DAVID BIANCULLI

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Bruce Lee's Vision is Brought to Life with 'Warrior'
April 5, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 

There’s nothing Cinemax seems to like more than a good action series for grownups, and its brand-new Warrior delivers just that.

Warrior, which premieres Friday at 10 p.m. ET, doesn’t aspire to be artsy. It’s got fighting, cursing and a smattering of naked bodies, all of which add up to a fast-moving hour of sharp dialogue and a lively exploration of the age-old question: Are there times and places where it is impossible to be a good guy?

While Warrior is set in 1878 San Francisco, it resonates in a troubling way for 2019, since its story revolves around a deep and sometimes violent resentment of immigrants by those who see some slice of America as theirs alone.

Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) disembarks from a ship ferrying hundreds of Chinese men who have been promised jobs in America that will make them rich. In well-established immigrant tradition, their labor will indeed make someone rich. It just won’t be them.

Ah Sahm isn’t looking for a job. He’s looking for a woman, for reasons he doesn’t explain.

As he leaves the ship and heads for town, he pauses to help a fellow passenger being taunted and bullied by three immigration cops who ooze fear and loathing.  

Instead of shutting up and moving along, as all the newcomers have been strongly advised to do, Ah Sam knocks the cops senseless with punches and kicks almost too fast for the eye to follow.

That Warrior has a strong martial arts component comes as no shock, since it’s based on a story idea developed in 1971 by the late Bruce Lee.

Lee couldn’t sell the idea, though his descendants bitterly insisted it was stolen for the TV series Kung Fu. Warrior, they say, is Lee’s own idea finally brought to the screen.

For the record, it doesn’t come off as a classic martial arts / kung fu movie. While Koji has all the moves and skill, much of the violence in 1878 San Francisco was perpetrated in more traditional American ways, like by big guys with fists, guns, and various pieces of metal.

A running thread in Warrior has this sort of violence raining down on the Chinese workers, as bitter locals see no reason to value Chinese lives. They have enablers right up to the mayor Samuel Blake (Christian McKay) whose only concern about dead Chinese is that some of his supporters may lose time and money buying new cheap labor to replace them.

To assuage one such supporter, Blake approves a Chinatown crime task force, headed by Sgt. "Big Bill" O’Hara (Kieran Bew) and tasked basically with doing nothing. O’Hara hooks up with one side in what’s developing as some serious Tong Wars, and soon his unit is doing unexpected things, some good and some not so good.

Against this backdrop, Ah Sam’s fast fists have caught the attention of Tong leader Bolo (Rich Ting), who offers him as an, er, aide. This involves fighting and includes perks like an introduction to beautiful courtesan Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng).

She runs a brothel that does a booming business with all those Chinese workers, among others, and while she’s not the woman for whom Ah Sam was looking, she’ll do until the real thing comes along.

His relationships with Bolo and Ah Toy embed Ah Sam in the center of the San Francisco action. With fresh Tong Wars, the arrival of a schizophrenic police unit, a battle for opium-smuggling supremacy and a nativist mob that’s never more than one drunken speech away from lethal violence, he stays busy.

For viewers, that’s a good thing, and Warrior writer Jonathan Tropper performs his own impressive fast-hands feat by keeping this Medusa-like tangle of plot threads reasonably clear.

“Clear” isn’t the term for our immigration policies and attitudes, of course. But then, as now, we understand a good fistfight.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Laura Shadle
that is still a creepy pic.
Apr 6, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
 
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