Warrior, the new Cinemax original show based on the writings of Bruce Lee has been a deep dive into 1800s San Francisco. From episode one, it was clear that the show was a new take on old Westerns. But in case there was any doubt, in episode five, “Blood and the Sh*t,” showrunners Shannon Lee, Justin Lin, and Jonathan Tropper, channel the spirit of The Hateful Eight in a wonderful and violent perfect one-hour of television.
With last episode not throwing any big punches, but setting up the scene with Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) getting intimate with Penelope Blake (Joanna Vanderham), the duck he saved and got imprisoned for, and Mai Ling’s ruthlessness taking center stage, while Big Bill’s (Kieran Bew) gambling causes big problems. While episode four was slow, “The Blood and the Sh*t” is a ride that builds through personal conversations and laying out the world of the Old West, racism and all, and then explodes into a high octane stand-off the rivals scenes in feature-length films.
We finally get to see more emotional build between Ah Sahm and Young Jun (Jason Tobin) beyond wisecracking and violence. As the two of them sit in a stagecoach, escorting a body back to San Francisco from Nevada for Father Jun, the audience is reminded that our two charismatic leads are seen as not even human by the white settlers, although a priest traveling with them attempts to defend them.
The stagecoach scene is wonderfully executed, building tension between people from different lives, a racist cowboy, a priest, two rich ducks, and our guys share a small space and the tension is clear. “Blood and the Sh*t” is a pure Western but it isn’t a Western fantasy, highlighting the everyday racism that is thrown towards Chinese and Chinese Americans at the time.
The way this is executed does an amazing job at using language, and highlighting how people get worse when they think that Ah Sahm and Young Jun don’t understand English, but they do. The use of language in this show is revolutionary and something I want to see brought to other series, as I said in my review of episode one. When the camera is on our main characters, they speak in English, no accent. But when we hear them in the background and the camera is on the faces of the white Americans we hear the two speak Cantonese, and when Young Jun speaks English, it is with an accent. This simple style gives agency to Ah Sahm and Young Jun, allowing the audience to immediately understand them without subtitles but beyond that, highlights that they are an American story, regardless of language spoken or heard.
As the stagecoach stops in a town, we get to see more into the dynamic and relationship between Ah Sahm and Young Jun and beyond the show’s use of language, we get a look into Young Jun’s identity which showcases the struggle of many first-generation children in America, stuck in the middle of two cultures. Although the show is set in the Old West, the 1800s, not feeling like you are enough in a cultural sense is still pervasive today for those of us who are not seen as American because of the color of our skin, the language of our parents, or their status as immigrants.
Over drinks, Young Jun explains after seeing Ah Sahm bond with the owner over their villages in China, “I’m a Chinaman who has never been to China. I was born in San Francisco, but I’m sure, not fucking American. I don’t belong anywhere.”
Warrior more so than any other show I have seen on television highlights the importance of non-white Americans in the history of the United States. As a period piece focused on the experience of Chinese and Chinese Americans it does so much to show that narratives our country loves, like Westerns are not inherently white. In fact, as a woman whose family has been in the United States for generations, Young Jun’s issues with identity hits home. I don’t speak Spanish fluently, I’ve never been to Mexico, but yet the country and its histories, fictitious or not remove the existence of my community despite American cowboys being an appropriation of Mexican vaquero culture.
All of this is to say is that in one scene, the episode built emotional depth for the audience, and gave us insight into a character that has just been violence and jokes up until this point. This is furthered by his intimate scene with Wankeia (Rachel Colwell), a Native American woman that he feels connected to by their identities as strangers in their own lands. Young Jun has had sex scenes before, and they were intense and sexy, but this one is intimate, a communication with words and beautifully directed and acted.
Outside of the Young Jun’s character development, the show hits the gas pedal on the Old West when a group of thieves come to the saloon they are staying at. Quickly, the episode becomes The Hateful Eight, with the racist cowboy taking a bullet to the head. From that point, the action is intense and as always, thoughtfully choreographed and visually executed with perfection. The transition from what could easily be a saloon brawl turns into a standoff that rivals any action sequence ever put on television, and outshines anything put forward by other western television shows like Hell on Wheels.
As “The Blood and the Sh*t” moves more and more into the Western genre we see our guys, specifically Young Jun taking on the identity of a gunslinger, picking up a holster and adding guns to his weapons and not just using his hatchet. Lite by fire, the final action sequences of the episode are gorgeous, blood and all, a mixture of the quick martial arts we have grown accustomed to so far from this season and a true Old West shoot-out.
Outside of exciting and well-executed action, the final scenes are enhanced by the costuming and the music used. With the Hop Wei suits already distinguishing them from the gunslingers they’re fighting, when their jackets are stripped off the red of their vests adds a flare to the fight and makes them more identifiable in the large fight sequence.
On music, the episode is punctuated by the sounds of the West, but the music switches to a rock track that uses Western inspiration and makes the shootout intense. The use of bells and trumpets mark the genre of the episode and the show as a whole. It must also be said that the final image of two Chinese gangsters turning into full-fledged cowboys, hats and all riding off into the sunset with traditional Western movie closing title card and trumpets capped off the best hour of television I’ve seen this year so far.
Warrior is singlehandedly breathing life into the Old West and taking great care to develop its characters to more than just action stars. Overall, “Blood and the Sh*t” is a stunning example of the talents of Andrew Koji and Jason Tobin as fighters, actors, and stars. To say that I am excited for the rest of the season is an understatement. With the trailer for episode six teasing the explosion of the Tong Wars, I can’t wait to jump back into Chinatown, with our two cowboys.
Warrior airs every Friday on Cinemax at 10/9 CST.
Warrior, Episode 5 - The Blood and the Sh*t
“Blood and the Sh*t” is a stunning example of the talents of Andrew Koji and Jason Tobin as fighters, actors, and stars. To say that I am excited for the rest of the season is an understatement.
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.