Now I have talked about this series on end and I think it’s time to talk about each episode and character on how it all culminated to an end on December 4, 2020.
Let’s go back to 1971, Bruce Lee wrote up a concept known as “The Warrior”, a story where a martial artist from China comes to the American West. Lee wanted to pitch it to Warner Bros. but they chose not to move forward with the project. And yet the concept was released with David Carradine and titled “Kung Fu”.
It was also said that Bruce Lee was not given credit and was not casted because of his accent and because the American audience is not ready for a Chinese main character.
In 2015, Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon was contacted by Justin Lin and his company Perfect Storm Entertainment. Now Justin Lin has been a huge advocate of having Asian representation on the screen and even made the mockumentary “Finishing the Game”. The film was a look into how Lee’s “Game of Death” was completed and the lengths of casting and studio politics interfered with completing Lee’s project.
With Shannon entrusting and executive producing the writings her father had, and Justin Lin tapped for directing, they recruited Banshee showrunner Jonathan Tropper to help shape the series as the treatment was set in 1887 San Francisco with a Tong War running within Chinatown.
Filming started in 2017 in South Africa and the first season finally premiered in 2019. The show was immediately greenlit for a second season after the first few episodes premiered.
I personally will be reviewing all 20 episodes of “Warrior” on how each character, story, historical and homages have impacted me as a viewer and filmmaker. So Episode 1 – The Itchy Onion, it has been said by Wang Chao (Hoon Lee) and Young Jun (Jason Tobin) on their view of Ah Sahm’s (Andrew Koji) introduction.
The term Onion was coined as it is a term for Cantonese speakers to Mandarin speakers who crossed into America for their smell. When I first heard it in the episode, I wondered if it was a slur compared to the Americans calling the Chinese immigrants: Slant, Ching Chong or Chinaman.
The episode starts with Ah Sahm arriving in San Francisco on boat with others where they are greeted by Wang Chao. After a brief scuffle with immigration officials and displaying his martial art skills, Wang Chao takes Ah Sahm to meet Young Jun and Father Jun of the Hop Wei.
Young Jun shows Ah Sahm San Francisco Chinatown’s brothel which is run by Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng). Ah Sahm discusses with Ah Toy on finding his sister Xiaojing which is heard by one of the prostitutes bringing in the Long Zi, a rival gang in Chinatown.
Ah Sahm beats the Long Zi hatchetmen and continues with Young Jun on the workings of what the Hop Wei must do in Chinatown.
Within the city, Mayor Samuel Blake and his assistant Walter Buckley are dealing with a murder of Chinese labor workers, which causes one factory owner Merriweather swift action on the protection of his workers. Buckley goes to the San Francisco police to put together a Chinatown task force which is led by Sergeant Bill O’Hara and he is partnered up with Georgia newcomer Richard Lee.
Lee managed to arrest those who attacked the Chinese workers but the two men are freed by Dylan Leary, an Irish American labor worker fighting for his fellow Americans to keep the jobs for White people and no one else.
Now I would go into more detail but I don’t want to lose focus and not let you see for yourself on what the whole episode has in store. What I will say in my experience, this show managed to juggle every character’s introduction and main stories and sub stories.
The main story right out of the gate is Ah Sahm is looking for his purpose. As he comes to San Francisco to find his sister Xiaojing, he finds her to be the wife of rival gang leader of the Long Zi, adopting the name of Mai Ling. Now the typical story for the whole season would be Ah Sahm going through Chinatown and both gangs to find his sister and then in the fifth episode he finds her so broken and etc. But here on the first episode, that notion is taken away as Ah Sahm is stuck in San Francisco with no purpose. This character notion and main theme will come back throughout the reviews each episode but it is clear when Mai Ling tells him that he does not belong. A notion where it is very relevant for a lot of people.
As we know, Bruce Lee was a philosophy major and for his work to have a meaning behind it, it showcases the one aspect – everyone’s purpose and where do they belong.
The two sub-stories center on Mayor Blake, Buckley and Leary and O’Hara and Lee. For Mayor Blake who is stuck in a loveless marriage with Penny, he tries to juggle appealing to the white workers like Leary while trying to maintain his image with factory workers. This brings up a conflict between him and Penny as Samuel tries to push for the fact it should be American workers while they have a Chinese servant in their home and also factory owners hiring Chinese laborers. As for Leary and his men, they strongly fight for work to be done by only whites and no foreigners.
I will go into more of who Penny and Leary are as the season progresses but as the episodes shows, it is merely and introduction of what is to come.
O’Hara and Lee being two of four police officers of the Chinatown task force. As O’Hara is a veteran police officer who only will do what is right just to get by while Lee serves as his conscience. This is a dynamic that has been evident throughout the series as it continues but you will get to see how O’Hara’s prejudices and bigotry is on full display for the Chinese while Lee has a more moral high ground of who he is and where he has come from.
There is one other sub-story where Ah Toy is a vigilante killer who kills the two workers that attacked the Chinese laborers. This is a taste of who Ah Toy is and what her motivations are. She is first introduced as just a madam of the local brothel but her mystery soon comes out as the series unfolds.
So how does this episode still hold up? Well there is one scene where Mai Ling and Long Zi are going to bed and Long Zi mentions “Us Chinese must stick together.” I remember seeing this episode a couple months after it’s premiere and when I heard that line, I remembered this was written and shot a year before hand, the whole season mind you and in 2019… the Hong Kong protests were happening. And not just that, across North America too, all Chinese were protesting and taking sides.
This episode made me want to keep watching to see what Ah Sahm was going to do in Chinatown and try to get out of it. But what was the series building up to in general. And would it get as real as that one statement?