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Series / Warrior (2019)

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"Warriors have only two paths: get killed or get better."

"This is not China. It's Chinatown. And our blood is cheap here, so you'd better learn to adapt."
Ah Toy

Warrior is a martial arts, historical crime drama created by Jonathan Tropper and Justin Lin, which premiered April 5, 2019 on Cinemax.

It is based on a treatment Bruce Lee wrote in 1971 for an undeveloped television series titled The Warrior about a martial artist in the the American Old West, but was changed considerably into Kung Fu starring David Carradine. His daughter Shannon Lee serves as one of the executive producers on the series.

Set during the Tong Wars in late 1870s San Francisco, California, the series follows Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), a martial arts prodigy who immigrates to San Francisco from China in search of his long-lost sister and becomes a hatchet man for the Hop Wei, the most powerful tong in Chinatown as it moves towards open warfare with its rivals. But he will also have to face the bigotry of the city’s white population and the machinations of the corrupt politicians trying to make a profit out of the whole mess.


On April 24 2019, Cinemax renewed the series for a second season, which became the final Cinemax original offering. Shortly after the second season was completed, the show became the first Cinemax series to become available on the network's sister channel HBO (and HBO Max).

This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Ah Toy is extremely lethal with a dao.
  • A Father to His Men: as long as you're Irish, Leary will literally give you the shirt off his back (or hat off his head as it were) should you be in need of one. Everyone non-Irish is shit out of luck though.
  • Always Someone Better: Throughout the series, Ah Sahm is warned that as skilled as he is, there exists the possibility of someone outmatching him. This is finally proven true when he fights Li Yong in Combat by Champion and loses, his first defeat in the series not caused by a sucker punch. This is partially because Li Yong seems to have more endurance, but more importantly, he has a cause to fight for while Ah Sahm, after realizing that his sister is beyond saving, is basically an empty man.
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  • Ambiguously Bi: in episode 16 Young Jun, who was shown visiting (female) prostitutes in every other episode, asks Hong if the latter considers him attractive, and is pretty chargrined to learn that Hong thinks of him as a brother rather than a potential lover.
  • An Axe to Grind: Hatchets are very popular weapons among the tong fighters.
  • And Starring: Martial arts star Joe Taslim gets this billing.
  • Angry White Man: Leary and his mob are textbook examples, railing against immigrant coming to steal jobs.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: during the standoff at the Mercer factory gate Ah Sahm asks Leary one that, by the look on the latter's face, clearly struck a nerve:
    Ah Sahm: If you're so damn American maybe you should ask your people why they keep fucking you over to hire us? Maybe it's you that doesn't belong here.
    • As of season 2 finale it's entirely possible that Ah Sahm can live rent-free under Leary's skin. He delivers yet another question which hits Leary right where it hurts, considering season 2 started with him visiting his wife and children's graves:
    Do you have any children, Mr. Leary?
  • Asskicking Equals Authority:
    • All the highest ranking people in the Tongs either are badasses, or were sufficiently badass in their prime that they are respected even into old age.
    • Dylan Leary, in addition to being head of the local Irish mob, is also an expert prizefighter and one of the few caucasians who can go toe-to-toe with Ah Sahm.
  • Ax-Crazy: the Hop Wei and the Long Zii, themselves no strangers to gruesome violence, consider the Fung Hai to be this, and for a good reason. though the events of season 1 finale seem to indicate that there's a method behind all the carnage the Fung Hai cause as they end up with a considerably greater power base.
    • Young Jun has WAY too much fun with his daggers.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: for two guys who don't get along at all, Ah Sahm and Li Yong display some impressive teamwork when fighting the rioters in Enter the Dragon.
  • Badass Beard: Ah Sahm sports some pretty nice facial hair.
    • Leary spots a pretty neat 'stache and goatee combo; Bill O'Hara has a full beard swallows could comfortably nest in, and while a bit of a bungler, he can still very much apply boot to ass when necessary. Richard Lee also seems to grow more facial hair the more violent he becomes though it's not necessarily a good thing.
  • Badass Boast: Young Jun gets a great one in episode 2x09 as the tongs are preparing to take on the mob tearing Chinatown apart:
    Young Jun: I think we spend every day living in their world but today, they're gonna die in ours.
  • Badass Bookworm: Richard Lee is very well-read and articulate but in episode 9 he demonstrates he's just as good with his hands (and his nightstick) by whooping two Fung Hai who try to ambush him. Zing is too much for him but it's not through lack of trying.
  • Badass Longcoat: Li Yong usually sports a knee-length robe and he's quite likely the best fighter in the whole damn series.
