Well, time for me to get a Cinemax account!
Bruce Lee was, arguably, the most influential figure of kung fu in America, and his legacy cannot be understated. What some people may not know is that he had a concept for a TV show that was stuck in development hell for decades. Now, with Lee’s daughter, Shannon, and Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious franchise serving as executive producers, the project has finally been brought back to life and will be premiering April 5th on Cinemax.
Set in 1878 San Francisco, before the Tong Wars, the series follows Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who has immigrated from China, to be enlisted as a hatchet man for Father Jun, the most powerful tong in all of Chinatown. But that is not the reason Ah Sahm is in America. Rather, he is here to rescue his sister, who is being held prisoner by Jun, and will let nothing stand is his way of doing so. Meanwhile police sergeant “Big Bill” O’Hara is tasked with creating a Chinatown squad following the deaths of two Chinese laborers killed at the hands of Irish thugs, all while relations between the Americans and the Chinese continue to decline.
The first few minutes of Warrior waste no time in giving audiences what they expected to see: some Bruce Lee-style kung fu. It is full-throttle and beyond impressive, and it is obvious how much work went into the choreography of the fights. In many action movies and TV shows, the editing during the fight scenes is too quick, with the film cutting back and forth every time there is a point of contact between the opponents. This causes the fights to feel predictable and feel orchestrated, and doesn’t do the choreography any justice. While the first fight scene in Warrior had a bit of that, the fight scenes that follow have longer takes inter-spliced, making the action feel more impactful. Different styles of fighting, such as boxing, are also depicted in this show, and it is fascinating to imagine what will happen when the different characters and styles eventually clash.
Thankfully, the quality of the show’s dialogue matches the action in terms of entertainment. The script has plenty of witty banter between characters, similar to Mad Men and Argo. (My personal favorite line is “This is not China. It’s Chinatown!”) Every actor is cast perfectly in his or her roles, particularly Andrew Koji as Ah Sahm, who is is fearless. Audiences will certainly appreciate both his fighting style and his comebacks to derogatory comments.
There is an inventive transition that is used within the first few minutes of the pilot. As an Asian characters is speaking Cantonese, the camera does a 360 degree turn around that character, and once it stops, he is speaking perfect English, and English remains the language of the episode. Although I would have personally preferred these scenes to remain in Mandarin with subtitles, this is an artistic choice that I found rather interesting and effective.
Based on the pilot alone, Warrior looks to be an engaging television experience. It does a fantastic job of setting up scenarios and memorable characters that are sure to develop as the series progresses, and promises plenty of kung fu action. As far as period pieces go, the show production is rich in detail and the cinematography is dazzling. It serves as not only another entry into the renaissance of modern television, but also as a tribute to the legacy and artistry of Bruce Lee.
Warrior will premiere on Cinemax on Friday, April 5th!