Warrior is back: what you need to know for Season Three

After being cancelled and then revived by popular demand, Justin Lin and Shannon Lee's thrilling series returns this month. Here is what you need to know, and what you might have missed out on.

After a three-year wait, Warrior returns to our screen via MAX and Binge this week. If you have not seen this show, you are missing out. Produced by Justin Lin (Fast & The Furious) and Shannon Lee (based on the writings of her famous father Bruce), this series is a fast-paced spectacle that only the John Wick films have surpassed in recent times.

Seasons One and Two of Warrior originally aired on Cinemax in 2019 and 2020. Although the network was once known for low-budget direct-to-TV movies, the production values were comparable to Game of Thrones. The crew reconstructed 1870’s San Francisco in South Africa. Everything looks real and feels lived in.

If you have not seen this show, the basic premise is Gangs of New York, but with Kung Fu. Andrew Koji stars as Ah Sahm, a Chinese traveller in search of his missing sister in California. It does not take long before the unarmed, but extremely dangerous Ah Sahm is adopted by one of the leading Tongs of San Francisco, and by episode three he finds that his sister is married to the leader of the opposing Chinatown gang and is pulling the strings.

Warrior tells the story of gangland warfare, the plight of new immigrants, and the effect they have on those that think they are being displaced.

An Irish gang feels threatened by the arrival of cheap Chinese labour and sets out for violent retaliation. Both sides are underhandedly supported by the millionaires and politicians in City Hall. Both are oblivious to the fact that their oppressors are not each other. Meanwhile, two compromised and increasingly helpless police detectives try and keep a lid on the simmering feud.

Joe Taslim (The Raid 2) co-stars as Li Yong. Ah Sahm’s equivalent on the opposing Chinese gang and Jason Tobin (Tokyo Drift, Fast And The Furious Nine) plays Young Jun, the son of Ah Sahm’s boss and someone who has his own leadership aspirations.

The rest of the cast is populated with memorable faces and performances. Dianne Doan is threatening and captivating as Ah Sahm’s sister Mai Ling, Olivia Cheng plays a brothel madam with a deadly secret and Kieran Bew is perfect, reminiscent of some of Deadwood’s finest as Detective Bill O’Hara. Hoon Lee gets many of the best lines as Wang Chao, a black-market salesman who wheels and deals behind the scenes for everybody in Chinatown.

After ending on both a blockbuster and a cliffhanger in season two, Warrior was cancelled when HBO acquired Cinemax. A long and loud online campaign revived it and it is back with plenty of story to tell.

What you need to know before watching season three

If you have not watched the first two seasons, there is a bit to catch up on. Warrior is not a “10-hour movie” like some series, and you can enjoy episodes in isolation, but there is plenty of backstory behind season three.

Season One sees Ah Sahm trying to convince his sister to leave gang life while being drawn into it himself. He keeps his family ties secret from his new family, as he does his ability to speak fluent English.

After coming to the rescue of the mayor’s wife, Ah Sahm begins an affair with her and as his secrets pile up, the various forces in the city begin to slowly move against each other.

By the end of Season One, Ah Sahm and Li Yong face off in one-on-one combat to settle the gang war. After he is defeated, Ah Sahm is rejected by his clan and after a painful recovery, works in a factory as a low-level labourer.

That lasts all of one episode before the factory is attacked by the Irish Gang led by Dean Jagger’s Dylan Leary. The season ends with a long-awaited showdown between the two, and with Ah Sahm being reminded that he might have a higher purpose.

Aside from an excellent opening episode, the standout from Season One might be episode five. It is a self-contained marvel. Yung Jun and Ah Sahm are forced to spend the night in a saloon with three strangers while transporting precious cargo.

In classical Western fashion, an outlaw arrives with henchmen in tow, looking for a payday. What transpires is a thrilling, and funny siege story. The tense setting and increasing stakes are offset by some sparkling dialogue and memorable set pieces. This episode could easily have been a feature film.

Season Two sees Young Jun bring Ah Sahm back into the gang. The two start to go into business for themselves, while continuing to fight for control of Chinatown.

Season Two has a couple of standout episodes in an excellent series. Episode Six sees Ah Sahm and Yung Jun travel to Mexico to enter a No Holds Barred tournament. It is a completely self-contained episode with a clever plot and some stunning action sequences. It is one-part Spaghetti Western and one-part classic Kung Fu premise. It works perfectly.

The other is the penultimate episode titled Enter The Dragon. By the time Warrior uses this famous reference, it has well and truly earned it.

Leary’s gang set their sights on every inhabitant of Chinatown. They attack every shop, every citizen, every man woman and child. At the end of the main street, the two Tongs finally meet up, and with a nod, Ah Sahm and Li Yong finally join forces and fight back.

The two characters seem to depict different sides to Bruce Lee, and both closely resemble him in mannerisms although in contrasting ways. Taslim’s Li Yong represents the more traditional Wing Chun era of Lee’s life. He behaves and dresses the way a young Lee might have when he learned as a child. He moves with grace and fluidity. Taslim's performance is one of violent beauty.

Ah Sahm is much more direct. He has the Western dress sense and sharp kicks that Lee became known for in the most famous Jeet Kun Do era of his life. When the two finally team up, it is worth the wait.

Warrior Season Two ends with a physically defeated Leary walking into a town hall meeting and announcing his intent to run for office.  He was a dangerous and driven man before, now he seeks real power.

This show is back by popular demand and there is nothing else like it on TV. Anything could happen in Season Three, but it is sure to be worth the wait.

Warrior Season Three airs on Binge on Thursday, June 29.