“The Chinese Connection” continues to set the stage for an explosive second season, and delivers a couple of strong action sequences for good measure.
This recap of Warrior season 2, episode 2, “The Chinese Connection”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
On balance, Warrior is quite a bit more complex than most would probably give it credit for. It’s a period drama and a gang saga with sprinklings of murder-mystery, institutional corruption, racism, and politics – at the intersection of all these things, it’s an homage to Bruce Lee and classic martial arts cinema, which is why the fights in this show are so important. “The Chinese Connection” has two big ones, and there’s plenty of story and character development bundled up in both. Last week, I expressed some reservations about whether the quality of the choreography could really speak for itself, but here we see it is just good enough to speak for the fighters involved and the narrative they’re embroiled in.
The build-up to the first big fight incorporates criminal dodgy-dealing and history, as Ah Sahm’s new manager, Vega, introduces him and Young Jun to a new molasses connection – an African known as Happy Jack (Nat Rambulana). The deal goes wrong and a fight obviously erupts, this one a long-take showcase, mostly for Young Jun. It isn’t a patch on Oldboy or even the sequences that paid homage to it in all three seasons of Marvel’s Daredevil, but it works on the same principles and is still better than most of the fight sequences you see on television.
The fight also means complications for the Hop Wei when it comes to storing copious amounts of opium, which end up being hidden clandestinely at Mercer Steel after Penny hires the Hop Wei to protect her coolie workers from the Irish. There’s obviously a very fragile balance at play here. Gang activity is causing enough of a problem for the police as it is, even without the fact that O’Hara has his own obligation to the Fung Hai Tong and Zing. Ah Sahm, Ah Toy, and Lai’s vigilante sword killings are leaving the cops with plenty of mess to clean up, and Leary’s demolition of a factory that employed coolies has provided plenty of rubble to sift through. In these early stages of Season 2, “The Chinese Connection” is putting in a lot of groundwork to build very unstable foundations for this version of San Francisco.
It doesn’t help that the cops tasked with maintaining law and order in that San Francisco seem just as likely to contribute to its decline. O’Hara is reluctantly corrupt – and his wife, Lucy, is becoming increasingly aware – and Lee is addicted to laudanum. Neither are bad men, per se, at least not entirely, but they’re trying to keep an impossible peace in a town dirty enough that nobody can live there without picking up some of its grime.
The historical basis of Warrior always complements it; details such as Africans trying to move into a drug trade dominated – like everything else at the time – by the British is a neat detail. But here in Warrior season 2, episode 2, the socio-political undercurrent reads differently given contemporary anti-immigrant furor and anti-Chinese sentiment especially, given a certain Commander-in-Chief’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Warrior wasn’t filmed recently enough to be making a deliberate commentary on the latter, although it could be read as one. But what it has to say about inherent prejudice is as relevant now as it always has been – a depressing state of affairs.
This is, perhaps, why Warrior continues to become more outlandish in its use of music and costuming, giving a sense of the fantastical and stylized right in the midst of a distressingly real-seeming setting and era. There’s an increasing sexiness to this show that isn’t an accident; Ah Toy seems outfitted to steal every scene just by walking down some stairs, and the camera is as eager to showcase her as it is to properly highlight the action in the fight sequences. “The Chinese Connection” introduces Nellie Davenport (Miranda Raison) as something of a foil for Ah Toy; based on a real historical figure, she’s dedicated to rescuing Chinese women from prostitution, so will inevitably fall foul of the whorehouse madame.
Anyway, at the top I mentioned one other big fight, which occurs close to the end of “The Chinese Connection” and is proof of what I’ve said several times in the past about how much better an action scene is when there are real martial artists performing in it. Joe Taslim, late of The Raid and other actioners both in his native Indonesia and Hollywood, is endlessly enjoyable to watch in motion. His Li Yong is dispatched by Mai Ling to settle matters between a rival Tong, and it ends up kicking off because of Zing (Dustin Nguyen is also a capable martial artist, for what it’s worth). This is the scene of the season so far, though it’s early days yet, and it’s no coincidence that Ah Sahm is kept well away from it. The first season set up and then culminated in Ah Sahm and Li Yong fighting. Here in the second season, Ah Sahm’s character development is predicated on him recovering from his loss and bettering himself so that he can eventually defeat his rival. But with Li Yong’s seemingly wavering loyalty, are we building towards a rematch or a team-up? Luckily, it should be awesome either way.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.