‘Warrior’ Season 3 Review: This Martial Arts Drama Still Packs a Punch


In the opening scene of the strong third season of Warrior, an underrated series picked up by Max after its original home of Cinemax ceased production at the close of its second season, we see the nearly unstoppable Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) eating a solitary meal. He has become a legend of sorts, known for his ability to fight anyone and everyone who dares cross him, but life in late 1800s San Francisco still carries many pains. Even in a moment of supposed peace where he eats, his face is etched in a near scowl as he stoically slurps up a noodle and coolly surveys his environment. While he has conquered foe after foe, there will always be more incoming that he may not. Even if you’re a martial arts prodigy as he is, there are only so many things that you can fight your way out of. Though Ah Sahm has been beaten to the edge of death and comes back almost stronger each time, the grim trajectory of history can’t be so easily punched in the face. It is this tension that is at the heart of this historical epic which, while often overextending itself in piling up a few too many subplots, still makes contact when it counts. In what could very well be its concluding chapter, Warrior increasingly rises to bold new heights.


Billed as being based on the writings of Bruce Lee, there is a beauty in the brutality of seeing Ah Sahm subsequently try to mold the world with the force of his fists. An opening sequence kicks things off with a bang and appropriately sets the tone for what is to come. However, it is the unfolding conflict playing out underneath this that gives the series its weight. The fights can be as spectacular in how they are crafted, with the camera flowing around the characters as they leap through the air and dance around each other to try to gain the upper hand, though eventually, time starts to catch up with each of them. When Ah Sahm first makes mostly short work of the forces of a rival tong, it is as thrilling as it is terrifying to watch him destroy their bodies one after another. He is a real force of nature and he knows it, making the way Koji carries the character before the fight just as important as how he does during. There is a grace that becomes intertwined with the gruesome as bones are broken and limbs severed without remorse. Even when he takes nearly as much as he dishes out, just observing Ah Sahm taking part in this deadly dance remains one of Warrior’s strongest aspects. However, when he does get put back, on his heels, like when he is thrown out a window in this first scene, we soon realize there are forces gathering that could knock him down for good.

RELATED: ‘Warrior’ Season 3: Release Date, Teaser, Cast, and Everything We Know So Far

History and Power Weigh Heavy on ‘Warrior’ Season 3

Andrew Koji as Ah Sahm in Warrior Season 3.
Image via Max

Following this opening scene, the police have begun ruthlessly cracking down on the residents of Chinatown with racist ordinances. This has been putting the squeeze on everyone, meaning Ah Sahm and Young Jun (Jason Tobin) soon realize they will have to find new ways to bring in money. The suppression results in the introduction of a new scheme, resulting in Ah Sahm being confronted with the fact that his tong may not be loved by all. While all this is going on, Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) begins making a new play for power that may upend all of San Francisco as she attempts to secure a future for herself and expand her reach. There are many more components to Season 3, with crisscrossing stories of how corruption and cruelty can be found everywhere, though this is about as much information as ought to be established to avoid spoilers. This is especially true as the web of power, with all the various players trying to either get to the top for protection or escape it altogether, feels like it may end up leading to tragedy from which there is no coming back.

No matter how much blood is shed, history may have other plans. This reality is spoken midway through the season by one of the characters who is locked up and taking stock of his predicament. He remarks that all the immigrants “came looking for the gold mountain only to find a pile of shit.” The “game” being played is rigged, and the best that can be done is to get out in one piece without incurring too many losses. This won’t be so easy with a political campaign driven by xenophobia or a court-supported expansion of a railroad that can steam-roll over anyone who stands in the way of “progress.” Parts of it recall elements of the most recent season of another HBO series. The second season of Perry Mason, which shouldn’t have been its last, was a similarly specific portrait of a period where power can grind up those who are caught in the gears of a cold machine that just keeps grinding on. Even the romance and love each show explores, some of the elements that make life worth living, come under threat from these forces. While Warrior obviously has a great deal more punching and unabashedly fun sequences that tap into this as opposed to scenes in a courtroom, each is united by the fact that an already tenuous chance at justice is always in short supply.

There is a catharsis to watching Ah Sahm try to balance the scales while bringing plenty of complications from his past with him. Though many others view this world as being driven by business above all else, there is part of him that wants to go on a better path. In one episode, he takes justice into his own hands, culminating in an extended fight sequence where the way he dodges and weaves his way to his target is breathtaking to witness. Will this be enough to actually put a stop to the broader injustices playing out elsewhere? Most certainly not, but it is hard to argue with the impact of seeing Ah Sahm lift an already wounded man up in the air and then slam him through a cross.

It is a blunt statement that it is hard not to be wowed by the power of, but it is not one that Warrior considers enough to find salvation amidst all the depravity. For every scene that Ah Sahm and company use individually violent means to try to set things right, there are many more structural acts of violence playing out around them. These happen via discussions in bars and boardrooms, making more explosive moments not always necessary. In one particularly chilling monologue, one Irish character remarks on how they no longer need to attack Chinese workers to drive them away when they can align themselves with those in the halls of power who will do so through political means. Even as these groups actually have much in common, it only makes it all the more unsettling to hear the same character quickly dismiss this with such hollow selfishness. Rather than fight against the real enemy, he directs the downtrodden to fight each other for scraps from the wealthy who couldn’t care less about any of them.

Is Season 3 the End for ‘Warrior?’

Jason Tobin as Young Jun and Chen Tang as Hong in Warrior Season 3.
Image via Max

As for whether Season 3 is the end for these characters, that is very much an open question as there hasn’t been any official confirmation yet on what will happen next for this show. Warrior absolutely could continue on, but it also could just as easily make this a series finale. Considering how upside down the streaming landscape is currently, it is truly anyone’s guess about whether its popularity and critical acclaim will matter in the end. Without giving away any details about precisely how it wraps up, it does feel like this could be the series going out on a high note. With powerful and propulsive sequences that are crossed with haunting reflections on hierarchies of power, Warrior is the absolute best it has ever been.

Even with a few too many subplots, a dynamite ending strips all this away to make the journey a striking one. At the same time as Warrior Season 3 keeps you entertained, there are plenty of moments where it takes a pause to reflect on all the tumult and the toll it has taken on the characters. One conversation near the end, about having fought long enough to know when you are losing, carries with it a fitting and tragic finality that, if it doesn’t signal the end of the series, is most certainly a turning point. There is a good chance many of the developments may leave some reeling, as it takes a darker turn in an already dark world, but the season’s path couldn’t have ended anywhere else. Whether it continues on or not, Warrior is an achievement worth praising.

Rating: B+

The third season of Warrior premieres June 29 on Max.

Las Vegas News Magazine

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