Warrior: The Itchy Onion
April 29, 2019 5:19 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Based on an unproduced* pitch by the late Bruce Lee, Warrior is a martial arts/Western/historical fiction series set during the Tong Wars in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy from China ends up becoming a hatchet man for the most powerful tong in Chinatown. Produced by Shannon Lee (Lee's daughter), Justin Lin (the Fast and the Furious series, Star Trek Beyond), and Jonathan Trooper (Banshee).

*Unproduced... although one network that refused to buy it cheerfully lifted the martial arts Western in the 1880's part of the pitch, cast white actor David Carradine in the lead and titled it Kung-Fu.
posted by DirtyOldTown (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a fresh take on the period gangster piece, livened up considerably by the Chinese-American cast, the late 19th century San Fran setting, and the genre bending style (check out the Wu Tang-ish Asian/spaghetti western/hip hop music!) If you enjoyed the likes of Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders, this is a bit like a diverse take on that.

It uses a trick I've seen before somewhere (Rome?) of having the characters magically speak English on their own (there is a swift transition mid-conversation early on that makes it clear this is an artistic choice for the convenience of the audience, not a way of pretending Chinese people don't really exist.)

This is fairly dude-centric in the early going, with tough guys, ambitious pols, crooked cops, etc. There are some strong female characters, but in that sort of Strong Female Character way that action shows often go for: gangster's wife who might be the actual boss, madam not to be underestimated, etc. There is still time to improve on that, but this is also refreshingly not white, with probably 90% of the scenes from the POV of the Chinese characters and the remaining scenes from white POV's still being about the Chinese. Tropper prominently featured a queer character on his last show Banshee, so I have hope that LGBTQ representation will factor in later, too. (Hoon Lee, who played the wonderfully label-resistant Job on that show is on board this time as a fixer for the Tongs.)

Star Andrew Koji is terrific, with a laconic Keanu in John Wick kinda vibe and serious hand-to-hand skills.

Being at least partially from the Banshee team, this also looks to be super duper violent, in a scamper-backwards-across-the-couch-and-cover-your-eyes kinda way. The fight choreography is brutal, highly skilled, and impressive to behold.

It's a bit like Banshee in tone in some ways, as Warrior also seems to aim to deliver all of the premium cable goods (extreme violence! sex! tough guys! double crossing!) but with a bit of intelligence, character depth, and style... and in this case, historical texture.

This is bloody, sexy genre trash for smart people.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:41 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


TL;DR: this is a People Punching Each Other Real Good on Cinemax show, but it's diverse and well made enough with enough historical interest in the setting that a person does not have to feel bad for watching it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:49 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


It uses a trick I've seen before somewhere (Rome?) of having the characters magically speak English on their own (there is a swift transition mid-conversation early on that makes it clear this is an artistic choice for the convenience of the audience, not a way of pretending Chinese people don't really exist.)

The Michael Crichton adaptation 13th Warrior did this to show its version of Ibn Fadlan learning Old Norse over a series of weeks. It wouldn't surprise me if a more recent period piece stole the device, though.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:25 AM on April 29


What they do in Warrior is to have a conversation between Chinese characters make a needle scratch switch into English in a way that makes it clear the characters are not actually speaking English, we're just hearing in English for our convenience as an audience. Is that what 13th Warrior does?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:31 AM on April 29


The circumstances are not identical, but the way it plays out on screen is quite similar.

The vikings are speaking in Old Norse, which Ibn Fadlan doesn't know (he speaks Latin and Arabic). As he listens to the vikings talking to one another, certain words suddenly are heard by the audience in English, until eventually both he and the vikings are speaking English to one another -- though from the prior context it's obvious that they're all speaking Norse and we're just hearing it as English now that our point of view character understands the language.

Like I said, though, I'm sure there's also a more recent usage of the same device that tracks Warrior's use more clearly.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:47 AM on April 29


I've never seen the pairing of a camera move (it pans around) at the same time as the subtitles drop out and the audio converts to English used this way before, and I thought it was a good cinematographic trick.

In the third episode (I think) it's suggested that Ah Toy is going to sleep with a woman, which makes at least one character not 100% hetero. Oh yeah, and it also pretty heavily implies that the mayor is bi. So that's two.

I wonder if Rich Ting's character's name, Bolo, is a reference to Bolo Yeung of Enter the Dragon fame?
posted by axiom at 4:16 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I've only seen this first episode, but I forgot about the mayor. He counts, for sure.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:05 PM on April 29


What they do in Warrior is to have a conversation between Chinese characters make a needle scratch switch into English in a way that makes it clear the characters are not actually speaking English, we're just hearing in English for our convenience as an audience. Is that what 13th Warrior does?

It sounds like the way they handled Russian in The Hunt for Red October.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:44 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


This is cool! Thanks DOT, I probably would have overlooked this without your post. This kind of wants to be like Urban Chinese Deadwood - and I'm not opposed. Lots of potential.

The Cantonese accents are really really terribad, to the point of distraction. It's almost as bad as mine. It's generally better in the extras/ background chatter. Their unaccented English in contrast is super jarring. But I love it.

I'm really interested in how consistently they will use unaccented English as a sub for Chinese, and (ESL) accented English for English. For that matter, the Boston/ Irish accent and all accents in general seem a little forced.

Rich Ting/ Bolo (Father Jun's kid and Ah Sahm's (Number 3?) 'mentor') seems like a callback to voice-over acting on English dubs of HK films from the 80's/90's for certain archetypical ('flamboyant') characters (not Bolo Yeung-esque at all).

Noticeably remember the language changeover from Rome, and recall it in THfRO, too.

I liked the inclusion of chinese names in the title cards.

Production values are very good. "This is not China, this is Chinatown and our blood is cheap here..."

A little too super-hero-y, though, mowing through low-level baddies. The masters-level fights doesn't embarrass.

Western style suits, to this day, are still called "sai jong" - "western dress." Not sure how period appropriate the gangsters' are, but it feels a little anachronistic. The stilettos, almost certainly?

I liked the twist/ re-framing that whoever 3 was looking for has more personal power than he anticipated.

I *do* have a beef with their depiction of cannabis. You don't fucking use a zippo or a match head to smoke weed! At least let the matchhead burn out (and pop off) until you're only burning wood. In college, my roommate and I had once hermetically sealed* ourselves into our dorm room in preparation for smoking a lot of weed - and turns out my bic lighter died and he lost his. I had a zippo - but that's verboten - so I used my zippo to light a bamboo chopstick on fire and used that as a splint.

Because 2019 Reasons, I don't have a problem with Andrew Koji - with a Japanese/ British background - playing someone (presumed Han Chinese) with a (paternal?) "American" grandfather.

Personally, my paternal grandmother was a war orphan and was almost certainly Chinese/ Japanese biracial or Chinese/ "British/ American/ Whatever" biracial. And yeah, I grew up being told that it was something I needed to keep secret, and that having a "B/A/W" rapist ancestor was preferential to having a Japanese rapist ancestor. So Bolo telling 3 about keeping that his grandfather was "American" a secret fit.


*You know that "sticky tack" stuff you use to put up posters in dorm rooms? I somehow found a cheap bulk source of it and ended up with a couple of pounds. If you spaghetti noodle it out like playdoh you can form a reusable seal between the door and the doorframe. It was effectively air/ smell- tight. Who says kindergarten didn't teach any lifelong skills.
posted by porpoise at 7:00 PM on May 1 [5 favorites]


Sorry sorry - I totally got Young Jun and Bolo mixed up.
posted by porpoise at 7:00 PM on May 26


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