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Is The Bruce Lee-Inspired ‘Warrior’ TV Series a True Story?

Credit: HBO

Warrior is an action-packed martial arts tribute to Bruce Lee, taking place during the late 19th century.  Featuring incredible fights and glimpses of history, the story seems almost too good to be true. So how accurate is Warrior? Is Warrior based on a true story?

Warrior is not based on a true story but is based on the writings of Bruce Lee and produced by his daughter, Shannon Lee. The show has many references to real events and is entirely historical fiction. Warrior is a superb show that portrays Chinese culture in the American West during the late 1870s.

Warrior is based on Bruce Lee’s writings that he pitched for an American TV show, which have been updated to reference some of the historical events. Keep reading to learn the truth about the events that happen throughout the show.

What Is the ‘Warrior’ TV Series About?

Warrior is a TV series that tells the story of Ah Sahm, a highly skilled martial artist who journeys from China to Chinatown in San Francisco to find his lost sister. Unfortunately, he finds himself caught up in the middle of gang wars among the Chinese community and faces the challenges of anti-Asian racism.

Did Bruce Lee Write The Story of Warrior? 

Bruce Lee wrote the fundamental storyline of the TV Series Warrior that was pitched and rejected in the early 1970s.  

Later, Shannon Lee (Bruce Lee’s daughter) found her father’s 8-page manuscript and brought it to life in the show Warrior. The original plotline is about the life of a Chinese martial artist who ventured into the American West and pitched his idea to movie studios.

The show and its original concept share similarities, but Bruce Lee’s original ideas have been modified for modern audiences. For example, in Bruce Lee’s treatment, he imagined the setting to be in the Old West, while the show Warrior takes place in Chinatown during the Tong Wars with a larger emphasis on Chinese culture. 

So Bruce Lee wrote the show’s foundation, but it has been tweaked to create a popular TV Series.

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Is The Warrior Series Historically Accurate? 

The Warrior Series has links to historical events, but they have been dramatized for media purposes. 

Some historical events that occur throughout the show are: 

  • The Tong Wars
  • Chinese Immigrant Experiences
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act
  • Tension Between Irish and Chinese Communities

Shannon Lee, the executive director of Warrior, had to do immense research when producing the show. Although Shannon had the manuscript from her father, she needed more sources to create a historically accurate show. 

Shannon states in an interview, “There was a fire in San Francisco during which a lot of records were lost, a lot of the stories,” leaving her with limited sources around the topic as well as her father’s memory to produce the show.

That being said, there is some truth to the events in the show. 

The Tong Wars 

In the Warrior series, Ah Sahm was recruited by a gang known as the Tongs. The Tongs were a discreet, political-religious organization of ethnically Chinese people in the 1800s. 

These secret societies protected Chinese immigrants against discrimination, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Unfortunately, these organizations may have initially offered protection, but ultimately became involved in the drug trade and prostitution.

The entire storyline of Warrior is based upon the Tong Wars, in which Ah Sahm is recruited by one of the most powerful Tongs in China Town as a hatchetman. Yet, like in real life, there are more than one Tong, and allegiance had to be shown to be protected. 

Throughout the show, you can see the reality of the Tongs and the drug trading they were involved in to gain power and protection, leading to violence and fights. 

So while Ah Sahm and others may be fictional characters, the events portrayed in the show can be seen as accurate and historically researched. 

Irish and Chinese Tensions

Warrior also portrays the rising tension between the Irish and Chinese communities at the end of season 2 and the beginning of season 3.

At the end of the 1800s, The Irish and Chinese had nothing in common except that they were hard-working, had limited skills, and needed to make money. They lived in different areas and were part of various organizations. 

Yet, during the depression, the competition for work escalated, leading to hostility and violence between the two groups. 

Eventually, Irish communities discriminated against Chinese communities and blamed them for the recession during the 1800s. They explicitly and violently rioted against Chinese laborers leading to what is known as the San Franciso Riot of 1877

Later, these conflicts resulted in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which is demonstrated throughout the series.

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Are the Actors in “Warriors” Real Martial Artists?

The actors in the TV series have backgrounds in martial arts. 

Each of the following actors has practiced martial arts and trained before their acts in Warrior:

  • Andrew Koji (Ah Sahm)
  • Dustin Nguyen (Zing)
  • Jason Tobin (Young Jun)
  • Chen Tang (Hong)
  • Joe Taslim (Li Yong)

Andrew Koji (Ah Sahm)

Andrew Koji is a half-English, half-Japanese martial artist who temporarily stopped training in martial arts to pursue acting. Koji is trained in Taekwondo, Kyokushin Karate, Wing Chun Kung Fu, and Shaolin Kung Fu.

Dustin Nguyen (Zing)

Dustin Nguyen (Zing), born in Vietnam, practices Muay Thai Kickboxing, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, Kali, and Escrima. He plays Zing in the Warrior series and has also directed the sixth episode of season 2. 

Jason Tobin (Young Jun)

Jason Tobin (Young Jun) was born in Hong Kong and is trained in Thai boxing and Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.

Chen Tang (Hong)

Chen Tang (Hong) was born in Japan and grew up in China before moving to the United States. He states that he had martial arts experience, but his role in Warrior is his first actual stunt work project. 

Joe Taslim (Li Yong)

Joe Taslim (Yi Long) is an Indonesian actor and a former Judo athlete. He was trained in Wushu, Judo, and Taekwondodo. He was a professional athlete and won several gold medals from 1997-2009.

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Where Can I Watch The Warrior Series? 

The Warrior Series is aired on Max, formally known as HBO Max.

Credit: HBO

Max can be watched on Android, Ios, Chromecast, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV. You can also watch the series on Amazon Prime Video by subscribing to Max. Season three of Warrior premiered June 29, 2023, with new episodes every Thursday.

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Final Thoughts

Bruce Lee’s transcript is the foundation for the Warrior TV series, but it’s been modernized to fit modern audiences. It also has links to real-life events and has been based on the history of Chinese immigrants in West America, but it is considered entirely fictional. Regardless, if you enjoy martial arts, Warrior is a great way to get a glimpse at Chinese immigrant experiences and the importance of martial arts.