Warrior: The Evolution of Kung Fu on TV


Over the last few years Kung-Fu has made a come back into the world of Television, as we can see with Into the badlands one of the best marital arts shows I’ve seen in a while come to an end, we were blessed with another show that brought the same intensity. Now I am very critical of tv shows that use Kung-fu or Marital Arts not because I’m an expert, but I grew up on Jackie Chan, Jet li, Sammo Hung, and even the classic kung fu movies like Shaolin and Wu-tang and Shaolin and Llama and many of the samples that people like Wu-tang used in their songs and lyrics. But I also grew up in the era of Chuck Norris in his prime on Walker Texas Ranger and people like David Carradine on the series “Kung Fu“. These were prominent western martial artist that I saw on tv and movies and who can forget Jean Claude Van Damme. How can I forget Kill Bill changed the way we view Kung Fu movies in this new era of films. I am not comparing this new show to any of those greats, but I will say it is about time we get to see gritty, but authentic use of Martial arts.


This new show I am talking about is called “Warrior” it comes on Cinemax on Fridays, but has just recently finished it’s first season. Now who would think a television station like Cinemax would be able to create a show like this or let alone bring Kung-fu in the mix. Warrior is based off of the true life stories and events of Bruce Lee himself, but also the original stories of the immigration or migration of many Chinese and other Asians coming to America in the late 1800’s to early 1900s , stopping at San Francisco.  The show begins with us hoping right in the mix of many Chinese completing the railroads and now searching for more jobs, but also with the creation of Chinatown. The story follows Ah Sahm who; we can already see isn’t ready to bow down, and turn the other cheek to westerners treating his fellow china men with disrespect.  This catches the attention of a con man of sorts named Wang Chao who is Chinatown’s eyes and ears, letting Ah Sahm know his talents could bring him a lot of attention and money; selling him to one of the top gangs in Chinatown the Hop wei.


The Hop Wei and the Long Zii( the other rival gang) also known as the Tongs, have been in a battle over the last few years and have finally come to a truce over the land in Chinatown, but that would all soon come to an end when things in Chinatown seem a little too peaceful for the Americans and the Government and even some Black Market dealers themselves. The Hop Wei are ran by Father Jun and the Long Zii are ran by Long Zii but with a sneaky Mai Ling lingering.

This catches the attention of the San Francisco Police introducing us to Police Officer Bill o”Hara and Officer Lee. The San Francisco Police is being bombarded by the government to take action in Chinatown after a dispute against a few Irish men brutally beat up a few Chinese men. The police chief appointed Bill as squad leader, but Bill had no desire to be a beat cop in Chinatown especially since he believed he has paid his dues. Chief put together a team of cops including Officer Lee who is the outcast of the group of cops and a former Solider from the Confederate army.  As the season goes on we see Bill and Lee finally come to an understanding of each other, where they both stand as in livelihood and also as cops and as men. Lee is the all around farm raised boy scout who loves all people and wants Justice, and Bill is the gambling, takes bribes kind of cop who wants to keep his head down and just go home to his wife and kids and make enough to feed them.


There are so many dynamics in this show that were touched on from the plight of Irish immigrants believing they deserved better jobs then the Chinese, and even from the whore house or Brothel ran by Ah Toy as one of the central hubs for information throughout the show. If I could hit on subject from this show it would take too long and go in detail with especially with how much this show was able to give a real life look into this world that we have no real evidence over except for in history books, and the stories of many of the people who lived during this time. Sidenote: speaking of Ah  Toy she is one of the unsung heroes in this show, she is neither a bad guy or a good guy, she is mainly someone who is a middle man, or someone who knows of someone to get the job done.  Ah Toy also has special skills that will surprise many viewers first time watching this. Which I feel in the second season Ah Toy will be more of a boss then middle man boss.



