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Bruce Lee’s martial arts drama Warrior is coming to Netflix

Martial Arts legend Bruce Lee was born in 1940, the year of the dragon, and his Chinese name is 李小龍 (Lee Xiao Long), which translates to “Little Dragon,” so it is only fitting that now in 2024, the year of the dragon, Warrior (which is based on Lee’s unfinished film treatment) has found a home on Netflix.

Starting on Feb. 16, all three seasons of Warrior will be available to binge on Netflix, which will allow a wider audience to discover the series. Created by Jonathan Tropper (Banshee) and executive produced by Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee (Be Water, I Am Bruce Lee) and director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious, Better Luck Tomorrow) and others, Lee’s unfinished story has come to life, honoring the legacy of the legend.

Despite the show’s cancellation after season three, British Japanese actor Andrew Koji (Snake Eyes, Bullet Train) who plays the protagonist Ah Sahm in Warrior, said that there is still hope for a fourth season and, despite a tumultuous journey, refuses to call it quits.

“I will be honest with you, we were all pretty bummed when we heard the series was not going to be renewed for a fourth season,” Koji said in an interview with AsAmNews. “But now that it will still be available on Max and now will be on Netflix shows that this is really a series which refuses to die. We now have a chance to reach a new and bigger audience, and this is a saving grace for the show and to honor the legacy of Bruce Lee.”

Set during the Tong Wars in late 1870s San Francisco, the series follows Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who emigrated from China in search of his sister, only to be sold to one of the most powerful tongs in Chinatown.

One of the show’s strengths is its portrayal of Asian women. No matter the role, each Asian woman in Warrior is independent, assertive and innovative. Most importantly, they are survivors. There are no subservient, meek and weak Asian women to fulfill a yellow fever fetish, and Warrior is refreshing in how it challenges these harmful narratives. For Olivia Cheng (Marco Polo, Deadly Class), who plays the strong brothel madam Ah Toy, this negative stereotype of Asian women has been so entrenched in Western media that she is glad to be a part of subverting it.

“Historical narratives of Asian men and women in America and really outside of Asia are a form of institutional racism,” Cheng said in an interview with AsAmNews. “I think the story behind Warrior is an antidote to this dark chapter of history, and I hope Ah Toy’s strong and willful ways will add to this change. From the get go, I knew that I wanted to perform my role as something meaningful for Asian women because of all the negative fetish stereotypes attached to us. Ah Toy is a multi-dimensional character who is a target in a system where Asian women were seen as low on the totem pole and being stuck there. She succeeds by pushing the boundaries.”

At the beginning of the project, Dianne Doan (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D), who plays Mai Ling, Ah Sahm’s sister, was concerned about the portrayal of Asian women in the series because it was a period drama based in San Francisco Chinatown during the Chinese Exclusion Act era. She voiced her concerns to Tropper, who worked with her and all the other actresses to ensure that their characters wouldn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

“My biggest concern was that as Asian women in a show set in the backdrop of the Chinese Exclusion Act in San Francisco Chinatown, we would be written up as these negative tropes, as we are more than often over sexualized or seen as less than human,” Doan said in an interview with AsAmNews. “It was awesome to work with Jonathan, who actually made all the women and, specifically, the Asian women rule in the series. We were the power brokers, we held the destinies of the men in our hands and we were badass!”

The portrayals of Asian men were also a major topic of conversation throughout the production. The topic of Asian masculinity has been contentious, with Hollywood historically portraying Asian men as awkward, non-sexual, weak and unattractive.

Jason Tobin (Better Luck Tomorrow, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), who plays Young Jun, the successor to one of the Hop Wei tong, said that these negative portrayals of Asian men have been changing over the past decade, and Warrior is a part of that change.

“[In] the older days of the entertainment business, Hollywood and Western media would portray Asian men as insignificant beings who are sexually inept or who are the bad guy out to kidnap women,” Tobin said in an interview with AsAmNews. “Now, we are lead characters, we are sexy and we can fight and survive with force. Playing Young Jun, I am loyal to family and friends, but I am also a kick-ass Asian man in the leadership of the Tongs.”

For Chen Tang (Mulan) who plays Hong, a young new recruit brought over from China as part of reinforcements for the Hop Wei tong, there is hope that one day, these sorts of discussions about Asian masculinity will no longer be required because Asian men will be viewed as men and will not have to fight these negative stereotypes.

