Bruce Lee wrote an eight page treatment for a story called Warrior which is a fictional action – drama, about a martial artist coming from China to San Francisco’s Chinatown during the mid-1800s, working as a body guard during the Chinese tong ( gang) wars of the time. The mid -1800s Chinatown, was a time of deep unrest for the Chinese under the racially motivated legislation known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was a story, which Lee wanted to tell, but never got to complete outside an eight page treatment. Interviewing and talking with his daughter Shannon Lee on the eve of the release of this Cinemax Series (April 5), I definitely sensed the passion from her to not only continue her father’s legacy but to also do justice and complete what her father started to a standard which he would approve. Despite the series being a fictional story, in many ways, it shows the instability and the unrest of the Chinese communities at the time and it demonstrated how the community dealt with the extreme racism and oppression, which were imposed upon them casually as well as legislatively. I asked Shannon to discuss how they managed to keep the integrity of the history of the early Chinese in San Francisco but at the same time maintain that this was a fictional situation, which happened in a real time period in history.
There were certainly challenges in creating this world, especially when it is a cross between real history and a fictional story. This fictional story is about fictional lives which takes place in a historical context. Remember this is not a historical drama but an action series. In saying that there is a responsibility that we deliver action and a dramatic story but at the same time be mindful of the time period and both these aspects were noted in my fathers’ original treatment – that the 1800s was a time of deep unrest for the Chinese. My father really wanted to tell this Chinese story, and introduce the main character as someone that he envisioned he would play (in the series played by British Asian actor Andrew Koji). My father had researched that this was a time of the tong (gang) wars during the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and he managed to put these components together as a fictional story about Chinese martial artists coming to 1800s San Francisco Chinatown.
Being a Cinemax produced series (under HBO) all the action and sex scenes were real and extremely raw. This is something hardly witnessed in an American produced series with Asian actors as the leads. Not trying to be crude or crass, but scenes which project everyday life such as sex scenes need to reflect how it is like in everyday reality, and as Shannon Lee, stated during the interview, this was an intention because one needs to remember at that time prostitution was a huge thing which occurred in the Chinatowns around the US. We wanted the show to have a rawness and realness about it, firstly to dispel any stereotypes that Chinese are sexless or whatever, but also there is an entertainment factor about real and raw sex scenes on television and on film. We need to remember that prostitution at the time was a real thing and we wanted our cast to be and feel sexy and not shy away from that. You can call that scandalous or being sex positive etc. Remember there was nudity in the films my father starred in like Enter the Dragon, and he sure did not shy away from looking sexy and masculine at all. What he showed ( obviously not at the level we are showing now) is that both Asian male and female actors are attractive and do have that sexual energy.
Warrior is definitely a series everyone needs to watch to support in keeping the story inspired by the legend Bruce completed and remembered. From an eight page treatment, which was essentially a dream story, it has taken till now to become a reality and one which stays true to the memory of Bruce Lee’s legacy. Asides from the aspects already mention, the action and martial arts scenes were well choreographed and the costumes and location sets really allowed the audience to travel back in time to 1800s San Francisco Chinatown.