'Warrior' stars Hoon Lee, Olivia Cheng and SA Actor Langley Kirkwood talk about filming in Cape Town

Andrew Koji in a scene from 'Warrior.' (Photo supplied)
Andrew Koji in a scene from 'Warrior.' (Photo supplied)

SPECIAL TV FEATURE: Warrior premieres on Thursday, 4 July on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:10 and will also be available for streaming on Showmax

Cape Town - It started as a rumour that became an urban legend, about an idea for a TV show that the legendary Bruce Lee had pitched in the 70s to a studio that just couldn’t see an Asian man in a lead role (though they could see David Carradine in Kung Fu, which they all of a sudden happened to release).

After his death, Lee’s daughter Shannon found that original pitch amongst his things, but the timing still wasn’t right, and the project was put on ice for another 15 years.

Now, at long last, the team behind Banshee have created an epic new period drama based on Lee’s writings.

Set in San Francisco in the late 1800s, Warrior centres on Ah Sahm, a Chinese immigrant and martial arts protégée who is drawn into the vicious underworld of the brutal tongs.

Both seasons of the show (yes, they’ve already shot season two) were filmed in Cape Town, though we challenge you to spot it. With a powerful cast and all the epic action, gorgeous costumes, smouldering sexiness, and brilliantly-choreographed do-your-father-proud fight scenes your little GOT-deprived heart could ask for, this one looks really good.

The show stars Andrew Koji (Call the Midwife, The Innocents), Olivia Cheng (Arrow, The Flash), Hoon Lee (Banshee, Bosch), Dianne Doan (Vikings, Descendants), Jason Tobin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), Dean Jagger (Game of Thrones), Kieran Bew (Beowulf), and South Africa’s own Langley Kirkwood (Dredd, Banshee, Black Sails).



SA actor Langley Kirkwood spent three years living in LA before coming back to Cape Town to shoot Warrior. During a set visit to the Cape Town Film Studios, he told us the hardest part of spending so much time in LA and in the States was not being with his teenage kids.

"As exciting as LA is from a work point of view, I wasn’t happy, and I knew it, and my kids knew it, and eventually they just said to me, 'We’d rather have you here, making less money, than being over there and making millions and being a superstar.' So I made the decision to come back and spend most of my year here but still fulfil some obligations over there, and I couldn’t be happier.

"It’s really amazing to be part of a project like this and go off and work with amazing people who I love and then come home to people who I love, and live in the city that I love and run up the mountain that I love and just ride my bike and swim in the ocean and do all the stuff that is amazing about living in Cape Town. So, I’m incredibly grateful for this wonderful, wonderful role on this wonderful, amazing, incredible project. It’s definitely a passion project for everyone involved."

The international cast are smitten with the Mother City too, with some of the actors even bringing their family over from the States for the duration of the shoot over two consecutive years.

US actor Hoon Lee, who played devilishly sexy cross-dressing computer hacker/part-time assassin Job in Banshee, is fixer Wang Chao in Warrior. The actor made the most of his time here, going on safaris, visiting the Zeitz MOCAA and various wine estates and even hopping across the border to visit Vic Falls.

“The diversity of environments here is special,” he says. “Drive an hour or two and you can experience a huge variety of activities and sights. Just Cape Town alone though has that sort of density of experience. I mean you could hike the mountain in the morning, paraglide off it and have lunch on the beach all in one go. That's pretty amazing. … Cape Town rewards curiosity.”


But it was the people that made the biggest impression on him. "I've been struck by their generosity, their warmth and their easy-going natures. I've also been impressed by the population's general civic awareness - their knowledge and recall of the city's history, cultural roots and political realities. It's a good lesson for Americans like myself who are sometimes perhaps less informed than we should be," Hoon says.

Canadian actress Olivia Cheng, who plays Chinatown madam Ah Toy, says, "It’s been amazing filming in Cape Town. This isn’t a part of the world that I think I would have come to if not for Warrior. The hospitality’s been incredible. There’s so much to do here, so when there are days off, I mean, I still have a huge bucket list of things I still want to check out!"


But for Olivia, there’s a serious side to shooting here too.

"We are filming a chapter of Asian American history in a country whose civil rights movement has inspired the world, so it’s not lost on us as cast members that, as we bring forward this part of Asian American history, there’s this odd parallel being here, where you can feel Mandela’s presence, where you can hear people talking about growing up in Apartheid or maybe growing up just after it, and just thinking about how maybe our story is a little more topical than we would like it to be."

Much has been said about the shows’ unintended timeliness as an immigration drama in the current global political climate, with refugees and xenophobia regularly making headlines across Europe and America, as well as here in South Africa.

Langley’s character in the show is Walter Buckley. "He’s the deputy mayor and a US civil war veteran with rather Nationalistic ideas about what America should be and how it should be," he explains. "It’s amazing how much this is mirroring the world that we’re living in now and what’s happened here in South Africa with xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment, and obviously, this being an American show and set in the States, what’s going on in the US right now with immigration policy and the White House."

But that’s not the only reason the timing on Warrior is perfect. As Rolling Stone magazine has pointed out, "even if Lee had been able to sell his own script back then, television in the Seventies wasn’t equipped to recreate the past and stage epic martial-arts battles on the scale that Warrior does throughout. This is the right time and place for Lee’s vision to come to thrilling life, even if he’s not around to star in it."

Season one of Warrior premieres on Thursday, 4 July on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:10 and will also be available for streaming on Showmax. Expect high-octane, full-impact fight sequences and explosive martial arts action in this adrenalised, gritty series. Warrior is going to kick it!