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In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, HBO Max honors Warrior by presenting a dynamic panel with executive producer Shannon Lee and stars Andrew Koji, Dianne Doan, and Hoon Lee.
Moderated by THR editor Rebecca Sun, this conversation is an in-depth dialogue about Warrior’s depiction of an overlooked period in American history and the resilience of Bruce Lee’s legacy.
After taking the reins of his foundation, Lee’s daughter and executive producer Shannon Lee discovered an eight-page treatment for the show in her father’s journals. Bruce Lee’s original notes envisioned the perfect opportunity for himself to portray a multi-dimensional Chinese American hero of a martial arts western television series. However, the pitch was deemed too progressive for the 1970s and the project never manifested.
Shannon Lee honors her father’s legacy by helping deliver the show he would have wanted: a badass, pulpy and action-packed genre mashup focused on a myriad of complex Chinese American characters.
Originally airing on Cinemax for two seasons, Warrior expanded its audience streaming on HBO Max, contributing to the renewal of a much anticipated third season.
“We held that Bruce Lee warrior spirit in our hearts, and we really were going to do whatever it took to find a way, and we’re really grateful for HBO Max for putting it on the service,” Lee says, reflecting on the outpouring of love from fans and members of the industry alike.
“On the one hand, you have people discovering something that they really enjoy at a visceral level, and then you hear a lot from the AAPI community recognizing that this show is different in its ability to represent people as exciting dimensional characters with a lot of conflict, darkness, and agency,” observes Hoon Lee, who plays charismatic and self-made entrepreneur Wang Chao.
Set in the brutal Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 19th century, Warrior follows Chinese immigrant and skilled martial artist Ah Sahm, masterfully played by Andrew Koji. Arriving in America in search of his sister Xiaojing, Ah Sahm finds himself sequestered in Chinatown and forced to join a gang or “tong” called the Hop Wei. Ah Sahm soon discovers that Xiaojing has become Mai Ling (Dianne Doan), the wife of Long Zii, head of the Long Zii tong, a Hop Wei rival.
Warrior depicts how San Francisco’s Tong Wars fueled anti-Asian politics that persisted across the nation, ultimately resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act– a formative yet little known or discussed policy that was enacted to curb the influx of Chinese immigration into the U.S.
“It’s rather uncanny how the show resonates with the current times,” says Hoon Lee. “It’s mirroring what’s happening right now– which is terrifying, but we get to see us kicking systemic racism’s ass,” adds Dianne Doan.
Shannon Lee and the cast also reflect on combating Asian stereotypes and how important it was to be accurate in the show’s depictions of varying perspectives and social classes. She credits the group effort of a tightly knit international cast that was willing to listen and be heard when it came to their character’s representation and relationships with others.
“One of the ways Bruce Lee is so instrumental to telling a story like this is that everyone in the cast references Bruce Lee, using him as a touchstone. It’s one of the incredibly unifying forces of our show that has allowed the group to cohere,” Hoon Lee remarks about the responsibility the entire production took on in channeling a warrior spirit.
Together, Sun and the panelists explore a complex narrative conceived by Bruce Lee that renders the sociopolitical climate of the American West and how the show is eerily evocative of current affairs. Ultimately, Warrior questions who is allowed to be recognized as an American and, in doing so, sparks a dialogue that feels especially poignant today.
This article was created by our marketing department in collaboration with our partners at HBO Max.
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