KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 30 — The Cinemax original series Warrior may be set in 1870s San Francisco during the ‘yellow peril’ but issues of institutionalised racism explored in the show feels rather like a quick glance at headlines from around the world today.
Based on the writings of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, the gritty, action-packed crime drama set during the brutal Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 19th century follows martial arts prodigy Ah Sahm 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 or Chinese organised crime family.
Andrew Koji, who plays Ah Sahm, told Malay Mail the show is rooted in real life and history, for example, The Chinese Exclusion Act.
With Season 2 about to begin, Koji said the politics of the show was coincidentally relevant, reflecting a lot of the social issues we have witnessed this year.
“It’s scary how relevant it is now because there was no intention to go ‘We got a message for 2020’.
“(The team) collected all these stories from reality and then obviously heightened it and it turned out to be very relevant for all the things going on in the world now and shows that we haven’t really learned much.
“We’re in a similar thing, it’s just a different form in a technological age now but the attitudes are very similar — it was unintentional but it’s just as important,” the 33-year-old said.
Season 2 follows rival Chinatown tongs, the Hop Wei and the Long Zii, as they fight for dominance amidst the growing anti-Chinese racism that threatens to destroy them all.
Koji, who half-Japanese, half-English, said Ah Sahm was written as an outsider, much like Bruce Lee was.
“He (Bruce) felt like he wasn’t Chinese enough (for Asia) or wasn’t Western enough to be in the Western audience.
“So that fish out of water, that outsider feeling is something I’ve always felt because I’m dual heritage,” the Peaky Blinders actor said.
The series, which boasts a lineup of talents of Asian background, not only is a powerful piece of television about minorities fighting back against racism but about representation and diversity in film and TV.
It’s something Koji has been thinking about a lot when it comes to his career in terms of opportunity as a mixed-race actor of East Asian and British descent, adding that a lot of roles out there are still martial arts-focused.
He was about to leave the industry due to the lack of high-profile roles when the tide turned.
Seeing many good friends of his struggling, Koji thought his career would be confined to making his own films whenever he could or helping out at a theatre.
“So the fact that there’s a good show like Warrior, with the writing and the world and the meaningful nature of it, and then there are other jobs since then — it’s been such a huge thing,” he said.
“If you think about it, maybe a lot of us wouldn’t be here without Bruce Lee.
“I was reading his daughter Shannon’s book last night and a lot of the fights we are having now, Bruce had earlier on with his career so we’re just part of hopefully, the end stage which is to be diverse and equal.”
Koji, who will next star as Storm Shadow alongside British-Malaysian actor Henry Golding in the GI Joe film Snake Eyes, hopes things will change and get better for diversity.
“To get to be part of that and now I’m actually involved in hopefully changing how we are perceived and accepted in certain parts of the world is a real blessing,” said Koji.
Warrior Season 2 debuts on October 3 on Cinemax (Astro Ch 412 HD) at 11am and HBO GO, 10am.