Cinemax’s ‘Warrior’, Set in 19th Century, Timely Today

(Image credit: Cinemax)

Warrior, the martial arts drama that begins season two on Cinemax Oct. 2, is set in the late 19th century, but its look at the struggle of immigrants makes it timely in 2020, said creator Jonathan Tropper. “We tell a story from 1870 that’s still true today,” said Tropper. “A country built by immigrants, yet we struggle with our relationship with immigrants.” 

Warrior is a rough-and-tumble crime drama set during the brutal Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 19th century. Based on the writings of Bruce Lee, season two has ten episodes. Tropper, a novelist whose books include This is Where I Leave You and One Last Thing Before I Go, got into Lee when he was a child in New York City, learning martial arts. “You can’t do that and not be aware of Bruce Lee,” he said. 

Over the years, Tropper, speaking from Toronto, where he was working on his Apple TV Plus series See, learned “how multifaceted Lee was,” he said, and an accomplished artist with “a lot of really good pencil drawings and illustrations.”

The series follows Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), a martial arts prodigy who emigrates from China to San Francisco under mysterious circumstances. After proving his worth as a fighter, Ah Sahm becomes a hatchet man for the Hop Wei, one of Chinatown’s most powerful Tongs (Chinese organized crime families). 

Season two follows rival Chinatown Tongs as they fight for dominance amidst the growing anti-Chinese fervor that threatens to destroy them all. The cast includes Kieran Bew, Celine Buckens and Olivia Cheng.

The show shoots in Cape Town, South Africa. Showrunner Tropper said they wanted to build a “self contained world”--streets, alleys and buildings from 19th century San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s a massive set, and it would’ve cost a ton in Los Angeles or New York. 

Tropper executive produces Warrior under Tropper Ink Productions, alongside Justin Lin and Andrew Schneider for Perfect Storm Entertainment and Shannon Lee from Bruce Lee Entertainment. Brad Kane and Richard Sharkey also executive produce.  

Tropper previously created Banshee, which went for four seasons on Cinemax. 

He’s a busy man these days. His novels have been on hold since his screen work took off. “I haven’t written a book in quite a while--I’ve really been diving into TV and film,” said Tropper. He said he’s been in the middle of writing a novel forever. “The world is changing,” he added. “I have to reframe it.”

Tropper doesn’t practice martial arts anymore. “I’m older now and it’s fallen away,” he said. “Now I just write about it.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.