“My first instinct is that we are just people and should not be defined by our ethnicity or our level of attractiveness,” Tang said in an interview with AsAmNews. “I would like to see a world where the term ‘Asian men’ is removed because we are all humans trying to tell a human story. I think [because pf] the fact that the show runners and the writers for Warrior really just wanted to highlight the humanity of all the characters, the show became more than just an Asian [or] Chinese story. [It] became one about creating community and survival.”

Joe Taslim (Star Trek Beyond, Mortal Kombat) who plays Li Yong, a skilled martial artist who serves as the Long Zii Tong’s chief enforcer, said that the topic of Asian masculinity makes him think about Bruce Lee and his struggles during a time when Asian men were treated as less than nothing.

“As Asian men, we should always reflect upon ourselves and go back to understanding the resilience of Bruce Lee, who at a time when Asian men had no standing in Hollywood, wrote a treatment where an Asian man is the lead,” Taslim said in an interview with AsAmNews. “His thoughts on gendered stereotypes were way beyond his time. I am so proud to be a part of this story which shows Asian men are good at fighting but are also complex and layered.”

According to Koji, the first season of Warrior was actually filmed six to seven years ago, when this conversation about the portrayal of Asian men in Western media was just starting to pick up steam. In Warrior, Asian men are portrayed as skilled fighters, but they are also lovers, cheaters and humans with emotions. Despite this progress, Koji said that there is always room for improvement.

“We still have ways to go in reaching our ideal goal of how Asian men are portrayed,” Koji said. “In Warrior, which started filming long before this topic was important, we were everything and anything. To be honest, we were probably more-so defined by our women—they were the gender who made or broke us. In Warrior, we were cowboys, we went rogue and we fought for honor and our community.”

Now that all three seasons of Warrior are released on Netflix, what would some of the cast like for viewers to take away after binging the series? For Perry Yung (John Wick: Chapter 2, Snakehead) who plays Father Jun, the leade r of the Hop Wei tong and Young Jun’s father, he hopes viewers will resonate with the father-son narrative, which humanizes the bond his character has with his son despite their unfortunate life circumstances.

“The bond Father Jun had with his son Young Jun was priceless,” Yung said in an interview with AsAmNews. “It is rare that we see a Chinese father having a tumultuous and emotional relationship with his Chinese son on Western film and television. I mean, this is really a true moment for our community to show that we are just like everyone else. Father Jun is tough, but he does everything for his family. This is what I hope viewers take from the series.”

Hoon Lee (Mulan, The Monkey King), who plays Wang Chao, a black market salesman who acquires contraband for the tongs and the San Francisco police, said that he hopes viewers will come away with a better understanding of his character and the procedures behind how the tongs communicate and negotiate after watching Warrior.

“Wang Chao is like the hatchet man between the Tongs and the San Francisco police,” Lee said in an interview with AsAmNews. “I hope viewers will broaden their understanding about the subtleties between the different leaders and followers of the tongs. Chao is a little naïve and gutless, but if he is good at something, it is creating networks and nurturing his intuition on things. He is also a businessman who falls into crowds he really shouldn’t. I think I just want viewers to take Chao for who he is and not pose any pre-judgments.”

As a work of historical fiction, Warrior is also raising awareness about the history of Chinese Americans and the growth of Chinatowns during the Chinese Exclusion Act period. This history is what Cheng wants viewers to understand once they check out the series. She said that wants viewers to understand that the yellow peril and the discrimination against Asians in America has been happening for centuries.

Warrior has really bought out a history which has often been erased and forgotten,” Cheng said. “We really can mirror the anti-Asian [and] Chinese hate of our communities centuries ago to what has happened since the COVID-19 pandemic to what is happening now. To understand that as Asians [and] Chinese [people], we are always the perpetual foreigner is also important. Lastly, I hope viewers will fall in love with the series, binge on it and feel they have gained something from each season.”

All three seasons of Warrior will be available to stream on Netflix on Feb. 16th, 2024, and it will continue to be available to stream on Max. For those who would like to see a season four, be sure to binge all three seasons within the first two weeks of it being on Netflix and select the thumbs up icon after watching it.

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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