One aspect of this show that was really great was relationship building, I want to look at the relationship between Ah Sahm (played by Andrew Koji) and Young Jun (played Jason Tobin). Ah Sahm was sold to the Hop wei ran by Father Jun (Young Jun’s father). Young Jun brought Ah Sahm in and helped him to understand the ways of the area and how life is for an Onion(the nickname they have for newcomers) and as a hatchet man. I honestly thought Young Jun was going to bail on Ah Sahm and just kick him to the curb, but I think in reality he realized he really had  no friends inside of the Hop Wei, and that Ah Sahm was the first real guy who seemed like he wasn’t afraid of anything, and wanted to find his place in the world. We see as the season goes on Ah Sahm and Jun go from being associates or affiliates to basically best friends and almost brothers in arm. I think the episode when they go to Vegas truly brings both of them together and they see a side of each other they didn’t really knew existed.  We soon find out Young Jun and Ah Sahm are not so different after all.

ah sahm

As I mentioned earlier “Warrior” brought in a lot of intensity this first season. From the realism with racism, and how many Americans and even Irish viewed the Chinese, and even the sex scenes, of course  there were a few, but what caught my eye the most in this show was the fight scenes. Now in many Kung-fu shows now days we don’t get many realistic fight scenes, or fights that actually make you want to watch this fight to the end because you don’t know who is going to win. Many  times we saw that classic Bruce Lee stand off, you can see the influence of Bruce lee in this show, but it wasn’t like how most shows rip off Bruce lee and use his stances and poses and everything just feels like a knock off, you felt that this was a tribute, but then went back in the reality of how somebody about die or get their ass whooped. I think one of my favorite fights I have a few, but the one that stand out the most to me is Ah Sahm vs Bolo. Bolo is another member of the Hop Wei but he never liked or trusted Ah Sahm and you could see this match up would happen sooner or later.

One reason why this fight is my favorite is because of the feud between them ; Bolo has been acclaimed the greatest Chinese fighter, after fighting to the death in constant dog fights against other workers. so this battle was almost as lets see who is the better fighter out of us two. I think a lot of  shows that have a lot of fighting in them are trying to bring the real aspect of how a fight should and really look because they know fans actually want to see a good fight and not just a cut scene and a few fist and kicks thrown here and there especially when a feud between two people has been brought to light all season. Side note: My other favorite match is the fight between Ah Sahm and Li Yong that was the fight I think most of us have been waiting for all season long especially after the first quick scuffle.

One thing about “Warrior” that I truly love is the language barrier, coming into this show you probably automatically think everything will be in English because it is an American show or on an American Network. This show flips the script and gives us English, but then shows like a transition of how the Chinese are speaking Chinese but converted it into English for the audience at home, but to the Americans all they are hearing is Chinese. I love that aspect because it shows there is still a language barrier and a misunderstanding that each have.


Warrior also gave us a few strong women characters, such as Ah Toy, Mai Ling, and Penelope Blake. Now we already know that Ah Toy( played by Olivia Cheng) is the owner of the Brothel, so lets get into Mai Ling(Played by Dianne Doan), Mai is the wife of Long Zii and she is also connected to another character which I will not spoil, but in the show Long Zii is currently too old and tired to fully run the gang and company, so Mai Ling has been running point and front while he plays the figure head. Mai Ling is tired of looking like the scared Chinese woman and wants to make her mark at what she feels she has become a strong woman that can do what the men do and even do better. Penelope Blake is the daughter of Byron Mercer and she is married to Mayor Samuel Blake, who she is only married out of an arrangement to her Father and Samuel came to, to help the family business.  Penelope very much has white privilege on her side throughout the series, but she is also a very outspoken woman that when she sees something that is out of line she tends to speak on it especially in a male dominated world. She tends to have all eyes on her, but you can also see everyone is waiting for Mayor Samuel to put her in check, but you can see he has no control over that.



Warrior is such a great and refreshing series, if you aren’t watching this show you are missing out. I know that is such a cliché saying, but it is true, this  show has really good dynamics and dialogue between characters, also you can see the connections that each character has with one another, or something in the past that deeply hurt them to make them act and move in the way they are today in the series. Warrior was just recently renewed for a second season. While writing this post I did not know it was renewed until I looked again and I am so happy that we are getting a second season. Especially how Season one ended with Ah and Sahm and Leary fighting and then Ah Sahm and Ah Toy talking. Also we saw what Bill was up at the ending which was very much surprising. If you are into kung Fu and also a good story mixed with history you are going to love this show.

One thing I think to take away from this show is that yes some stuff in this show might be dramatized, but most of this is the actual history of how many different races and groups of people had to survive and live in the building of America, and  be able to co-exist with each other. We even see a quick moment when two black men enter an Irish pup and Leary saves them from getting beat up, but also reminds  them that you are still black you should know where you are wanted and where you’re not wanted. Even though one point in time in history Blacks and the Irish shared the same discrimination in terms of Americans seeing them as less then. Can’t wait for the second season.


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