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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. 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.

This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Ah Toy is extremely lethal with a dao.
  • An Axe to Grind: Hatchets are very popular weapons among the tong fighters.
  • And Starring: Martial arts star Joe Taslim gets this billing.
  • 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.
  • Bounty Hunter: One arrives in San Francisco looking for Richard Lee and offers Bill a share of the bounty if he helps him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Cop: The San Francisco police is thoroughly corrupt. Even the racist cops who hate the Chinese will still take bribes from them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Dan 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Knife Nut: Young Jun typically scraps with two daggers, complete with a Slasher Smile.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Petthe Dog: Dan 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spaghetti Western: Episode Five is an unabashed homage to this genre, complete with a classic The End title card in Western font.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Example of: