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‘Warrior’ loses the fight against cheesiness

Chinese immigrant and martial arts master Ah Sahm becomes embroiled in a gang war in "Warrior." The show is based on writings by action star Bruce Lee (courtesy of David Bloomer and Cinemax).

“What did you just say?” The man slams his drink on the table and rises from his seat, about to confront our protagonist. A sudden hush falls across the room. It’s the set up for a fight you’ve seen happen a million times, and in the first episode of “Warrior” you’re going to see it at least three more times. Based on the writings of Bruce Lee (apparently he wrote?), the tale of “Warrior” follows Chinese immigrant and martial arts master Ah Sahm as he arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the onset of the infamous battles between rival Chinese gangs known as the Tong Wars. He immediately becomes a “hatchet man” for a local tong, but is in reality only searching for his sister who left China two years earlier. The catch? She’s aligned with the rival tong. The premise is interesting enough— it had potential. Now I don’t know how loyal the show stayed to its source material, but one thing is clear. Bruce Lee? Master fighter and (presumably) decent writer. “Warrior”? Laughably mediocre show and a huge disservice to the legacy of the martial arts legend.

I expected that, in true Bruce Lee fashion, I’d be able to say the fighting was the most exciting part of “Warrior,” but that wouldn’t be saying much. The show attempts to add some extra pizazz to the lightning fast martial arts scenes with some heavy editing, but it ultimately comes out bland and repetitive. I’m not even sure if the choreography changes from fight to fight. Maybe that’s just how great a fighter Sahm is, that he has it down to a one-two punch, but… probably not. It’s like the bad B-list parallel of a Tarantino movie.

A show can’t be all flying fists and kicks though, and in the downtime between fights it’s as if the writers were like, “Oh yeah, plot.” Upon reading the synopsis of the show before I watched, I thought “Warrior” could’ve taken an interesting path. Unfortunately, the same things that could’ve made it great are what make it fall into the pitfalls of kitsch. The dialogue is clunky and often purely expository; I think I’ve heard it all before. Meanwhile, the “romance” is forced and cringe-inducing, and the cherry on top is that the acting vacillates between wooden and cartoonish, doing neither of the two any saving grace. Often my roommate looked over to see what I was laughing at.

“Is it a comedy or something?” she asked. Nope, but you could make a pizza with all this cheese.

I had held out hope that Bruce Lee might enter the collective memory as a bit of a renaissance man (if kicking ass is considered a valid “renaissance” skill), but it seems like HBO didn’t do his writings justice. It took around 46 years after Bruce Lee’s death for his writings to come to life, and maybe that’s for the better. Unlike its creator, “Warrior” lands punches in all the wrong places.

Contact Hannah Blum at hannahbl ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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