This Warrior review contains spoilers.
Warrior Season 2 Episode 6 heads for the Mexican border for a No Holds Barred tournament that has been teased all season long. Apart from Ah Toy’s (Olivia Cheng) trips to Nellie’s (Miranda Raison) Sonoma winery in the previous episode, Warrior seldom leaves San Francisco except for one notable exception – Season 1 Episode 5: “The Blood and the Sh*t.” That was an outlier tale where Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) and Young Jun (Jason Tobin) were transporting a coffin and got trapped by bandits in a desert saloon with several bystanders.
With undertones of The Seven Samurai, it was an homage to spaghetti westerns, complete with a classic ride into the sunset and even a “The End” credit. It was one of the best episodes of Season 1, almost a standalone story because it did nothing to advance the overarching tale, while this new episode is pivotal to Season 2 with a the resolution to last episode’s problems and as well as a major death.
On the recommendation of Vega (Maria Elena Lass), Ah Sahm enters a tournament hosted by Elijah Rooker (Conor Mullen) in his compound near the Mexican border. It feels like an homage to Mr. Han’s tournament in Enter the Dragon, although only faintly. There’s a whole genre of martial arts films that center around ‘underground’ tournament arenas, from classics like Kickboxer and Mortal Kombat to this year’s Double World.
These are all in the wake of Enter the Dragon and they all pale by comparison. The arena cliché is a simple device that sets up plenty of gratuitous fight scenes, just what a martial arts film needs. Season 2 introduced the Barbary Coast Fight Pit and Vega, and this episode is the climax of that story arc.
And stereotypically, the fighters must disarm to enter the arena compound. Young Jun reluctantly surrenders his double daggers to the gatekeeper. Later when Rooker welcomes the fighters to his tournament, it feels like a missed opportunity not to have referenced Mr. Han’s welcoming speech more overtly. The tone is so similar. It should have ended with “Gentlemen, you have our gratitude.”
Ah Sahm and Young Jun hope that Ah Sahm can win the prize purse to cover the opium lost in the Mercer Steel firebombing. Hong (Chen Tang) joins them and the delicious chemistry between the trio of Hop Wei gangsters is so satisfying. This threesome’s buddy dynamics is one of the best aspects of Season 2. While Ah Sahm focuses on the fights, Young Jun stresses over the magnitude of their risks but soon succumbs to the prostitute delights of the border town.
Meanwhile Hong, who’s just along for the ride, indulges himself by gorging on burritos, chips, and salsa. It’s their first taste of Mexican food and they all love it. Hong is still the newbie, but observant and injects just the right amount of humor into it all. He immerses in American culture and jealously eyes some garish cowboy boots.
Enter the Arena
The outstanding cameo is UFC Middleweight champion Michael Bisping, who plays a rival fighter named Dolph. Having martial celebrity cameos is exactly what any martial arts TV show should do. Most MMA champs have failed to crossover to movies and TV. Just because someone can fight doesn’t mean that they have any dramatic charisma. However Bisping has shown that he can play a convincing heavy in films like xXx: The Return of Xander Cage and Triple Threat, as well as in TV shows like Magnum P.I., MacGyver, and Dark Matter.
Dolph literally bumps into Ah Sahm in a bar, sparking their rivalry. Vega breaks them up before things get ugly. Then at the tournament, Dolph viciously defeats his opponents in two fights before Ah Sahm competes, all the while giving him the stink eye. Those two fights are well choreographed, showcasing Bisping’s power and building anticipation for the showdown between him and Ah Sahm.
But that showdown is anticlimactic. After fostering so much tension, Ah Sahm drops Dolph with one kick to the head. It is reminiscent of Tony Jaa’s breakout tournament scene in Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior. But for what it’s worth, that kick was real.
As Koji says about the scene “…he [Bisping] took that kick like the absolutely man, multiple times, to his face and there was no ego about it. He knew that he was part of helping Bruce Lee’s story come to life. I’ve got the upmost respect for someone like him who can put himself in the room and literally put his life on line.”
The following fights are Ah Sahm’s time to shine with a quick succession of different bouts. He faces down an acrobatic Capoeirista, a high-kicking wushu warrior, and a clawing fighter with nails that leave four finger scratches across Ah Sahm’s chest, just like Mr. Han’s prosthetic claw hand left on Lee in Enter the Dragon. It’s an extra helping of ultraviolence, just what Bruce Lee fans are craving.
If that wasn’t enough, there are more fights outside of the arena. The ever-observant Hong notices three guys stalking Ah Sahm, so he tails them into the village outside Rooker’s compound. To protect Ah Sahm, Hong takes the three stalkers out with his trusty whip chain in another dark alley fight. It’s a nice fight – Chen Tang switches from charming to psycho with a flip of his bangs. After the fight, Hong is rewarded by securing those cowboy boots he wanted.
The stalkers that Hong dispatched had been following Vega and Ah Sahm. There’s been a simmering sexual tension for the whole season between the two. In this episode, Ah Sahm makes a move and Vega replies “We’re not going to do this.” Ah Sahm replies “For a moment there, it felt like we were.” But this is Skinemax so it’s going to go there. At the doorstep to Vega’s room, the couple reverses those lines and they finally hook up. Vega asks him to leave the Hop Wei and start fresh with her.
The next day, Rooker and his wife Marisol (Maria Elisa Carmargo) have Ah Sahm and Vega over for to lunch. Rooker asks Ah Sahm if he might stay to train his men in Kung Fu but Ah Sahm politely declines. The Vega reveals that this was all a plot to take revenge. Rooker killed her father with a special high caliber custom-made revolver. When Vega asks to examine it, Rooker’s right hand man unloads it. But Vega has smuggled in the bullet in her pendant and shoots Rooker dead. Ah Sahm is furious at being used, but he and Vega must escape. He grabs some knives off the lunch table for Young Jun, finds him and Hong and fight their way out. However, they are outgunned and captured. Some marshals arrest them and cart them away to Sacramento in a horse-drawn cage.
However, it’s another ruse. The marshals are imposters, set up by Marisol, who is Vega’s sister and now inherits Rooker’s compound. In the middle of the desert, all is explained, and the Hop Wei gangsters are released with their weapons returned. Vengeance is served. Then out of nowhere, Rooker’s righthand man shoots Vega. Young Jun dispatches him with his throwing dagger. As Vega dies, Ah Sahm comforts her by saying he would’ve stayed with her. Despite the imminent arrival of the real marshals, they have time to bury Vega.
It’s a tragic death scene leaving us to wonder if that’s the last we’ll see of the Barbary Coast Fight Pit. Marisol gives Young Jun the money he needs to cover the lost opium. The Hop Wei threesome return to Chinatown to face and expectant Father Jun, who confronts them and demands an explanation for their recent shenanigans.