Last week’s episode was a watershed moment for Cinemax’s Warrior. We finally got to see the long awaited duel between Bolo (Rich Ting) and Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), which led to Bolo’s death (as Rich Ting would like to remind everyone, not at the hands of Ah Sahm!), Long Zii’s death and open hostilities between the Hop Wei and the Long Zii. That episode ended in a huge tease of the massive battle royale between the two Tongs. Episode 8, “They Don’t Pay Us Enough to Think,” picks up immediately where episode 7 left off, but it doesn’t quite take us where many expected it to go. As an aside, the episode titles for Warrior leave a lot to be desired generally, but this one is probably the most lackluster. It’s like they just gave up on trying to come up with actual names and randomly picked a quote from the episode, As always, spoilers below!
This episode focuses on 3 storylines: 1) The escalation of hostilities between the Hop Wei and the Long Zii, 2) Ah Toy and her efforts to gain a financial foothold in San Francisco through real estate purchases, and 3) the politicians pushing for the Chinese Exclusion Act. I’m going to focus this review on the first and main storyline because, let’s be honest, that’s what we’re all watching this show for.
With the two Tongs facing off and ready to brawl. I was so excited for this moment that I essentially resembled the popcorn eating gif. Before getting to the actual plot details, one of my first thoughts as the two sides faced off was that aside from Ah Sahm and Young Jun (Jason Tobin) on the Hop Wei and Li Yong (Joe Taslim) on the Long Zii, we don’t know these other fighters at all. There are about 25 or so fighters facing off, and the fact that we can only put a name to 3 of them is kind of a shame. Why don’t any of the other members of the Tongs have any kind of presence? For a show explicitly about the Tong Wars, I would have liked to have been introduced to more members of the Tongs in exchange for all the screen time given to the petulant Irish workers, the befuddled police department and/or the racist politicians. My main criticism of season 1 thus far is that we’ve spent far too much time away from the Tongs to set up the Chinese Exclusion Act storyline that could have been told much more efficiently. In fact, the strength of this episode is that it does a better job focusing on the Tongs, as well as Ah Toy’s plans.
Back to the rumble in Chinatown, the two Tongs fight, but what we actually see on screen is surprisingly short. The 3 characters who have names punch, kick and stab a bunch of faceless Stormtroopers, and though we’re teased a rematch between Ah Sahm and Li Yong, the two never share the screen together. Instead the scene cuts, and later we see the Hop Wei being treated for their wounds while we’re told that 7 Long Zii and 4 Hop Wei were killed in the skirmish. Young Jun is hyped and views this as the beginning of an all out war that he is destined to lead. Father Jun’s interpretation of the event is much less sunny. The two are interrupted by Wang Chao (Hoon Lee), who tells them that the head of the Chinatown Business Association (who?) has requested a meeting between the heads of the two Tongs to discuss a better way to resolve the current conflict. Against Young Jun’s warnings, Father Jun agrees to the meeting, citing the need to meet Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) face-to-face.
After the brawl, the police department is under pressure given that the Senator pushing the Chinese Exclusion Act politicized the incident and made it very public. This leads to an amusing scene where Officer Lee (Tom Weston-Jones) approaches Chao to seek information about the various Tongs. Chao stonewalls Lee, who says that he thought Chao helped the cops. Chao tells him that he may not realize it, but he has helped Lee and that Lee will never understand Chinatown because he’s “too young, too white, too stupid.” This is the kind of dialogue I’m here for.
While Father and Young Jun prepare for the meeting, Ah Sahm meets with Penny Blake (Joanna Vanderham) who, faced with a dose of reality following reports of the street war, breaks up with Sahm because they’re too different. Sahm is hurt because Penny is the one positive thing he has found since coming over to San Francisco. Someone tell Sahm that Young Jun is the best thing to happen to him since coming over!
Moving away from the Tongs for a moment, we finally get a better idea of what Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng) is planning. She and her white business partner are trying to buy up more real estate and they’ve run into a roadblock. Ah Toy’s partner says that the sellers found out about his Chinese backer and are extorting them for more money. The key line of dialogue is when he says that Ah Toy could lose all her land if the sellers report them. I wonder just how much land she’s already acquired and what she plans to do with them. Ah Toy tells her partner that they have no choice but to pay the extortion fees. However, when he goes to make the payment, hooded Ah Toy shows up with her blades and guts the two businessmen. I will say that aside from the murdering, Ah Toy comes off as the true genius in the show. She’s smart, ambitious and clearly has the best plan to realize her goals.