  • Badass Preacher: the pastor from episode 5 is a Cool Old Guy who does a fine job of mediating between Ah Sahm, Young Jun and other passengers at the stagecoach; when the outlaws return for payback after getting their asses kicked by our protagonists, he doesn't hestitate to grab a gun and blows at least one of the bandits away, saving Young Jun's life in the process], and when asked to deliver a blessing before shit goes down he utters this gem:
    May the Devil cut the toes off our fucking foes, so that we may know them by their limping.
  • Bar Brawl: An offscreen one happens in the second season finale. Ah Sahm walks into the Banshee, takes in all the hostile stares the patrons are giving him and asks, "So, who's buying?" Smash Cut to Ah Sahm sitting at a table, calmy enjoying whiskey, as several thugs lie unconcious around him.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Li Yong is occasionally shown fighting with a weapon (most notably in episode 2x05) but he predominantly uses his bare hands. This doesn't hinder him much.
  • Bastard Understudy: Mai Ling has learned a great deal from Long Zii, but is now seeking to supplant him. Unusually for this trope, she has genuine respect and affection for him, and when the time comes he accepts it with dignity.
    • Mai Ling is on the receiving end of this from Zing, who reveals that his cooperation was a lot less subservient than initially thought.
  • Berserk Button: See Enemy Eats Your Lunch below for Buckley's. It's not completely clear whether the normally unflappable Buckley having to visibly restrain himself is from a strong reaction to that particular gesture, or whether he was simply so sick of his arrogant and incompetent boss that it was the last straw, but either way his self-control was sorely tested.
  • Best Served Cold: Rosalita spent many years maneuvering to get into a position to get revenge on the man who killed her parents. She probably could have killed him sooner but she was setting things up so that her family could also regain the land he stole from them.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Young Jun at first seems like a happy-go-lucky, friendly guy more interested in liquor and ladies than in the Tong business. Then he pulls out the knives...
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: episode 2x09. The tensions in the city come to a head, when Jacob is first captured by the police and then lynched by irate Irish mob. Said mob then descends upon Chinatown, and the tongs put aside their differences for the time being and go to work busting heads. The ensuing melee lasts pretty much the entire episode.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Ah Sahm speaks perfect English, courtesy of his American grandfather. However, since he is a fresh off the boat immigrant, he pretends he doesn't.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Very few people are completely innocent in this show. Even Richard Lee, honorable and forthright as he is, has a dark secret in his past.
  • Bounty Hunter: One arrives in San Francisco looking for Richard Lee and offers Bill a share of the bounty if he helps him.
  • Break the Cutie: This happened to Mai Ling offscreen. She married a local warlord to save Ah Sahm after he accidentally kills said warlord's son during a sparring match. The man is horrifically abusive and this relationship ends up twisting Mai Ling into the ruthless cold-hearted gang leader she is today.
  • Bruce Lee Clone: Ah Sahm, naturally.
    • Li Yong perhaps even more so, with Joe Taslim mimicking Lee's body language far more closely than Andrew Koji (e. g. his bouncing stance during his fight with Zing in episode 15).
  • Brutal Brawl: any fight between two evenly matched combatants [[or when one side has a considerable strength and size advantage) will be bloody and grueling affairs where the winner usually looks like a raw hamburger patty and the loser looks worse.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Anyone who disrespects Ah Sahm is doing this, sometimes he swallows it, sometimes he mops the floor with them.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: both Young Jun and Ah Sahm think Hong, one of the new Hop Wei recruits, is anywhere between "a little bit off" and "batshit crazy;" he's also an extremely skilled fighter beating up several Fung Hai in his introductory episode and in episode 6 pieces together enough clues to see through their opium-selling scheme.
  • By-the-Book Cop: At the start of the show, Richard Lee is a rookie cop who very much believes in following the book to the letter.
  • Category Traitor: Leary won't tolerate Irishmen doing anything to benefit the Chinese at the expense of the Irish, and will express his displeasure by burning down your house or beating you helpless and having you killed.
    • Jacob, Penny Blake's Chinese manservant, gets some filthy looks from Ah Sahm which strongly imply this trope.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Young Jun feels this way since he wants to relate with his fellow Tongs but most of them were born and grew up in China while he was born and raised in America, making it difficult to connect with them since he's never been to China. Furthermore, most of the racist Americans sees him as a foreigner and not an American citizen due to being Chinese.
  • Chinese Laborer: Most of the Chinese population are made up of these as befitting the setting and time period, and a large source of racial tensions with the working class Irish who blame them for their economic woes. Ah Sahm resigns himself to being one after he's ejected from the Hop Wei following his defeat to the Long Zii champion.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Each of the major Tongs wear unique colored clothes to show who are they affiliate with. The Hop Wei wear black suits with red lining, the Long Zii wear grey traditional Chinese mens garments with the Manchu hair cut and the Fung Hai wear brown robes.
