It took 50 years to bring Warrior to Cinemax this week. The show is based on a treatment that Bruce Lee wrote 2 years before his death for a show that Hollywood rejected but was preserved by his daughter Shannon Lee. Lee’s treatment featured a young martial artist that wandered the old west teaching Kung Fu., but in 1971 when he made his pitch to Paramount and Warner Bros they balked at the idea of an Asian male lead in an American show.
The very next year, Warner Bros turned right around and created a show for ABC about a white Shaolin monk who wandered the West settling differences and teaching martial arts. That show was called…wait for it…Kung Fu, starring David Carradine. Warner Bros has never owned up to the theft, but the story is so well known that it was even referred to in the 1993 Bruce Lee biopic Dragon as well as the book it was based on.
Shannon has stated that she had found the treatment in a box well after she turned her father’s legacy into a business. And from then on pushed to make the story ‘she’d heard about growing up’, into a movie. 7 years ago, her dreams of continuing her father’s legacy came into focus when Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious, Star Trek: Beyond) and his company Perfect Storm came knocking. He tweaked the premise a bit, (the old West has been replaced with turn of the century San Francisco) and shopped it to HBO.
Last fall, when Cinemax looked to revamp it’s brand, (and both Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians had won all the awards), they snapped up Warrior, giving it a 10 episode run almost immediately. Bruce Lee’s character, Ah Sahm is played by Andrew Koji (Fast and Furious 6). Ah Sahm arrives in America right after the Civil War, but before the Chinese Exclusion Act and right in the middle of the Tong Wars in search of a woman. It seems like everywhere he goes, he has to fight. He’s well trained, middle class and speaks multiple languages. Including English. He ends up catching the eye of a local boss and starts working for him as he doubles his efforts to find the woman he is so desperately after. Which he does, with unexpected consequences.
This show reveals us an America I’ve never seen on TV or been taught in school. The story isn’t solely about Chinese-Americans, it’s a world where damn near everyone is an immigrant, fighting for survival in a new world, with new rules and new problems. The pilot even addresses the conflicts with the Irish left here after fighting the Civil War who were frightened that both the freed African-American slaves and the new immigrants were taking their jobs and encroaching on a new way of life.
Now, before you sit down with your family to watch this, just know that although the fight scenes are excellent, (with hit sound effects that would make any Saturday morning Kung fu movie tear up a little in pride) Warrior is definitely a violent show and because it’s Cinemax, there’s obviously going to be nudity and discussions of rape. Warrior isn’t perfect, some of the lines and character names are clunky (and I have it on good authority the Cantonese is too) and I hope some of the female characters and backstories are developed more.
Rich Ting, Jason Tobin and cast
But right now, where we are in this reality, there is something incredibly satisfying about seeing a grown man of color look into the eyes of a white racist cop who put his hands on him…and punch him in the face.
I look forward to seeing more from Warrior.
Warrior Airs Fridays on Cinemax at 10pmEST