. The series premieres on Cinemax April 5, and we can tell you this is one series you should not miss. Watch the trailer below: