In the shadow of the Warrior

01 Apr 2019 / 13:46 H.

IN HIS time, Bruce Lee broke the glass ceiling for Asian actors, and has since remained a bona fide global superstar with millions of fans around the world, even decades after his untimely death in 1973.

While the martial art films he shot during the last few years of his life are what built his legacy, his television success was limited to the short-lived The Greet Hornet (1966-1967), where he played the eponymous crimefighter’s kick-ass sidekick Kato.

In 1971, Lee pitched an idea for a TV series he called The Warrior, about an Asian martial artist, played by himself, and his adventures in the American Wild West.

The idea was believed to have inspired the 1972 series Kung Fu, although that remains in dispute to this day.

At the time, Lee himself was considered for the role, which eventually went to white actor David Carradine.

Lee was quoted in interviews at the time as saying that he understood why Hollywood would be hesitant about taking a business risk with a non-white leading man.

Now, almost five decades later, Lee’s original concept will see the light of day, in the form of the upcoming TV series Warrior.

Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, the 10-episode series is executive produced by Jonathan Tropper, Justin Lin, and Lee’s daughter Shannon.

The gritty, action-packed crime drama is set during the brutal Tong Wars that took place in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the second half of the 19th century.

The series follows Ah Sahm (played by newcomer 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 Hope Wei, one of Chinatown’s most powerful tongs (Chinese organised crime family).

Playing Li Yong, the tong lieutenant of a rival gang is Indonesian actor Joe Taslim (right), 37, whom most Malaysians may recognise for his role as Jaka in The Raid (2011).

After The Raid, Joe landed his first Hollywood role playing the villainous Jah in Fast & Furious 6, which was directed by Lin. Joe was also cast in another Lin-directed blockbuster, Star Trek Beyond.

In a recent tele-conference interview from Cape Town, Joe – who was a member of the Indonesian national judo team between 1997 and 2009 – said he is proud to be in a show that Lee had created.

“I am probably the first Indonesian actor to be a part of an American TV series. It is just amazing.

“I heard about this project in 2016 when I was shooting in Vancouver with Justin for Star Trek Beyond.

“For me to work [on] a show created by my hero, I really didn’t have to think twice.

“I wanted to be a part of history, I wanted to be a part of this great breakthrough for Asians. I called my agent and said I would do whatever it took to be a part of this show.”

Considering who Li Yong is, one would expect a big showdown to take place between him and Ah Sahm at some point in the show.

“I wish I could tell you,” Joe said with a laugh when asked for confirmation.

Describing Li Yong, he said: “From my research, Li Yong arrived in America much earlier, and has adapted [to life there]. He joined one of the tongs.

“There is rivalry (with Ah Sahm) because they come from different tongs. But their relationship is unique.

“This series is not about good guys and bad guys. Everyone has his own agenda. There are many grey areas.”

Joe added that he wanted to stretch himself as an actor, and Warrior enables him to do just that.

Joe said when an actor chooses a script, he has to love the character he is going to portray. “If I am sure I can do it, I will choose the project.”

He said he has turned down roles in other major productions, because he felt that he could not give 100% to the roles.

When asked about the show’s being a part of Lee’s legacy, Joe said: “There were projects that [paid] homage to Bruce Lee, but turned out not to be as good as the original.

“With Warrior, it is based on his [own] writing and concept. It is something we have waited for decades to be made.

“For me, it is great opportunity for Asian people to see something that Lee wanted to make. He wanted you to see the struggle that his character Ah Sahm undergoes, and the conflicts between Asians in the 1800s in San Francisco.

“It is not about race any more, it is about survival, it is about being accepted as a warrior in their own respective way.”

He also feels this show will correct a lot of misconceptions about Asians living in that era.

On what he hopes that the audience will take with them, Joe said: “When you think about Bruce Lee, you think about kicking ass, doing really good martial arts, and jumping around.

“But I want to tell the younger generation especially that to be a true power, a great warrior, one must strive to do better every day, not just for yourself but also for those around you, your family and your community. To have a clear mind, positive energy.

“You can be a doctor, lawyer, policeman – you can be a warrior, no matter what your profession is, so long as you have a clear mind and give positive energy to those around you.”

Warrior premieres this Saturday (same day as the US) at 11am, with a same-day encore at 11pm, on Cinemax (Astro channel 412).

Warrior premieres this Saturday (same day as the US) at 11am, with a same-day encore at 11pm, on Cinemax (Astro channel 412). — Cinemax

Warrior premieres this Saturday (same day as the US) at 11am, with a same-day encore at 11pm, on Cinemax (Astro channel 412). — Cinemax

Warrior premieres this Saturday (same day as the US) at 11am, with a same-day encore at 11pm, on Cinemax (Astro channel 412). — Cinemax

Warrior premieres this Saturday (same day as the US) at 11am, with a same-day encore at 11pm, on Cinemax (Astro channel 412). — Cinemax

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