By Rashad D. Grove
(AllHipHop Features) Almost 50 years after his death, Bruce Lee is still one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. His legacy looms large as the first television and film action star of Chinese descent. His work will live on through Cinemax’s newest series Warrior is based off of his original concept.
Set in the post-Civil War days of San Francisco in the 1870’s, Warrior takes on the themes of violence, sex, race, and class. The protagonist Ah Sahm, a Chinese immigrant who is a martial arts expert, finds himself in the middle of the Tong Wars as he searches for someone from his past and begins a new life in America.
In a round table discussion, I spoke with Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee, her fellow executive producers Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious franchise) and Jonathan Trooper (Banshee) about the Asian immigrant story, Bruce Lee’s influence upon Hip-Hop culture, how why
AllHipHop: After directing block buster films, how did feel to bring Bruce Lee’s ideas to life?
Justin Lin: Growing up I was a big Bruce Lee fan and I remember watching Kung Fu and wondering why David Carradine was playing the role. Why is there a Caucasian man speaking in broken English? Of course I didn’t know that Bruce Lee pitched the idea of Asian martial arts master as the lead in a series but Warner Bros. couldn’t comprehend the concept at the time.
After hearing rumors about the proposed idea, I called Shannon and she handed to me an 8-page treatment. I thought it was incredible. We tried to stay true to Bruce’s original framework but still shoot it and tell the story from a modernized standpoint. It was an honor to bring Bruce Lee’s vision to fruition.
AllHipHop: What was the casting process like?
Justin Lin: We went around the word about 6 months looking for the right people. Although it took some time, I think we have to right people in the right roles. It comes across on screen.
AllHipHop: How did you come to be a part of the project?
Jonathan Tropper: As my show (Banshee) was coming to an end, I was approached by Cinemax about what I wanted to do next and Justin [Lin] and Shannon [Lee] brought in this Bruce Lee treatment to them. After our initial meeting, I knew the potential of the idea, and saw how developed it already was. I was fascinated by the time period of what was happening in America at the time so I decided to jump right in.
AllHipHop: How did your research for the series?
Jonathan Trooper: Researching was a challenge. I actually had to the library to hunt down stories, articles, books written during the time period, and anything I could get my hands on to give a truthful account and backdrop for the series. Besides all the information Justin gave me, I had to find information on Chinatown during this period.
AllHipHop: Tell me Shannon, how did you discover the writings of your father?
Shannon Lee: My mother was planning to retire and never truly ran the legacy as a business. When I started running the business, I came into possession of all of the archival materials around the year 2000. My father had these writings that was almost 50 years ago. As I was going through his stuff, I came across the treatment for Warrior, and I was like, 'Oh, here's this thing I've heard about all my life.” It was always a part of our family’s story that my dad pitched Warner Bros. a martial arts show in Old West starring himself. I put it back in the box for another 15 years. Then Justin and I connected and things began to fall into place.
AllHipHop: Warrior is a thrilling series which features some epic fights scenes. But the narrative tells the story of the Asian American immigrant experience. Why was that so important for your father and for you to bring to the small screen?
Shannon Lee: Telling the story of Asians, particularly Chinese people coming to America was extremely important to my father. I think he saw it as a major part of his mission in life. He wanted to tell these authentic Chinese stories and to have Asian people playing the roles of Asian people not just the Asian stereotypes that were prevalent at the time. He wanted the uniqueness of the Chinese American story to be told with authenticity.
Also, my father wanted to explore Tong Wars because of his own experiences with gangs Chinatown growing up in San Francisco.
AllHipHop: Without question, Bruce Lee is one of the most influential figures upon Hip-Hop. Wu-Tang Clan named their classic debut in honor of your father’s final film. How do you feel about the connection between the Asian culture and Hip-Hop?
Shannon Lee: Actually, The RZA moderated a panel discussion with Jonathan and I at a screening in Brooklyn. The legacy of my father and Hip-Hop is well documented especially with the Wu-Tang Clan. The similarities of Hip-Hop culture and Asian culture are similar that both have suffered oppression and thrived because of their creativity.
AllHipHop: Throughout the episodes, there Hip-Hop music but it’s period piece.
Shannon Lee: One of the ways we thought that would make the series have a modern feel was the music.
Lastly, what do believe your father would think of the final product?
Shannon Lee: I think he would be pleased because he always wanted to show the world an authentic portrayal of his culture and Chinese Kung-Fu. We stuck to my father’s original outline and we tried to make it as my father intended. I think he would be proud to see his dream come into reality.