Mai Ling and Li Yong meet Father and Young Jun, with Chao and random Chinese business leader mediating. As evidenced by the image above, the set piece here is gorgeous. The business leader pleads his case that all out war isn’t good for anyone as it will only attract the unwanted attention of outside parties. Instead, he proposes an old school duel between the two best fighters of each Tong. Once again, Young Jun expresses his distaste with any compromise. He’s confident that the Hop Wei can win a full-scale war and is eager to lead it. Father Jun seems uncharacteristically concerned about how many men they would lose and agrees to the deal. The Long Zii are in too. No surprise from the Long Zii as this would seem to fit perfectly with what Mai Ling has been planning. It’s really unclear why this would work for Father Jun. First, he just lost his best and most loyal fighter in Bolo, so he’s at a clear disadvantage. Second, since when is he so concerned about his men? I suppose we can give Father Jun some benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s a seasoned leader and knows that losing a bunch of loyal followers would weaken them even in victory. Father Jun also mentions concern regarding the Long Zii’s agreement with the Fung Hai. Still, given the loss of Bolo, it’s hard to imagine that Father Jun would view this duel as a beneficial compromise.
Regardless, the duel is on and the Hop Wei need a champion. Of course, Ah Sahm is the only candidate for the job, and Father Jun sets up a trial where several masked fighters attack Sahm. This is good timing as far as Ah Sahm is concerned (and bad timing for these poor fools), as Sahm is hurting from Penny’s rejection and gladly dishes out some of that pain. Father Jun is impressed, and names Sahm his champion. Sahm really had no choice of course but this scene played out kind of awkwardly. The whole set-up to get to the duel seems a bit contrived. We all want it obviously so I’m guessing all will be forgiven once we see the epic rematch between Li Young and Ah Sahm. I really hope this goes down Bloodsport style.
Back at Ah Toy’s brothel, Young Jun is loudly questioning his father’s decisions. Young Jun’s arc has been handled masterfully. We’ve seen him go from being frustrated that he doesn’t belong anywhere, to eagerly anticipating his future as part of the new era of Chinatown, and now it feels like he’s getting ready to usurp his father. In contrast, Ah Sahm is heartbroken so he slaps around an obnoxious white patron and takes his liquor. Yes this scene is as satisfying as it sounds. Ah Toy can’t have her income streams being ruined by Sahm’s tears so she pulls him aside and tells him to get his crap together. She correctly points out that since coming to Chinatown, he’s been fighting a battle at all fronts with no plan. She’s right and speaks to the understandably haphazard nature of Ah Sahm’s story thus far. Sahm came to “save” his sister and was thrown into the crazy world of Chinatown. He tries to solve every problem with his fists and tends to act impulsively. That’s what got him and his sister in trouble in China and he’s faring no better in Chinatown. However, as Ah Toy points out, Sahm is about to go one-on-one with
the Great One! Li Yong and Yong isn’t spending his time drunk.
We then get some great training sequences of Li Yong using what looks to be the Iron Palm technique, while Ah Sahm is training Wing Chun style with the mu ren zhuang wooden dummy. It’s all pretty awesome. This duel must pay off. I don’t think it’s exaggeration to say that the hype around this show between seasons 1 and 2 hinges on how epic this fight is. It must be the martial arts duel that no other show on TV, not even the fantastic Into the Badlands, has done. No pressure Brett Chan!
The episode closes with a few interesting scenes. First, the girl that Ah Toy saved, Lai (Jenny Umbhau) finds Toy’s swords and shows that she is quite familiar with weapons. Lai has been used sparingly thus far and her character is very intriguing. I can’t wait to see how she fits into all this. Second, Penny’s father becomes the face of the Irish workers as he seems to support the Chinese Exclusion Act and pledges to use Leary and his men to complete his city contract of building the cable car tracks in San Francisco. Finally, the police fish out the body of one of the businessmen that Ah Toy killed earlier. I’m assuming this will put them on high alert. It’s one thing when the Chinese are killing each other, it’s another when rich businessmen are being murdered and dumped into the bay.
I really enjoyed this episode. With just 2 episodes to go, it seems that we’re set for an epic finale to the season. This episode was particularly strong because the focus was on the Tongs and less on all the politics and police. In fact, my feelings on Big Bill O’hara (Kieran Bew) and Lee turned the corner in this episode. I hadn’t cared much for them before and I thought they were both used quite well here. Episode 8 was the last episode that Cinemax provided early access to media before this series started. That should give everyone an idea of how epic they expect episodes 9 and 10 to be!
Ron is the founder of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.