  • Combat by Champion: In order to prevent a Mob War, the Hop Wei and Long Zii are persuaded to resolve their dispute through a ritual hand-to-hand match between their best fighters. Mai Ling's champion defeats Ah Sahm, but it is clear that the dispute is not really settled. The two tongs will abide by the peace for a bit and then the war will resume.
    • Ah Sahm's fight wih Leary in season 2 finale is this in practice, if a good deal less formal. This time Ah Sahm manages to prevail over his opponent though.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Nobody's averse to rough tactics on this show, but Richard Lee in season 2 stands out for having absolutely no hestitation about pulling out his gun whenever somebody gets the upper hand on him in hand-to-hand combat. Probably has something to do with the absolute leathering he took from Zing in the season 1 finale.
  • Corrupt Politician: Deputy Mayor Walter Buckley, who is deliberately instigating a war between the Hop Wei and the Long Zii for his own benefit.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: Ah Sahm stops two Irish toughs from harassing Penelope Blake and her Chinese servant and beats them up when they attack. He is promptly arrested for assault and his and Penelope's testimony is disregarded. Without Mai Ling's interference he would have been given a long prison sentence and probably lynched soon after.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • People annoying Ah Sahm tend to be on the receiving end of one of these.
    • The Fung Hai are tough melee fighters but they do not stand a chance against the entire San Francisco police force comaing after them armed with rifles and revolvers.
    • After being built up as a badass and delivering a curbstomp of his own to his first opponent, Michael Bisping's character in episode 16 gets taken out with a single kick by Ah Sahm. It's so anti-climactic it goes past disappointing and into absolutely hilarious.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: stands to reason that Leary, who must've grown up during the Great Famine would have one. He lays it out in detail during an uncharacteristically angry rant in season 2, and it's a massive Tear Jerker.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ah Sahm doesn't speak much, but when he does, it's usually with a sarcastic insult.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The show doesn't pull any punches in depicting the absolute virulence of the racism directed at the Chinese immigrants in the 1870s United States. Furthermore, voting rights for women are mocked by a group of rich men and politicians.
    • The Hop Wei and Long Zii themselves look down on the Fung Hai in part because of their indiscriminate violence but also because of their Monglian descent.
  • Dirty Cop: The San Francisco police is thoroughly corrupt. Even the racist cops who hate the Chinese will still take bribes from them.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Deputy Buckley is theoretically subordinate to Mayor Blake, but is considerably smarter and more dangerous. When Penelope finds out that her father has been put in an impossible position due to political shenanigans, she goes to Buckley rather than the mayor, saying she wanted to "cut out the middle man."
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Ah Sahm to Young Jun, of all people. In S 2 E 5 Ah Toy deduces that Ah Sahm is in fact plotting to usurp the control of the Hop Wei from Father Jun and eventually establish himself as the tong's head; Ah Sahm doesn't bother to deny it.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Mayor Blake is apparently aware of this trope, as when he interrupts Buckley's evening at the bar to bluster complaints about his latest scheme, he drinks Buckley's drink in a rather unconvincing attempt to assert his authority over his subordinate. Buckley's voice remains soft, but he looks ready to clobber his boss there and then.
  • Enemy Mine: The Hop Wei and Long Zii manage to put their feud on hold to protect Chinatown from the attacking Irish mob.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: when Sophie Mercer offers Leary help in blowing up her father's factory, now overseen by her sister, he looks genuinely shocked by the offer and warns her that "going against [her] kin is no small thing." Notably, he had no qualms about the deed itself, with the only thing stopping him being the risk of losing men going against the Hop Wei hired as security.
  • Everybody Smokes: Or near enough to make no difference.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: And we do mean everybody. Even the non-Chinese in the cast tend to be proficient in Good Old Fisticuffs.
  • Evil Cripple: Deputy Mayor Buckley walks with a noticeable limp, and is probably the most ruthless character in the show.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When Long Zii sees Mai Ling ready to assassinate him, he accepts his fate with quiet resignation, only saying that he's glad that she's the one to kill him.
  • Faux Action Girl: Mai Ling is ruthless, cunning and intelligent but seems to lack the martial prowess of the other tong members, despite being seen with various weapons. When she finally gets in a fight with Bolo she seems unable to even mount a decent defence, requiring Ah Sahm to rescue her. Her only noticeable kills are backstabbing the critically injured Bolo, Long Zii who accepted his fate and a disrespectful tong member who she executed with a hidden pistol.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Zing, the new leader of the Fung Hai might be perpetually smiling and quite soft-spoken but he's a sociopathic monster through and through.
