Warrior by cinemax
Posted: 2019-05-21 08:06am
Now stop me if you have heard this before. A Chinese man whose parent or grandparent is an American journeys to the US in the 19th century looking for a long lost relative. He is also a master of kung fu and encounters the racism in that era, and gets into some fisticuffs.
Yes, that was Kung Fu, the 1970s show which ran for 3 seasons starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine. What people might know is that its been alleged by Bruce Lee's family that he proposed such an idea with him as the starring role, but Hollywood took it and created Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, who has no Asian heritage (he is Irish). The producers of Kung Fu deny this of course, and it may simply be two groups coming up with similar ideas at the same time, or they heard it down the grapevine and went with it.
Now Bruce Lee's daughter, Shannon has produced Warrior, based on his notes. Involved in this include Justin Lin (Fast and furious, star trek beyond).
So the story is a Chinese man who is a kung fu prodigy travels to American, looking for his sister (in kung fu it was a half brother). However, the comparison ends pretty quickly. This is set just prior to the introduction of the Chinese exclusion act, and during the gang wars between Chinese gangs in San Francisco (which according to wiki only ended in the early 20th century). Its also after the railways have been built connecting east to west, a lot of it historically done by the Chinese, where we know the Chinese work for low wages. Which also causes tensions with another minority, the Irish who are also looking for jobs, but those powerful industrialists just want to hire low wage Chinese workers.
Unlike Carradine's peaceful Shaolin monk character, the lead character Ah Sahm (played by Andrew Koji) acts brutal when he needs to. People die at his hands, in horrible ways. He kind of joins a gang in opening minutes, he finds he sister, who not only doesn't need to be rescued, but wants to stay in the US, and the women have plenty of agency. To give you an idea, the Chinese brothel madame kills the white men who bash chinese workers because Chinese are taking their jobs. Guaranteed to trigger the alt right.
The story is less episodic in my opinion than Kung Fu, we see the back stories of several characters making them seem like characters, rather than plot devices. The Irish police officer isn't just a police officer, he has got his own um problems. The Southern police officer has... wait, why is he in San Francisco after the civil war helping the damn Yankees? Hmmm. The Mayor uses the Chinese for his demagogery but at the same time has to navigate powerful businesses who want Chinese labour. The Mayor's wife, well she buys herbs from Chinatown so she can drug her husband because she doesn't want to sleep with him. And she plays a bigger role, but that would be spoiling it.
My friend did mention that they run the risk of having "all Asians look alike" with the interchangeability of the actors, ie a British man of Japanese descent playing a Chinese character. However I think on balance this is ok compared to some other works of fiction, compared to say, a French actor playing a Scottish sword wielding immortal or a British actor playing a French starship captain *. In fact, there a quite a few different nationalities playing other nationalities, from the British actors playing Irish and Southern characters, and I think the actors pull it off.
The show manages to show the characters alternate between their native language and English for the audience's benefit quite well. They would speak in say Cantonese, and then partway through the conversation changes to English, to let us know that the show is translating it into English for us. When the Chinese characters speak to Americans, the English is broken, just another way to clue us in that when we hear flawless English, its merely the show translating it from their native language. Of course, the lead character speaks flawless English, and that's explained as his grandfather was an American sailor who got left behind because he fell sick, and taught our character English.
So far this show looks good.
* these are highlander and Star Trek TNG respectively.