“WARRIOR” season one is now streaming on Cinemax created by Jonathan Tropper, based on the writings of the legendary Bruce Lee. The series stars Andrew Koji, Jason Tobin, Olivia Cheng, and Dianne Doan. This is a 10-episode season set in 1800’s San Francisco during the Tong Wars of Chinatown. A Chinese immigrant has come to America in search of something but ends up becoming a hatchet man for one of Chinatown’s most power Tongs.
I won’t waste your time and I’ll just say right now this is one of the best single seasons of a series I’ve seen in a handful of years, and I’ll tell you why. To craft a perfect season, I think you need the following. A story with the right number of layers that then proceed to flow with the others throughout their arcs. It needs compelling characters with human emotion and growth. High production value, and no filler episodes are a major bonus as well. Also, for me some well-crafted action, gritty violence, and a little sex-appeal is never a bad thing either. And this season was able to deliver on all of that with highly entertaining results.
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First let’s get into the story which I think was fantastic. There are many moving pieces but they all weave in and around each other perfectly. It has political intrigue, relationship drama, the immigration issues of the era and the effects it had on the labor force, specifically among the Irish. Then there is the brutal Tong War raging in Chinatown. All of these are intriguing story dynamics that move the overall narrative. To add to the entertainment value, these story elements are dropped into 1800’s San Francisco and it truly captures the imagination to effectively pull the viewer into the world and settings of the era.
Next let’s talk about the characters and the cast performances which across the board were all one could ask for. The writing continually evolves the characters and creates endless situations that require a range of emotional cues. With everyone hitting their dramatic beats it creates compelling tension, heartbreak, intensity, and moments of well-timed humor that create a charming ebb and flow to the mood. As each episode passes more is learned about their backdrops and motivations, as well as their strengths and weakness. And with the performances capturing it all with sincerity there was never a dull or wasted moment.
Andrew Koji in the lead was impressive. His martial-arts skills are precise, and he was fantastic in the fight-sequences. But he was equally as capable in portraying the human growth to the role which I feel makes the viewer connect with him when he isn’t breaking bones. He also has an intensity in his eyes that captured endless amounts of expression on their own. And to me he was the perfect package for headlining this series. Olivia Cheng and Dianne Doan are excellent as well and fit perfectly in this world of men with their fearless drive. Joe Taslim comes in with a great effort in his role, and Jason Tobin was very versatile by providing great fight-sequences, genuine emotion, and subtle humor.
The production value is superb with large, detailed practical sets. Complemented by immaculate wardrobe and make-up design. The camerawork throughout the episodes is seamless in style and the result is constantly immersive. The camera routinely opens the scenes with wide sweeping shots that would proceed to drop down into the set. The viewpoint would flow from one conversation to the next which did an effective job of capturing an appealing depth to the settings. The lighting was amazing as well with a great use of natural light in the day shots, complemented by the softer candle and moonlight during the night scenes to create an inviting warmth to the primarily gritty atmosphere.
The fight choreography is probably one of the most incredible aspects of this series. The fighting is fluid and not overly orchestrated. It creates unpredictability, uneasiness, and with a variety of techniques the action set-pieces throughout the season never feel stale. They actually increase with the level of difficulty and impact as the final episode approaches that creates some fun anticipation. Different characters had different fight styles and with some weaponry thrown into the mix it’s hard to predict what will happen next. The only certainty is that it will be bloody, and it will be awesome. The violence is unrelenting and gratuitous in all the ways you would like, without every losing its ramifications on the narrative which only makes it that much more lasting.
For its genre and what it set out to accomplish, it succeeds. The story continually progresses without any filler episodes. The character arcs and story layers all progress nicely. Just enough is wrapped up, just enough seeds are planted for more storytelling as well. And I think it’s a great balance of closure, with added excitement to see everything continue in season two.