  • Fight Magnet: what with the various hostile tongs, the racist whites, and Ah Sahm's own big mouth, he gets many chances to display his kung-fu skills.
  • Fighting Irish: The majority of the police force and the Irish gang are Irish Immigrants who fought for the Union during the American Civil War with Bill and Leary having fought in Gettysburg.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: When Zing and the Fung Hai incur the wrath of the San Francisco Police Department by trying to kill Bill and his family, Chao figures that Zing would be the perfect person to frame for the "Chinese Swordsman" murders. The SFPD would love to be able to tell their superiors that they have arrested the killer and will not look to closely to check if teh dspised Zing is the real killer.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Many characters come from nothing and rise up on the basis of their badassery, but one example who took everyone by surprise is Zing, the new leader of the Fung Hai. In his first episode he is barely more than a face in the background, and quick to accept Mai Ling killing his boss and forming an alliance with him, and at the very end of Season 1 it turns out he is a deadly and fearless fighter in his own right, and has been playing Mai Ling for a fool the whole time with the Fung Hai being far more numerous and powerful than previously thought.
  • The Gambling Addict: Bill is a hopeless gambler who reluctantly takes bribes because it is the only way he can pay off his many gambling debts.
  • Gayngster: in his first episode, Hong is shown kissing another man ín Ah Toy's brothel; by the next episode Hong's sexuality seems to have become an open secret, though Ah Sahm, Young Jun and the majority of Hop Wei don't seem to particularly care. The one guy who tries to give Hong crap over it, ends up getting a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from Young Jun.
  • Genre Savvy: Harlan French, the outlaw leader from episode 5, makes a decent go at it, right down to being the only white character to realize without prompting that Ah Sahm speaks English. Though granted he should've listened more closely when Ah Sahm offered him to walk away with his life.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Ah Sahm and Leary share a drink before they fight in the season 2 finale.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Dylan Leary, the leader of the Irish gang, is also an extremely skilled bare knuckle boxer.
  • Got Volunteered: When the Chinatown Squad was formed, Bill was volunteered to lead it despite his great opposition to the idea. He was greatly surprised when Richard Lee genuinely volunteered for the Chinatown beat.
    • When Young Jun thanks Ah Sahm for participating in Combat by Champion against Li Yong, saying the latter didn't actually have to take part, Ah Sahm just sarcastically asks "I didn't?" Young Jun simply tells him not to ruin the moment with the truth.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Averted big time. Men with guns are usually the victors in most fights. Ah Sahm's usually quick enough to get close to a would be shooter and wrestle his gun away, though.
  • Heroic Bloodshed
  • Heroic Second Wind: While Li Yong is not exactly a hero, his comeback during his fight against Ah Sahm gives off this vibe. He is knocked down and seemingly incapacitated, but when Ah Sahm tries to claim victory, he springs back into action and absolutely demolishes his opponent, who is no longer able to land even a single solid blow as he's soundly trounced. There is a strong implication that his loyalty to Mai Ling is what allowed him to win. Although physically a match for Li Yong, Ah Sahm lacked a similar drive and unbreakable sense of purpose.
    • Whatever drive he lacked in that fight Ah Sahm more than adequately showcased in his fight with Leary in season 2 finale. Leary is bigger and stronger, allowing him to tank hits far better than Ah Sahm does, and - being an expert fighter in his own right - he really pours on the damage on our hero. Even so, Ah Sahm perseveres and overcomes Leary. It's fairly evident he's running on fumes and sheer bloodymindedness by the end of the fight, but he found his own unshakeable purpose - to become the titular man on the wall.
  • He's Back: Ah Sahm spends much of episode 10 acting as a coolie, but when Leery's thugs start breaking Chinese laborers' hands, he springs back into action and delivers one of his trademark trouncings.
  • Hired Guns: Rocker has a small army of "deputies" protecting him but they are loyal to the money he is paying them. As soon as their paymaster changes due to Rosita killing Rocker and Rosita's sister inheriting his fortune, their loyalties flip. Except for Smits.
  • Historical Domain Character: There was a real Cantonese-American madam named Ah Toy, one of the highest paid and most famous prostitutes in San Francisco of her time, though the actual Ah Toy had retired from the business roughly twenty years before the show's setting.
    • Also a Historical Badass Upgrade, given that the real-life Ah Toy — while a highly intelligent businesswoman — was almost certainly not a badass master swordswoman and murderous vigilante (while the history books don't specify that she didn't run around stabbing racists in her spare time, they do note that she had bound feet — which would make this rather more difficult).
