HomeBad Ass AsiansMax's 'Warrior' returns to pack a punch on Chinese American history

Max’s ‘Warrior’ returns to pack a punch on Chinese American history

By Erin Chew

Season 3 of Bruce Lee’s Warrior picks up this week where season 2 ended- the race riots that upended San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Mai Ling (Diane Doan)who has gained a lot of power and influence throughout the seasons, uses her government connections to consolidate power, while Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), Young Jun (Jason Tobin) and others must find new ways to survive the environment of Chinese hate and societal changes.

The relevance to the current time period is astoundingly obvious, with anti-Asian hate still happening across the country and Asian Americans doing all they can to push critical awareness of the issue and really just try to survive.

Doan and Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, who is a producer of the series carrying her father’s legacy, talk about how the instances happening in Warrior mirrors to a degree things impacting on Asian Americans of today.

“I think what went on in the 19th century in the US as a run-up to the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and the way Asians are treated since then up till now with anti-Asian hate is something so pervasive that continues as an undercurrent and with the pandemic it just became more visible,” said Lee. “This series really shines a light on something which has always been there, and it is also the foresight of my father who faced a lot of racism throughout his career to remind us that anti-Chinese/Asian hate is always there looming.”

It is apparent that despite being almost two centuries ago, the main ideas of finding one’s self and a sense of belonging in a society where being Chinese is seen as the perpetual foreigner is no different from how things are in the current environment, where Asian Americans have experienced anti-Asian hate attacks and discrimination.

“Our show has always been topical to what’s been happening in America. I think with the COVID-19 pandemic and now in the post-COVID world, it seems to be more relevant. The fact that Mai Ling uses her government connections to try to consolidate her power is no different from who we have now as leaders in the fight on anti-Asian hate and the Asian American politicians on all levels fighting the good fight”, Doan said.

When the topic of racism and anti-Asian hate is discussed, it usually goes hand in hand in talking about stereotypes Asians get subjected to in Hollywood and the Western media. Generically, Asians have been depicted in Hollywood as weak, easy targets, not masculine enough (however that is defined), and requiring the ultimate White savior hero to rescue all Asians from devastation. The other stereotype is that Asians only know martial arts, and where this is true for Warrior, because it is a series that has a lot of awesome martial arts scenes, the martial arts is just a layer over a complex and nuanced series about the plight of the early Chinese in America.

In addition, the characters in Warrior actually change the narrative on stereotypes – there are no Asian female characters who require a White savior or any man to rescue them as they are all strong, independent female characters, and all the Asian men are just badass as can be. Yes, they do find relationships and love.

Cheng who plays Ah Toy – a brothel owner and an expert in wielding the Dao (Chinese sword) talks passionately about how their characters defy negative stereotypes in the series.

“Personally, I have had a lot of conversations with other Asian women actresses on this issue, considering Ah Toy is a brothel owner. But You know what? I came to the conclusion that she became a brothel owner to survive, as she at one time was a vulnerable woman. It is a complex thing with Ah Toy – on one hand we see her as someone who exploits other Chinese women, but on the other hand we see her as a scarred woman who made a life for herself so she doesn’t have to rely or depend on any man. If we see her in that light then she changes the stereotype. Also her sword skills are at expert level, so in addition, she can defend herself physically as well”, Cheng said.

Fight scene from Warrior
David Bloomer/ Max

The first season of Warrior premiered back in 2019, though its roots reach back decades earlier. The initial concept behind this series – now entering its third season originated in the mind of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. It was Lee’s unfinished treatment that spawned this martial arts masterpiece depicting the challenges the Chinese faced in mid-1800s San Francisco.

Directed/created by Justin Lin and Jonathan Tropper, the story is focused upon the ongoing conflict between San Francisco’s tongs which are basically community centers for Chinese immigrants with some being involved in organized crime.

Koji plays the main protagonist Ah Sahm – a Chinese martial arts expert from Foshan, China who travels to San Francisco in search of his elder sister formerly known as Xiaojing and now as Mai Ling who emigrated years prior. It is this search that spurs Ah Sahm into a journey of redefining himself, his motives of coming to America, being involved in the tong wars of the time and understanding the racism and discrimination which confronted the Chinese at the time.

Most of the stars in season one have continued to reprise their roles in season three. In addition to Koji, Doan, Cheng and Tobin, the other main Asian cast members include Hoon Lee (Wang Chao), Perry Yung (Father Jun), Dustin Nguyen (Zing) and Chen Tang (Hong) among others.

One interesting thing is as each season airs and ends, the main characters transform and become much more layered and complex. In a recent interview with AsAmNews, both Koji and Tobin who play Ah Sahm and Young Jun respectively talk about the transformations they have seen in the characters they play and how this impacts on storytelling and historical relevance.

“Storytelling is all about change, and audiences want to see change and not a main character stay stagnant. Warrior has been relentless in this regard, and when you watch season three you will see the changes in the relationship between Ah Sahm and Young Jun from what they started off as and you will also get a more in-depth understanding of the history of the early Chinese in the US – their hardships get worse and their predicaments get more complex”, Koji said to AsAmNews.

“As Ah Sahm is the main protagonist, the changes seen in him when he first steps off the boat in season 1 up till now, affect the changes in all other characters. Young Jun starts to feel more comfortable with who he is and finds his place in the world of the Chinese tongs and what it means to be a warrior in season three. Thinking about him, I see that Young Jun’s character tells the story of Chinese Americans trying to fit in and take on leadership roles at the same time as finding their own way in society”, Tobin expressed.

Season three of Warrior will premiere on Max on June 29, 2023.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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