One of the most unusual histories for a current show is with Warrior. The series is currently airing its third season on HBO Max, with its seventh of eight episodes there dropping Thursday; the finale is set for next Thursday, Aug. 3. But it started way back in the 1960s with an original concept and treatment from martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
The series follows a martial arts prodigy who emigrates from China to San Francisco in the 1870s to look for his sister and gets embroiled in gang conflict. Lee initially wanted to make it himself, but wasn’t able to get support for that at the time. His daughter Shannon is an executive producer on the show, which first aired in 2019 on Cinemax. It ran two seasons there, but then was cancelled in late 2020 as part of Cinemax abandoning originals, but then was revived in April 2021 for a third season for Max.
Last Thursday, on the 50th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death, Shannon Lee spoke to Awful Announcing about the show and her father’s legacy. And she said she thinks this show is a way to continue that legacy, and to show off his skill as a creator.
“I have to say it’s been a dream come true. It’s been a dream project: we have a dream cast and crew, we have dream material. It’s been very satisfying. I really feel like it’s an opportunity for people to get to experience, first of all, the continuation of my father’s legacy. Today is the 50th anniversary of his passing. And I think also we get to shine a light on Bruce Lee as a creator.”
Lee said she thinks the show is a good representation of what her father wanted to do, and she thinks it’s a valuable show to have out there.
“I think that the show carries his energy beautifully. I think that it’s a wonderful and amazing show that has had its ups and downs, starting back in the 60s all the way until now. It’s a really good solid, entertaining, and important show, and I’m really proud of it.”
She said even three seasons in, it’s still special to her to make this show her father had dreamed of.
“It’s very, very moving, honestly. I mean, my father wrote the treatment for this show, he tried to get it made in the 60s. He pitched it in the 60s and they told him they weren’t going to make the show, and they also told him that he couldn’t star in a TV series in America. So the show went away. And as we know, he ended up going to Hong Kong to make the movies, ended up being offered Enter The Dragon, and that ended up catapulting and cementing his legacy around the world.”
“But this idea, along with several other ideas he was always trying to create, sat there for decades in a box. I had always hoped that we could make some of his ideas, but, you know, I was not a producer at the time, I had done very little in the way of producing.”
Lee said the key development there was famed director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious series, Star Trek: Beyond, and more) coming on board as another executive producer and helping pull a group together to make this happens, including showrunner and executive producer Jonathan Tropper and fellow executive producer Danielle Woodrow.
“It really took Justin Lin, who is my partner on this, to come in and start talking to me about it and asking me about it,” she said. “That really got the project going. And I have to say there was a moment after we had decided to work with Jonathan Tropper, where Danielle Woodrow, Justin Lin, Jonathan Tropper and myself were all sitting around talking about this show, and I thought to myself ‘Ooh, this is going to be good. It’s going to get done, and it’s going to be good.'”
Lee said Lin’s connections were key to getting this done, but he was also the perfect fit to work with in that he actually wanted her input.
“Justin is the reason that this show got made,” she said. “Let’s call a spade a spade, because he had worked his way up within Hollywood and been so successful, and he is still so successful. But the important piece here was that he didn’t want to make it just to make it. He wanted to make it to make it right, and to make it well, and to make it within the boundaries and guidelines of my father’s legacy, in partnership with me.”
She said that’s a significant contrast from some other approaches she’s received over the years.
“You know, many people come to me, and they want to work with materials that I have, but they don’t want to work with me. But Justin was very different. He wanted to partner, he wanted to bring me in, he felt that was important. There are a lot of people who will say that to me, ‘Of course we want you involved, of course it’s important.’ But when push comes to shove, they don’t really intend for me to be too involved. Whereas Justin was very open and very warm and very sharing, which I really appreciated. And he said to me ‘We shouldn’t do this unless we can really do it right, and do it justice, and do it so that your father would be proud.'”
Lee said it’s remarkable that Warrior has now hit this third season, as that cancellation even involved letting actors out of contracts and getting rid of the costumes and sets.
“This is a miracle season for us. We were originally on Cinemax, and the show was doing well, although Cinemax is a smaller outlet. But then, all of the Cinemax original programming was canceled, so our show was actually canceled; it wasn’t just like on hold. They let everybody out of their contracts, they got rid of all our costumes and sets, all that stuff. So there was really no reason to believe that we would come back, other than we all passionately wanted to continue the show. For a multitude of reasons: we all loved the show, we thought it was a great show, we wanted to continue working together, and we thought it was an important show.”
She said that resurrection was possible because the show had been doing well, though. And fans, journalists, and those involved with it put together a campaign to get the first seasons on the then-HBO Max, and the interest in it there led to the pickup.
“There really was no reason why it had been canceled other than just a broad, across-the-board corporate decision. And it took a lot of fan interaction and fan love and producer and creator love and cast love and crew love and even some journalists who wrote articles about the show and the complexity and importance of the show. And that got the show to be able to be put onto the Max streaming service, back then called HBO Max. And there was such a swell of love for the show, that’s when we got picked up again for a third season. So we were thrilled about that.”
Lee said it’s cool to see how much popularity martial arts has at the moment in everything from MMA fights to movies and TV exploring the subject. And she thinks her father’s career (which was explored in 2020 ESPN 30 for 30 installment Be Water) has a fair bit to do with that.
“I think that shift with the world of martial arts, whether it’s MMA or the popularity of martial arts in the West, is a direct result of my father and his path and his legacy. I think the way that fight choreography is done in film and TV is a direct result of the impact of his legacy. So yes, today, there is more of that happening.”
She said she also thinks that the full resurgence of martial arts, especially in movies and TV, is relatively recent.
“I think we kind of had a big swell in the 80s and 90s of martial arts genre films, and then we had kind of a lull. And I think we’re kind of coming back up on the other side right now. I think that as a form of artistry and a form of entertainment, which is also a form of artistry, I think it is just as varied and complex and entertaining as all the variety of stories that can be told today. And I think our show does that beautifully, and at a very high level of quality. And I think that there will continue forever to be a place for this kind of artistry in film and TV.”
Lee said she’s thrilled to be able to present another season of Warrior, and she hopes even viewers who might not normally be interested in a high-action show will give it a try.
“We’re just really excited. And I just really want to encourage people to watch the show, because, yes, it’s an action show, but it’s a historical drama also. It’s got a lot for everybody in it, whether you’re fans of action, fans of political-type intrigue films, storytelling, crime, historical period pieces, strong female characters, all the things. So I really encourage people to watch it. Even if they think it’s not their cup of tea, I think they’ll be surprised.”
[Image from a Max-commissioned Warrior mural in Los Angeles honoring Bruce Lee]