  • Internal Reveal: In episode 5, Young Jun is as shocked as the white people in a bar to hear Ah Sahm speaking perfect English.
    • Again, in season 2 finale, when Mai Ling reveals to Young Jun that Ah Sahm is her brother at exactly the worst possible time.
  • Irony: The least racist character in the show, who believes all races should be treated equally, is Officer Richard Lee from Savannah, Georgia whose family fought on the side of the Confederacy.
  • It Will Never Catch On: A tragic example; when Ah Toy mentions talk of a Chinese Exclusion Act, Wang Chao dismisses the possibility of it ever getting passed.
  • The Irish Mob: Subverted with Leary. He seems to limit himself to labor racketeering, controlling who gets scarce jobs and getting kickbacks from the business owners and the workers. He is willing to kill anyone who crosses him, but does not seem to be interested in other organized crime activities like smuggling or protection rackets.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bill is an unapologetically racist jerk who starts out looking down on Lee for trying to be a good cop, and doesn't hesitate to railroad Ah Sahm when he arrests him. However, he grows to respect Lee for his integrity, and gives Ah Sahm the chance to sneak out of the courthouse quietly to avoid an angry mob. He also thinks nothing of the fact that Richard Lee used to be in a relationship with a freed slave; other cops likely wouldn't be as accepting of the fact.
    • Ah Sahm himself can be a bit of a prick; however, he generally does right by the people he cares about.
      • Dylan Leary leans more heavily towards the "jerk" side of things, being vocally and unabashedly racist, however there is no indication that he exploits his position as the Irish community's chief job ditributor for profit; his lodgings are pretty spartan and he doesn't dress that much better than his worse-off compatriots. He seems to live entirely on the income from running the Banshee, and the kickbacks he collects appear to be solely for the purpose of supporting those who can't work themselves.
  • Knife Nut: Young Jun typically scraps with two daggers, complete with a Slasher Smile.
  • Kubrick Stare: Ah Sahm sports this look quite a few times.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Bill tries to welch on the gambling debts he owes to the Fung Hai but they hire a Psycho for Hire Irishman to act as their enforcer in the matter. Bill does not have the money so he informs Leary of the sitution. Leary does not really care what happens to Bill but he cannot tolerate that a white Irishman is willing to kill a fellow Irishmen over debts owed to the Chinese. So he fights the enforcer on Bill behalf. However, Leary is not happy about being set up like this so he makes Bill kill the enforcer with his own hands.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bill owns money to the Fung Hai Tong due to his gambling problem but they can't forcefully make him pay back since he is a white police officer. Attacking him would get them in serious trouble with the police which Bill takes full advantage of. Instead the Fung Hai hire Irishmen to beat him up for them. The Fung Hai then decide to have Bill work off his debt by acting as their debt collector for white debtors who would otherwise be untouchable.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: People get killed in Chinatown all the time but as long as the victims are Chinese, the police, politicians and press do not really care. When two Irish toughs get killed, suddenly there is an uproar and police resources are assigned to solve the case. When a WASP businessman is killed, the police chief himself shows up at the crime scene and tells the cops that all their jobs are on the line if the case is not promptly solved.
  • Miss Kitty: Ah Toy is the Madame in charge of the Hop Wei's brothel.
  • Mighty Glacier: Li Yong, at least when compared to Ah Sahm. His fighting style is not as nimble, but in their first fight, Li Yong tanks several of Ah Sahm's strikes without flinching and when he finally does block, Ah Sahm is noticeably pained by the strength of the blow. This is partially why Li Yong defeats Ah Sahm in "Chinese Boxing," recovering from his initial knockout and hits Ah Sahm with some punishing blows, and would've killed him had the fight not ended abruptly.
  • Mob War: As the series opens, the various tongs in Chinatown are one step away from open warfare. And on top of that, you have Leary's Irish Gang who hates them all.
  • Nerves of Steel: Played with in the case of Buckley when Leary threatens him with a knife; he maintains his composure well enough that Leary realises he can't just intimidate him into submission, but when Leary leaves he has a Stress Vomit a few seconds afterwards.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: The Fung Hai are deadly fighters with knives, hatchets and swords but are demolished by a group of police officers armed with rifles, shotguns and revolvers.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sophie Mercer has this reaction after helping Leary blow up her father's factory, which was taken over by Penny. She comes home, covers sleeping Penny with a duvet and promptly breaks down crying.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Li Yong is Long Zii's top hatchetman, and may in fact be the best fighter in all of Chinatown, and also one of the most level-headed and diplomatic characters in the whole show.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: the Combat by Champion between Li Yong and Ah Sahm is this for both sides. At one point Li Yong looks like he's actually dead on the fighting platform and in essence wills himself back to life before returning the favor.
