Friday, April 5, 2019

REVIEW: 'Warrior' - Ah Sahm Lands in Chinatown to Pursue Answers and Find Someone in 'The Itchy Onion'

Cinemax's Warrior - Episode 1.01 "The Itchy Onion"

San Francisco, 1878. Ah Sahm is introduced to Chinatown's most ruthless tong, the Hop Wei, by Chao, a fixer. After impressing Young Jun, son of tong leader Father Jun, Ah Sam is branded and taken to a brothel, where he befriends Ah Toy, a courtesan with connections. In search of a woman, Ah Sahm crosses paths with Mai Ling and Li Yong, followers of the rival tong leader Long Zii, who is trying to avoid an opium war - a war that Walter Buckely, deputy to Mayor Samuel Blake, actively promotes.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Cinemax's Warrior.

"The Itchy Onion" was written by Jonathan Tropper and directed by Assaf Bernstein

It is very much appreciated that in the early going the new drama is providing clarity to the various storylines that it is currently setting up. Sure, there are some developments here that play into the overall narrative of the season. But there is also the understanding that the audience won't be kept in the dark trying to figure out everything that's going on for too long. Ah Sahm came to San Francisco on a mission to find someone. It's unclear at first the significance of this mission. But the end of the premiere clarifies it when he finds her. He is desperate to bring his sister back home because the threat in China that sent her away has been eliminated. He may be an impressive fighter. That quickly allows him to ascend through this complicated world. But he's also foolish to believe that he can just run away so easily after being brought into one of the powerful tongs of the city. That's the action of the first half of this premiere. Ah Sahm makes his skills known. He is then sold off to one of the organizations that can use him. He gets some lay of the land but he is mostly interested in tracking down his sister. When people come looking for her, they frequently end up dead. That has been the pattern established so that no one asks about her. She has actually changed her name and built a new life for herself in this city. She is now Mai Ling, the second-in-command of the rival tong. She even has ambitious plans for the organization as well. She isn't willing to abandon all of this to return to a life where she was sold off to be abused and raped in order to excuse a debt that Ah Sahm had created. She is her own person now who doesn't need to be rescued. Of course, she's walking a very thin line with her deceptions. The head of the tong wants to negotiate peace while the deputy to the Mayor wants a civil war to break out in Chinatown. She sees violence as the solution to her concerns as well. She can continue her rise to power when the city is divided. That's how she sees the current environment. That is very compelling to watch. In fact, it's welcome that the female characters of this period piece aren't just the wives or the prostitutes. Sure, those elements still exist here. The wife of the mayor still mostly fits in that very specific lane while he is also cheating on her with the services only Chinatown can provide. But Mai Ling is very powerful and has loyal soldiers who will listen to her. Meanwhile, Ah Toy is so much more than the madame of the local brothel who also has to support Ah Sahm after being disappointed by what he finds. She is also a trained killer more than willing to go out and kill. That too may only fuel this conflict further. This is a very specific world that is so engaging to watch. Sure, it also feels like the show could be trying to do too much in order to paint an accurate picture of this world. It also takes a look at things from the other side of the world in which the white working class are acting on their xenophobic beliefs. They believe that the Chinese immigrants are coming into this city and taking all of their jobs away from them. It's a way for the show to be relevant with its themes. However, it also aspires to hit the audience over the head with it. It's fascinating to see the different fighting styles of Ah Sahm and the Irish leader Leary. They are both impressive in that way. But again, the world has a way of breaking people to ensure that their skills may not be enough to combat the ways in which things are continually changing.