Two things to know about this series before you watch episode 1: it’s based on an original concept by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, and it was filmed in Cape Town.
Most of the shooting for the series – including the second season, which is already in the bag – was done at Cape Town Film Studios, where elaborate sets and street scenes were constructed for the HBO/Cinemax production.
Some outside locations were used, including Cape Town City Hall in episode one; most South Africans will recognise the building’s façade, and some locals will be familiar with the interior.
As a Capetonian, it can be distracting to watch international series where our city stands in for a variety of places around the world. Denzel Washington’s Safe House bent our minds with car chases that rounded corners from Strand Street to Long Street in the blink of an eye, and Homeland’s fourth season used Artscape Theatre and the Foreshore extensively (and even included one tiny memorable shot with a glimpse of Table Mountain).
You cannot help but wonder how wider American audiences feel about watching bits and pieces of their home towns and cities being bent to fit Hollywood’s needs.
Warrior is set in 1878 San Francisco, during the Tong Wars, but it can take the mind a while to settle into this when you’re so busy straining your eyes to see Cape Town. Tip: stop trying; the Mother City is well concealed.
The story follows Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), a martial arts prodigy of partial European ancestry, who immigrates to San Francisco from China in search of his sister, only to be sold to one of the most powerful tongs (or gangs) in Chinatown.
The fight scenes – which are, let’s be honest, the most important part – are beautifully choreographed and can be enjoyed by everyone, not only fans of the genre.
The background to this series is that it came from a concept Bruce Lee developed in 1971, about a martial artist in the American Old West. The studios didn’t bite, but according to Lee’s widow, it was reworked into Warner Bros’ movie Kung Fu, starring David Carradine.
Lee was not credited. Warner Bros said it had been developing an identical concept, but Lee allegedly wasn’t cast because of his ethnicity and his thick accent.
Fast forward to today, and we have a 10-part series created by Jonathan Tropper (Banshee) and directed by Justin Lin (The Fast And The Furious 3-6, Star Trek Beyond).
At first glance, Warrior has a super stylish look (so hats off to the Cape Town production team, which ranged from suppliers of construction materials‚ wardrobe‚ film equipment‚ vehicles and logistics to suppliers of sound stages‚ post-production facilities‚ catering and accommodation), and the fight scenes – which are, let’s be honest, the most important part – are beautifully choreographed and can be enjoyed by everyone, not only fans of the genre.
Warrior stars easy-on-the-eye Andrew Koji (Call the Midwife, The Innocents), Olivia Cheng (Arrow, The Flash), Hoon Lee (Banshee, Bosch), Dianne Doan (Vikings, Descendants), Jason Tobin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and thoroughly annoying), Dean Jagger (Game of Thrones – Smalljon Umber, no doubt the geeks will know), Kieran Bew (Beowulf), and South Africa’s own Langley Kirkwood (Dredd, Banshee, Black Sails).