    • Yet again, in season 2 finale, when Ah Sahm and Dylan Leary square off for a long-awaited showdown. Ah Sahm wins, and wins decisively, but he can barely stand afterwards; and his face looks like somebody took a meat tenderizer to it. Of course, the other guy looks even worse.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: The strongest contender for Big Bad is Deputy Mayor Buckley, who is also one of the few major characters to show no skill whatsoever with violence (though his sang-froid when threatened with it suggests he may have past experience).
    • Episode 2x08 sheds some light on Buckley's past: he was a soldier in American Civil War and lost a leg to gangrene. The removal is shown in all-too-great detail, and the ensuing trauma might explain quite a bit about Buckley's current personality.
  • Non-Action Guy: Subverted. Wang Chao seems that way at first but in episode 15 he shows that, while nowhere near the level Ah Sahm, Li Jong, and other heavy-hitters, he can more than hold his own in a scrap when necessary.
  • Not So Different: as pointed by Ah Sahm in season 2 finale both the Irish and the Chinese arrived in America for the same reason - to escape desperate poverty and provide for their loved ones. And the Irish weren't exactly welcomed with open arms on American soil at first either.
  • Officer O'Hara: The majority of San Francisco's police force is made up of Irishmen. Bill's last name actually is O'Hara. Richard Lee is seen as an oddity and the other coppers wonder why a non-Irishman would want to do that job.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • A few, (usually when someone realises they're hopelessly outmatched,) but another example comes when Zing reveals to Mai Ling how much stronger the Fung Hai are than she initially thought, and that he is fully capable of becoming the new power in Chinatown.
    • Ah Sahm has a big one when he realizes that Rosalita brought him to Rocker's tournament as bait and she is really planning to kill Rocker in revenge for his murder of her parents. Sure enough a few minutes later, they are running/fighting for their lives against overwhelming odds.
    • In the season 2 finale Leary gets a nice one when he sees Ah Sahm getting back on his feet after having been knocked down for the second time. This is where it finally seems to register with him that he's underestimated Ah Sahm.
  • Pet the Dog: Dylan Leary gets one in the finale when two black men enter the Banshee, looking for a quick drink. The bartender and patrons are ready to whoop them when Leary speaks up, saying that (unlike the "invading" Chinese) Africans were dragged in chains to this country, he then pays for their drinks, and tells them they should know better than to go into an Irish bar.
    • Although granted, given what the patrons were likely gearing up to do, it might have been less him being a racist asshole and more an honest warning.
  • Reality Ensues: surprisingly enoughnote . The fights are usually relatively short and brutal, any injuries incurred tend to linger for multiple episodes, and Muscles Are Meaningless is very much not in effect - big, strong characters who've been in a few scrapes can handle themselves quite well in a fight, even if their opponents know kung-fu.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both the leaders of the Hop Wei and Long Zii surprisingly. Long Zii is constantly teaching and encouraging his wife Mai Ling in leading his gang, and his rival Father Jun has no problem with Mai Ling leading the Long Zii gang, he just has a problem of her trying to undermine his gang's opium trade.
    • The judge presiding over Ah Sahm's trial for his Crime of Self-Defense nixes all the attempts into railroading Ah Sahm into a double homicide charge and, when the two "victims"-cum-witnesses fail to make an appearance he let's him go with no further hassle.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: actually quite difficult to pinpoint in the main duo: Ah Sahm is more outwardly reserved than Young Jun but he's also quite reckless, and some of his stunts ( like, say, sleeping with Penny Blake) give even Young Jun pause; not to mention his almost compulsive tendency to get into fights. And that's not even getting into the whole opium debacle, which was Ah Sahm's idea from start to finish.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Fung Hai serve as this for both the white Americans and for Chinatown; unlike the other triads they are perfectly willing to threaten and harm "ducks", and they are regarded as barbarians by the Hop Wei and the Long Zii, who refer to their ancestors building the Great Wall to keep them out.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Being based on a concept originally developed by Bruce Lee, numerous homages to his films are worked into the show's fight scenes:
    • Rich Ting's character Bolo is a reference to Bolo Yueng who starred as a villain alongside Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
    • Episode 19 is actually called "Enter the Dragon", and features an extended sequence of Ah Sahm Fighting with Chucks.
    • A bar named Banshee is featured in a few episodes, a reference to creator Jonathan Tropper's other Cinemax series.
  • Sleazy Politician: Mayor Blake, who on top of being corrupt is also a Depraved Bisexual who indulges with prostitutes of both sexes in Chinatown... simultaneously.
