Cinemax’s Warrior has spent two seasons delivering on its promise to remain faithful to Bruce Lee’s writings and honor his status as a martial arts legend. The final two episodes of season two did an incredible job of paying homage to Lee’s groundbreaking work on screen, including specific tributes to Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury. Embracing the martial artist’s iconic style, Warrior star Andrew Koji fulfilled every Bruce Lee fan’s dreams for the series during episode nine and 10’s incredibly intense, adrenaline-fueled fight sequences.
As Warrior’s reluctant hero Ah Sahm, Koji replicated Bruce Lee’s signature moves, even introducing nunchucks into his repertoire of martial arts skills during a stunning fight scene that was part of Warrior‘s depiction of the devastating San Francisco riot of 1877. When nunchucks made their way into As Sahm’s hands in episode nine, Warrior fans were correct to assume they were about to witness something extraordinary.
Just prior to the premiere of season two, I spoke with Andrew Koji about the new season and slipping back into the character of Ah Sahm. We also specifically talked about episodes nine and 10, with the promise to hold that portion of the Q&A until after those episodes aired. (Episode nine premiered on November 27, 2020 followed by episode 10 on December 4th.)
Koji explained that in order to prepare for the physical demands of season two, he went to Korea for a self-imposed training camp. There, he locked himself away and concentrated on practicing his kicks and his nunchuck skills, knowing what was in store.
Asked how it felt to go full-on Bruce Lee, Koji chuckled and replied, “You know, that was really something. The way that came about it was so interesting because I remember in season one talking about the nunchucks. We all were on the same page and thought we don’t want to throw everything together in one season, so we had to show the evolution and how I become that. So, I think that was the perfect time, really, for that to come back – the extra element.
And then also we were playing with the idea of maybe using his signature sound but then we were thinking, ‘Okay, that might be for future seasons.’ That would be further down the line because, again, we didn’t want to throw everything together. We wanted to do it in a subtle way.”
Koji added, “If you look at that fight… I remember talking to Brett Chan about it and thinking, ‘This has got to be the ultimate homage to Bruce Lee.’ We discussed it and the first beats of that choreography with the nunchucks are identically matched to Enter the Dragon. We tried to do that. We considered how to put that in there and do that in an organic way. Any Bruce Lee diehard fan will notice like the first 10 beats of that fight match almost exactly what he did in Enter the Dragon.”
Andrew Koji confirmed episodes nine and 10’s fight scenes were difficult to perform and credits director Dennie Gordon and Brett Chan, who he says has become like a brother, with helping pull it off. “It was difficult but you’re really not on your own when you’ve got a good team around you. It was tough because of the schedule. By the time we got to the fight in episode 10, the schedule was really tough. There was an element of fatigue and of my body wearing down.”
Koji described his reaction to the scripts for final season two episodes, and reading about the pivotal fight between Ah Sahm and Dylan Leary (played by Dean Jagger). “Dean and I…Dean’s become a very close friend and I think Jonathan (Tropper, series creator) gave us the heads up that we were going to come to fight again. I think that when Dean and I read it we were like, ‘Sh*t, we’re doing this – we’re really doing it.’
As much as we could, we just kept going over and rehearsing it. We’d go for dinner and then we’d jump into the scene and see if we could try and figure things out – even that scene before the fight. We wanted it to be as much about the story as it was about the fighting because we wanted the emotions to lead this one.
So, when we first read it we knew we had to give the fans of the show what they wanted. And then also for the story and for the characters we just had to really, really zone in. Around the time we were shooting, we were just completely focused. We just had to step up to the bar, really.”
After the much-anticipated brutal showdown between Ah Sahm and Leary, a bloodied but not broken Ah Sahm walks through the streets. A two-story painting created as a tribute to Ah Sahm looms large over the main street. He returns to Chinatown from delivering a beatdown on Leary and at that moment he is the hero his people need.
“It kind of matched up and just married well with the nature of the shoot and the tone of the series,” explained Koji, reflecting on the finale. “Like, if I had to walk down the middle of the street like a really amazing tough guy who hadn’t been in that fight… I mean, think of those Hollywood films where they’ve just been in a huge fight and just come out with a little cut or scratch and they’re walking fine. I was, at that point because I think it was after I did the fight, I was absolutely exhausted. (Laughing) I could just use that. Plus, it was beautiful to see that.
(Laughing) And they give us nice warm rain so it’s not freezing cold!”
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The complete first and second seasons are currently available on Cinemax. There’s no official word on season three.
- Exclusive Interview with Andrew Koji on Warrior Season 2
- One-on-One with Dianne Doan on Warrior Season 1