The Story of Warrior Bruce Lees LongDelayed TV Series

first_imgWhitewashingBack in the 1970s, we weren’t having the kind of conversations we do now about diversity and representation in media. The target audience was always the same: white dudes. The same white dudes that were making the decision behind the scenes at the networks. So when Lee brought The Warrior to Warner Brothers, they shot him down because they figured his Asian nationality and heavy accent would turn off too many prospective viewers. Installing David Carradine as the lead of Kung Fu and making his character only half Chinese was an acceptable compromise.The whitewashing of Asian characters has a long and sordid history in Hollywood, from Warner Oland’s Chinese detective Charlie Chan to Mickey Rooney’s atrocious bucktoothed character I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It continues to this day – modern examples like Scarlett Johannson in Ghost in the Shell and Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange show that studios are still nervous about non-white actors in meaty roles.Obviously, being passed over for the lead role in Kung Fu irked Lee, and even more because the final project was very close to what he had conceived for The Warrior. It’s more than likely that his rejection was the final straw that sparked his return to China to focus on the movies that made him a worldwide icon.This was a common path for Asian actors in Hollywood — Anna May Wong, the daughter of second-generation immigrants in California, got her start in the silent era and in early color films like The Thief of Bagdad but was constantly cast in a small handful of Asian stereotype supporting roles. She soon left for Europe, where the less commercial industry had more opportunities for her. In 1935, she was passed over for the lead role of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth for a white actress, which cast in stark light the realities of the business. Wong would go on to make history playing the lead in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first American TV show with an Asian-American in the lead role, but that was over 30 years after the start of her career. Stay on target Top Movie and TV Trailers You Might Have Missed This WeekWhat to Stream on Amazon Prime This Weekend When you talk about actors who single-handedly pushed the art form somewhere new, Bruce Lee has to be one of the first names out of your mouth. Born in San Francisco to Chinese parents and raised in Kowloon, Lee’s father was a famous Peking Opera performer who pushed his son to train in martial arts and act as a child. At 18, Bruce moved back to the States to attend the University of Washington, where he majored in drama. He also began teaching others martial arts, which led to his 1966 casting as Kato, the Asian sidekick in TV series The Green Hornet.In America, Lee was relegated to supporting roles due to his Asian ancestry. He returned to Hong Kong in 1970, unaware that The Green Hornet had been a huge hit there primarily due to Kato. He teamed up with film studio Golden Harvest to produce feature films, and over the next few years he would star in all-time classics like Game of Death, Fist of Fury, and Enter The Dragon, all of which were worldwide successes and sparked a martial arts craze in the States.But Lee wasn’t just busy in front of the camera. He wanted to use his stardom to change the game in every medium, and in 1971 he developed a pitch for a television show called The Warrior. The story would follow a wandering Shaolin monk, played by Lee, in the Wild West. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Warner Brothers would put Kung Fu, which followed a wandering Shaolin monk, played by David Carradine, in the Wild West, on the air in 1972. The company claimed that they had been developing their idea before Lee came to them with his, but it’s a little suspicious to say the least. Return of the WarriorWarrior was just one of the projects the Lee estate had in the hopper, but it finally saw its day in the sun. The Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin was launching a TV production firm Perfect Storm Entertainment, and looking for projects to start it off with. He’d read about The Warrior and got ahold of Lee’s daughter Shannon, asking her if she had any of his notes for the project.She did — a lot of them. A few years prior, Shannon had unearthed a ton of her father’s papers and writings from the early 1970s. Among them was an eight page treatment for The Warrior. With that in hand, Lin approached Cinemax and sold them on the show. Working with showrunner Jonathan Tropper, whose Banshee was notable for brutal fight scenes, they took the treatment and grew it into a series. Set in San Francisco in the late 1870s, the series follows Ah Sahm, a Chinese immigrant who comes to the City by the Bay with nothing to his name but his fists. He’s come to America to find his sister but after a brawl winds up the enforcer for one of the city’s most merciless Chinese gangs.Television has obviously come a long way since the self-contained hour-long episodes of Kung Fu in the 1970s. Now we expect our prestige series to have overarching plots, big budgets and rich supporting casts, and Warrior (the “The” got lost somewhere along the way) delivers that in spades. Lee’s original concept has been polished and tuned to bring his trademark swagger and grounded realism to modern audiences, with plenty of setpiece fights.Filling the lead role of Ah Sahm is little-known British-Japanese actor Andrew Koji. Stepping into the shoes of a role written for Bruce Lee is a challenge that most people would balk from, but Koji — who worked with Justin Lin as a stunt double on Fast & Furious 6 — is up to the task. He practiced martial arts as a child, but underwent an intensive period of training before filming began on Warrior to get up to speed.Rounding out the cast is a Murderer’s Row of modern Asian and Asian-American talent. The Raid‘s Joe Taslim plays Li Yong, Ah Sahm’s counterpart in a rival Tong, and if you loved that film’s crushing brawls you already know what he brings to the table. Jason Tobin, who has been working with Lin since 2002’s Better Luck Tomorrow, plays Sahm’s partner, and Olivia Cheng has a juicy role as a brothel madam and vigilante.It took almost fifty years for Bruce Lee’s family to make his dream of The Warrior come true. Let’s hope he enjoys it from the world beyond. The first season has ten episodes in the can, and the cast and crew have remained quiet on whether they’re going to make more.Warrior premieres April 5 on Cinemax.More on Obscure Kung Fu Movies You Need to See11 Martial Arts Masters With Unexplained PowersThe Weakest Vampires of All Timelast_img

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