  • Smug Smiler: Fittingly for a Smug Snake, Mai Ling often has a smile on her face, albeit one suggestive of a mockingly demure facade, rather than what this trope normally suggests. Zing has a much more typical example when he reveals his true colours, though his is fully justified by that point.
  • Smug Snake: Mai Ling is certainly driven and ambitious, but she is not as clever as she thinks she is. She seems unable to differentiate between insults based on simple misogyny (which she does face plenty of) from perfectly sound criticisms of her strategies, attributes her success and survival entirely to her own (admittedly formidable) abilities instead of accepting the role played by pure luck, and she often defaults to ruthlessness and bravado when caution and diplomacy would serve her better. While she does successfully take over the Long Zii, the older and more experienced Father Jun is certain that she will overreach and make a fatal mistake before long, and Season 1 ends with her realizing she has totally underestimated Zing and the Fung Hai, as well as possibly alienating Buckley and losing the opium he brings.
  • Southern Gentleman: Richard Lee is from the south, and is very much a gentleman, especially in comparison to the other cops in the police department.
  • Spaghetti Western: Episode Five is an unabashed homage to this genre, complete with a classic The End title card in Western font.
  • The Starscream: Ah Sahm is scheming to depose Father Jun and put Young Jun in charge of the tong. If Young Jun proves himself a weak leader, Ah Sahm plans on taking over as leader himself.
  • Stealth Insult: Possibly. As they're about to throw down in episode 6, Zing tells Li Jong that they will finally find out who's better. Li Jong's response is either this trope or an attempt at diplomacy:
    Li Jong: I've never really wondered.
  • Stone Wall: Leary certainly can dish it out in the boxing ring, but his main strength is simply the way he shrugs off punishment, with several people discovering that direct blows to his head barely faze him, while they are left with hurt hands. Not even Ah Sahm is able to hit hard enough to do any real damage, though the match ends in a stalemate as Ah Sahm is too quick for him.
    • The rematch in season 2 finale ends with Ah Sahm ko' ng Leary but it's a long,gruelling battle and Ah Sahm barely walks away under his own power.
  • Stress Vomit: Buckley has this reaction after being threatened by Leary, but to give the guy his due he manages to delay it until after Leary leaves, and appears perfectly composed while being pinned to a carriage with a flicknife at his face.
  • Suppressed Rage: A typical reaction from Ah Sahm and Young Jun to poor treatment at the hands of racist whites.
    • After the Mayor interrupts Buckley's evening at the bar to bluster complaints at him for his latest scheme, pulling an extremely clumsy and transparent attempt at Enemy Eats Your Lunch by drinking Buckley's drink, Buckley quietly apologises while his fists slowly clench.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Richard Lee
  • Tap on the Head: Richard Lee is badly beaten which includes a bad head injury. In season 2 he is moody and quick to anger, something that is very uncharacteristic of him. Bill lampshades the fact that this is due to the head injury.
  • That Man Is Dead: Mai Ling's reaction when Ah Sahm tries to call her by her previous name, which she has renounced.
    • Ah Sahm himself says Mai Ling's brother was killed by Li Yong on her orders during the fight in "Chinese Boxing." Of course, Ah Sahm is the brother in question; he then proceeds to renounce all their familial ties, and swears revenge.
  • Title Drop: Just about every episode takes its title from a line of dialogue.
  • Tournament Arc: one-episode long one but still. In episode 16 after their off-the-Hop-Wei-books supply of opium went up in smoke when Leary blew up the Mercer steel factory As Sahm, accompanied by Hong and Young Jun, travels to California to participate in a tournament mentioned a few episodes ago by Rosalita Vega, and held by a local landowner, hoping the prize money will allow them to recoup their loss. In the series' usual fashion things go to hell in a bucket faster than you could say You Killed My Father.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Ah Sahm is a very bad influence on Young Jun. He puts dangerous ideas into Young Jun's mind and regularly convinces Young Jun to disobey Father Jun.
  • Tranquil Fury: whenever Ah Sahm manages to get under his skin, Leary doesn't scream or lash out. He just goes very still and speaks very calmly, and yet it's obvious that inside he's literally boiling with rage.
  • Translation Convention: Whenever the Chinese characters are talking among themselves without any non-Chinese present, the dialogue is in unaccented English, but it is understood that they are really speaking in either Cantonese or Mandarin. The show pushes the device further by having the audience only hear the Chinese characters speak with an accent when they're among non-Chinese.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The main focus of the show is the Tong Wars in the later decades of the 19th century San Francisco. The two main ones are the Hop Wei and the Long Zii.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Long Zii and Mai Ling, the former being at least thirty years older than his wife. Nevertheless, Mai Ling's marriage with Long Zii is much better than her first husband, Sun Yang, who regularly abused her.
