Here’s a piece of good news that should warm the hearts of action-TV fans everywhere: The drama Warrior is getting a third season courtesy of HBO Max. To say this development is unexpected is an understatement.
In its first two seasons, Warrior told lively and literally hard-hitting stories about a varied collection of strivers and immigrants, many of them Chinese, in 19th century San Francisco. It’s based on a treatment that Bruce Lee dreamed up back in the early ‘70s and is one of the very rare TV dramas not just to feature multiple characters of Asian descent but to make them and their relationships rewardingly varied, complex and non-stereotypical. Warrior’s top priorities usually revolved around delivering energetic fight scenes, sagas of friendship and romance, historically grounded plots about gang wars and fortunes made and lost; all in all, it was well-crafted entertainment that combined gangster swagger with terrific period detail.
But the show, which premiered in 2019, was incredibly timely as well: It demonstrated how powerful forces both exploited Asian labor and cynically whipped up anti-Asian hysteria in the post-Civil War era, a time that, whiskers and corsets aside, looks a lot like right now. Many of Warrior’s expertly choreographed moments of rioting, racism and violence parallel terrifying moments we’ve seen far too many Asian-Americans endure in the last year and a half (and beyond).
Few TV yarns could be more overdue or relevant, right? Which is why Warrior fans ground their teeth in frustration when the show’s second season, which arrived on the waning Cinemax last October, looked like the end of the road for the drama.
Then there was an executive shuffle last August at HBO Max, and months after that, both seasons of Warrior finally arrived on the streaming service, where the show’s following grew by leaps and bounds according to executive producer Justin Lin. The director/producer has a lot of projects on his agenda—not least this summer’s F9 and a whole slew of upcoming Fast & Furious movies—but he and fellow executive producer Shannon Lee (Bruce Lee’s daughter) have been shepherding Warrior through the Hollywood trenches for years, and they never gave up on the one-of-a-kind period piece.
This year, Lin told GQ, the Warrior brain trust — which also includes executive producer and creator Jonathan Tropper — had a set of productive conversations with Casey Bloys, chief content officer of HBO and HBO Max. The surprising and very welcome result of those talks is a new 10-episode season that is likely to go into production next year. Oh, and as Lin explains, Warrior fans also had a lot to do with this happy development: keeping the drama in that row of popular shows on the HBO Max home screen sure didn’t hurt.
We talked last year in August, and you said that before HBO Max debuted, you had asked about whether Warrior would be on the service, and you got the response that it “didn’t fit the brand.” So things have changed, huh?
Yes! What we’ve experienced as a group since we last talked, it really kind of points to the spirit of this project. From connecting with Shannon all those years prior [to the show’s premiere], and just never letting up — [it’s been about] trying to have the right conversations and follow the reasons why we wanted to bring it to life. It was trying to engage with the right timing and the right people. Somehow since August, it all kind of lined up. And here we are, you know?
The show hit HBO Max the first day of this year and I assume that was a factor in all of this. Did that lead to good viewership? What did that do to alter the equation?
I never got specific viewership information, but I was told that it did well. I get the business thing — the bigger number you get, the better conversation you can have about the show. I think HBO Max did open up the opportunity for people to experience the show, versus when it was on Cinemax, and the attention that we got was great. I started having conversations with people from other studios and networks, and it was really cool. It was not even about business — it was just people connecting with me, saying how much they loved the show.
And those folks reached out after it had arrived on HBO Max, right?
Yep. It was all very organic, and it allowed me to really have the proper conversations with Casey Bloys. I have to give him so much credit. You know, on this journey, I wasn’t alone. What I had on one side was Shannon, Jonathan and the amazing cast — everybody just itching to come back and continue to tell these stories. And then on the other side, just a lot of question marks. If you go by the playbook, it was not logical for us to assume that we were going to be able to continue. Knowing that the sets were starting to go down — it became harder as time went on [to keep hope alive]. But being on HBO Max was great — it allowed me to have some heart-to-heart talks with Casey. When I think about the process and this business, the degree of difficulty on this one was very high. But Casey was very open. A lot of times in this business, when you have a conversation, you can tell very quickly when they’re just kind of humoring you. I never felt that with him. It all organically led to this great news.
Despite being set in the late 1870s, Warrior could not be more timely, given the parallels between vicious anti-Asian bias in our past and violence against the Asian-American community that we unfortunately see now. Was what’s happening these days part of those conversations among you, Shannon, Jonathan and Casey?
For sure. I mean, internally on the Warrior side, it’s something we obviously care a great deal about. Ever since we started the show, it is something that we’ve always discussed. I needed to have the conversation with Casey, and we went into what we’re trying to accomplish.
You know, a lot of times people seek out content because they want to get a sense of another experience. What we’re trying to do with Warrior had a special layer on top of that, in that people might not be engaging with the show purely on an identity level. People might be coming to it maybe more for the martial arts or genre reasons, but we built in [historical realities about Asian-American communities] and in that scenario, I feel like the reach of the show [had an impact]. Just from conversations I’ve had with people who reached out, and with fans, it did feel like we were able to accomplish that discourse [not only with] the people who were seeking it out in the first place.
That’s good to hear. As we talked about before, it’s not like most people were taught much about this slice of history in school.
Yeah. This week we’ve been doing all this Fast 9 press and I was like, “Wow, I’ve been making movies for 20 years!” When I was starting off, people weren’t having these conversations. And so to be able to have the conversation with Casey, and for him to really think that through and for us to arrive to where we are now, it does mean a lot.
Do you know which members of the cast are coming back?
Everybody wants to come back. I think in the cast, everyone’s coming back, pretty much. All of us have a lot on our plates right now, but I’m excited because I’ve been talking to Jonathan about Season 3 for a bit. Now that we have a goal — we’re definitely going to go into production — it’s actually even more exciting.
Do you want to talk about what kind of stories you want to tell in the new season?
We’ve definitely been talking about that for a bit and there are two sets [of ideas]. There are the ones where, as you’re making a show, you’re seeing what works and what we haven’t really explored. So that’s been an ongoing discussion since Season 1. A lot of what we talked about was always pushing into the future. Now it’s going to become a reality, so I’m excited for that. But then there were also ideas and arcs we talked about when we were developing the pilot — a lot of those elements haven’t even been touched upon yet. I think it’s going to be very rich, and we have a lot of stories to tell.
And with what’s happening today, I had a very specific conversation with Jonathan about that and we definitely want to acknowledge — we’re living in it now. You know, three weeks ago, I had to talk to my 11 year old son and tell him, “Hey, when we go out, you just have to be a little bit more conscious.” It blew my mind. I grew up in the ’80s in Orange County, and I never thought it would be worse. And it is. So that’s something that I feel will influence our work, but I also think it’s very important that we don’t become too reactive. We have to let the essence and spirit of the show drive us.
I know you won’t have time, so you’re going to say no, but will you ever direct an episode of Warrior?
You know, I love it so much. Look, if I have a little window and I can do it, I’m definitely doing it. I can tell you that.