Long-Delayed Bruce Lee Project Hits the Mat on Cinemax

Kung fu fans know the legend of “Warrior.” It’s a show concept that dates back to the heyday of Bruce Lee, who wanted to get it off the ground decades ago. His daughter reportedly found handwritten notes about ideas for the show from Lee himself, and that vision is finally becoming a reality 46 years after the death of the martial arts master. Sadly, it doesn’t even remotely live up to his legacy, too often coming off like a dirge when it needs to be as light on its feet as the man who once envisioned it.

“Warrior” stars Andrew Koji as Ah Sahm, a Chinese man who arrives in Chinatown in San Francisco near the turn of the century. Anyone who knows anything about the history of that area is aware that the 1880s saw the city erupt in violence over something that would become known as the Tong Wars, battles between rival factions amidst rising tension between the new Chinese and Caucasians. Ah Sahm is instantly drawn into the battles, but he’s really there on a mission to find his sister, who came to the States a few years earlier. He soon ends up aligned with a different faction than his sibling, and the entire piece is painted against the backdrop of corrupt politicians and powerful white people, including characters played by Christian McKay, Tom Weston-Jones, and Kieran Bew.

The pitch is enticing. A martial-arts-heavy version of something like “'Deadwood' with all the nudity, violence, and language freedom allowed by a network like Cinemax." Who doesn't want to see that? Sadly, this is not that show. The creators of “Warrior” worked on Cinemax hits “Banshee” and “Strike Back” too and those shows understood, at their best, how to be the kind of B-TV entertainment people look for in a show like this one. “Warrior” doesn’t seem to get that. Even the sex and violence is dull. And that's one of the main reasons people are going to tune in. Who wants a talky version of a Cinemax show called "Warrior"?! It takes itself way too seriously, the dialogue is deadly flat, and the characters just aren’t interesting. “Warrior” needs to be fun or silly or intense – the very last thing it can be is boring. That’s one thing Bruce Lee never was.

Two episodes screened for review.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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