    • Penelope is also considerably better looking than the Mayor.
      • Elijah Rooker, who hosts the tournament in episode 16, is not exactly hideous to look at but he's still old enough to be his wife Marisol's father. He also murdered her and Rosalita Vega's father, and took over their family land, so he's a pretty terrible person anyway.
  • Underestimating Badassery:
    • It's almost a Running Gag how often a racist American tries to pick a fight with Ah Sahm, only to get their asses handed to them.
    • A mob of angry Irish labourers start a riot after lynching Jacob in episode 2.9 and attack Chinatown thinking they will easily massacre the Chinese. They initially face little opposition but are then confronted by the tongs who set aside their differences to defend their home. The tong soldiers cut through the mob like butter and force all non-Chinese out of Chinatown.
    • Despite knowing full well what Ah Sahm is capable of, Leary still thinks the former is being overconfident when he challenges him. He isn't.
  • Use Your Head: Leary's sort-of-signature technique is dropping his forehead into the path of his opponents' punches. Even Ah Sahm fell for this one when the two squared off briefly in episode 10 and by the look on his face it hurt.
  • Villainous Valor: As expected with so much Asskicking Equals Authority, many people who are not exactly admirable are perfectly willing to get their hands dirty in a fight against formidable opponents. Probably the best example is Leary at the end of Season 1, where he sees Ah Sahm mopping the floor with multiple armed thugs, and chooses to face him knowing full well what he can do. He also turns down an opportunity to sucker punch him and hit him while he's down, choosing instead to let his enemy meet his charge head on, and give him a moment to get back on his feet after it knocks him down anyway.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Deputy Mayor Walter Buckley is sponsoring Mai Ling's rise to power in exchange for her starting a bloody Mob War between the tongs. He stands to profit economically and politically from the social unrest and the crackdown that will follow.
  • We Have Reserves: arguably what Zing banked on when staging an ambush for Richard Lee. While the ensuing police crackdown hurts all the tongs, the Fung Hai appear to have the raw numbers to weather it and still come out on top when the dust settles.
  • Wham Episode: Episode 2x07 Youg Jun takes control of the Hop Wei from his father. Lee finds evidence that Zing was not in fact the Chinatown swordsman. Mayor Blake attacks his wife in a drunken rage, possibly kills Sophie when she tries to intervene, and is himself killed by Jacob. The preview for episode 2x08 shows Buckley assuming the mayor's seat, and the police coming into Chinatown, loaded for bear. Holy shit.
  • Wham Shot: episode 2x08 opens with Young Jun, Ah Sahm, and Hong sitting around a table, eating, drinking, and bantering. Then the camera pans back and we see they're sitting in Fung Hai's headquarters, having just got done wiping them out.
  • Wild Card: Wang Chao has no loyalty to any one person or faction except himself. Ironically, since everyone is aware of this, this makes him the most trustworthy person to serve as a middleman between the various factions in Chinatown.
  • World of Badass: Just about every major character is a skilled fighter in their own right.
  • Worthy Opponent: Crops up quite a few times; Ah Sahm and Li Yong respect each other as well-matched in their fighting skills, Father Jun and Long Zii are old enemies who know each other's strength and experience (and Father Jun specifically rebukes Long Zii's successor Mai Ling for demanding the same level of respect without having earned it yet), and by the end of Season 1 Buckley and Penelope have moved into barely-restrained antagonism of each other, while heartily agreeing that the theoretically superior Mayor is best ignored as much as possible.
    • As Leary watches Ah Sahm tear through his men in episode 10 it's hard to say whether he's more angry or excited to see it. He sure wastes not time jumping into the fray. As of episode 14 Leary begins to call Ah Sahm by his name rather than using racial slurs; while the hatred is clearly still there, some grudging respect appears to be sneaking in.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Li Yong uses a number of throws in his fights, likely reflecting that Joe Taslim's pprimary martial art is in fact judo; Leary busts otut a fireman's carry against Ah Sahm during their showdown in season 2 finale.
  • You Have Failed Me: After Ah Sahm loses Combat by Champion, he is allowed to live but is exiled from the tong, declared an Unperson and told that he will be killed if he ever involves himself in any tong business.
  • You No Take Candle: Most of the Chinese characters speak English this way with native English speakers since English isn't their mother tongue and some are still learning. This is averted with Ah Sahm and Mai Ling who not only speak English well but with an American accent since they were taught English by their American Grandfather thus explaining the accent.


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