In the last episode of Warrior, Ah Sahm was left in duck jail, abandoned by the Hop Wei. Penny Blake was the well-meaning duck woman attempting to free him, and Mai Ling’s power within the Long Zii is apparent. The third episode, “John Chinaman,” picks up the story where we left off.
Episode 3, “John Chinaman” confronts the racism of San Francisco head-on, with Ah Sahm still in trouble. As his case develops, it’s clear that it is rigged against him. Not only is he facing charges for assault for defending Penny, but he is also the scapegoat for the murders of the Irishmen, the murders the audience knows Ah Toy committed. While his defense attorney is trying to free him, and the judge is putting the law above race, both Big Bill and Leary have other plans. With Bill acting out of the need to repay a gambling debt, Leary emerges as the villain, thinking only of his Irish who have convicted Ah Sahm already.
As the plot emerges, it’s clear that the city’s rich citizens are building a powder keg all of their own, pitting the Irish against the Chinese. Given that they are closer to whiteness than the Chinese workers, the law uses this prejudice for Ah Sahm’s conviction. In a powerful scene, Ah Sahm reveals that he speaks English and explains that he was guilty. There was no point to talk, and that guilt only came because of the color of his skin, not his deeds.
As Leary emerges as the clear villain, using his connections within his community to speak with politicians and push for Ah Sahm’s death, this episode proves it’s his way or no way. But as the bad shows itself, the good does too, or at least a glimmer of it. After his trial, Big Bill seems to see Ah Sahm as a human, when he didn’t before, granted it is because of his ability to speak English. But where Bill is a slight glimmer of someone who isn’t like Leary, Lee is the good man, although we haven’t gotten much time to explore him.
With the bulk of “John Chinaman” exploring the courtroom, the police, and Ah Sahm’s existence as John Chinaman and the racism in it all, we get a more fleshed out San Francisco. In many ways, this episode paints the necessity of the Tongs, a space where Chinese citizens are welcomed, can rise, and can build something for themselves outside the oppression of duck laws and the ducks themselves. Outside of the courtroom, Ah Sahm’s character has two moments that sit with you after the show. The first is his fight in the jail, and the second his belated initiation into the Hop Wei.
As I’ve said before, the fighting in Warrior is about speed and efficiency. Here, it is about impact versus epic battle sequences. While in jail, an attempt is made on Ah Sahm’s life. In a 3v1 fight, the camerawork and choreography make the most out of the confined space. Koji is fast, and has his calm demeanor while his fighting is perfection. While the men think they’ll win, Ah Sahm’s calm presence means they won’t.
The second moment of the episode is when Father Jun comes out from behind his table to restore order to his Tong, to his family. Played by Parry Yun, Father Jun has a commanding presence, his voice immediately draws you in and the way all around him quiet for him to speak, you know that unlike Long Zii, Father Jun is in charge of his Tong, he is the Hop Wei.
Ah Sahm’s wandering into the pond, the white neighborhood outside of Chinatown, a pond for the ducks, was seen as an affront to the Hop Wei. He wasn’t there on orders, he wasn’t there with his brothers, and Father Jun believes that his skinning in without being beaten like others, led to this. It’s a silent scene. With the exception of blows and grunts, Ah Sahm is beaten but he stands, catching the first blow and making the decision to be hit, to become a full member of the Hop Wei. The interaction and the exchange between the two is one of the best moments of the series so far.
As much as Koji shines in “John Chinaman” in his interactions with Big Bill and Father Jun, Mai Ling is the standout to me. Although we don’t spend too much time in Chinatown this episode, we get to see who really rules the Long Zii: Mai Ling.
She is demonstrating her power when we see her making lasting decisions with Long Zii’s permission that are called out as such, yet followed anyway. Later, we also see her ruthlessness. She is intimidating, her presence pulls the air from the room, and although the costuming draws your eyes to her, it’s the delivery of lines and the actions that keep your eyes on her. Mai Ling is a woman who has been through the wringer and refuses to go back. She’s been powerless before and it’s clear that she won’t ever be again.
We also have a brief moment with Ah Toy, another one of my favorite characters. While the others look for power in the Tongs, she looks for power in herself, as she says, revolutions are born in barrooms and brothels, and unlike those around her, she isn’t okay with being oppressed. Ah Toy and Mai Ling stand at different ends and Iook forward to seeing them collide or work together, in their own story while Ah Sahm has his.
My only complaint for “John Chinaman” is the lighting. While dimmer sepia tones can be necessary to show the environment, there are moments in the episode where it is just dark and hard to see. This is especially true during the jail cell fight. While it is, as I said, a phenomenal and standout scene, the lighting of the fight could have enhanced it even more.
Overall, Warriror continues to be a series that I show up for. With tensions continuing to rise, and the threats outside and inside Chinatown more defined, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Warrior airs every Friday on Cinemax at 10/9 CST.
Warrior, Episode 3 - John Chinaman
My only complaint for “John Chinaman” is the lighting. While dimmer sepia tones can be necessary to show the environment, there are moments in the episode where it is just dark and hard to see. This is especially true during the jail cell fight…Overall, Warriror continues to be a series that I show up for. With tensions continuing to rise, and the threats outside and inside Chinatown more defined, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.