'Warrior': Why Bruce Lee's passion project had been rejected by Warner Bros. 50 years ago
The idea has been in development for almost half a century, and only now are people able to see the story that deserves to be told.
Hollywood, for the longest time, has been unable to envision a show or movie which can have leads or a cast that does not include any white actor or actress as its primary focus. However, with creator Jonathan Tropper taking the initiative of landing 'Warrior' on Cinemax this April, for the first time, television will see a show that is based on America but is led by a series of Asian actors. What is even more unique about the show is that it picked up something that Hollywood did not consider good enough for its screen, 50 years ago. 'Warrior', starring Andrew Koji and Olivia Cheng, is based on the writings of Bruce Lee, a man whose profound philosophy was never entirely appreciated by the Western or the Eastern film industries.
Lee had pitched the idea way back in 1971 for a series called 'The Warrior', where he would act as the lead and tell the story of a martial arts warrior who had crossed the sea and immigrated to the Old West. However, none of the studios, including Warner Bros, where Lee had pitched his idea, were able to envision a successful series that would have a Chinese as its lead. Warner Bros. only a year later aired a series called 'Kung Fu', which was revolving 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 the American 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. The outrage against 'Kung Fu' was massive but quite expectedly, Warner Bros. completely denied being influenced by Lee's idea. They did not include Lee for his Chinese accent, and Lee had explained, "They think that business wise it is a risk. I don’t blame them. If the situation were reversed, and an American star were to come to Hong Kong, and I was the man with the money, I would have my own concerns as to whether the acceptance would be there.”
Fortunately, 'Kung Fu' wasn't well received by any audience of any age, and it specifically failed to strike a chord with the then eight-year-old, Justin Lin. Now as an executive producer on the show, alongside, Shannon Lee and Brad Kane, Lin confessed during an interview with EW that he was confused why Carradine was coaxing himself to speak in broken English when he himself was an English-speaking man. However, once in the industry and Shannon had herself brought in the scripts for the show, Lin realized that the show had to be made. Casting was certainly a problem, and Lin mentioned, "Casting directors, when they read ‘Asian-American,’ kind of go to the same pool. It was important to us to find a casting director that would really be open to us going around the world [for the search]. It took a while…I think there wasn’t any rocks left unturned, and I think that’s the right way [to do it].”
50 years ago, Hollywood told @brucelee no one wanted to see a show with an Asian lead. That show was #Warrior, and it’s coming out now in 2019 with his daughter Shannon at the helm alongside @justinlin and @jtropper. So honoured to be a part of this! 🙂 https://t.co/txU95As2FN— Olivia Cheng (@ThatOliviaCheng) December 14, 2018
However, none of it would have been possible had Lin not contacted Lee's daughter, Shannon, who informed the producer about the existence of Lee's original scripts. Shannon pointed out that through 'Warrior' (or the original 'The Warrior') Lee wanted to bring out the authentic representation of his own people since Hollywood would only focus on the negative side of all those who weren't white enough. Speaking with Collider, Shannon mentioned, "It was my father’s vision to portray an authentic Asian experience, so he set this in this time, in his treatment....He was the one to bring realism in martial arts to the movies. Prior to that, all of the action films in Hong Kong and Asia were these dramatic swordplays and flying through the air Kung Fu movies, which he couldn’t stand, as a martial artist. He had a real love for wanting to portray, in an entertaining way, the reality of martial arts. So, for us, we really wanted there to be a visceral realness to the action, and also a lot of entertainment. "
'Warrior' is finally happening, and we can tell you that it is nothing like any crime drama you have seen before. With utmost precision, Tropper has managed to bring out the face of Chinatown which was never spoken about, and just like all other secrets that are never spoken about but once you do it excites you, 'Warrior' will leave you baffled. Set to premiere on April 5, the show has a cast chiefly led by Asian actors which include, Andrew Koji, Olivia Cheng, Jason Tobin, and Dianne Doan.
Watch the trailer below: