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Interview: Chen Tang on the newest member of the Hop Wei on Cinemax’s WARRIOR

From auditioning for the role to his character's back story and fighting style, actor Chen Tang reveals all!

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Chen Tang - Photograph by David Bloomer/Cinemax

Now that Warrior Season Two has officially kicked off, this week’s episode “Now How We Do Business” brings newcomer Hong to the Tong, played by Chen Tang (Mulan, Fresh Off The Boat). Described as an “enthusiastic recruit with a secret,” Hong is a new member of the Hop Wei Tong. The Beat spoke with Tang on his character’s entry into this season of Warrior and how he approached playing this new arrival.

Warrior is based on a script by Bruce Lee, with his daughter, Shannon Lee, serving as one of the executive producers. It’s come far from Lee’s original script, though it is continuously influenced by it.

“This part of history is never talked about,” Chen Tang emphasizes, as we discuss the history that surrounds Warrior. “To bring attention [to] and live in that part of the world, at that time [with] Chinese American history and race relations, to me, that’s one of the big things that I want people to take away from the show. We want to see this section of history that nobody talks about, you can barely read a paragraph about it in history class.”

When auditioning for the character, Tang proved to the producers that he was able to bring something unique to this character. Recalling the process, Tang said, “The producers told me,’Yeah, you know what? We’re gonna be real with you. We weren’t sure what we were looking for. We just wanted somebody who could bring what they brought and you did.'”

“They gave me so, so much to work with. And sometimes when you have like too big of a palette, you have to start picking and choosing which ones you want,” he continued. “What immediately jumped out at me was I wanted to know [what kind of] world I came from, because I’m sort of fresh-off-the-boat like [that’s how] I’m introduced into the season. And so [Hong] comes from China — but I’m a history geek myself, so I love digging into the history — and I know that [in] that time period, it was basically hell on earth. It was just violence, and war, and warlords, and poverty, and famine. Now to come from this world and enter a completely new alien world, that immediately for me, personally, it jumped out as weirdly exciting. And one of the things that I really wanted to bring into Hong was a sense of hope and humor.”

Chen Tang –
Photograph by David Bloomer/Cinemax
Despite a troubled past, Chen Tang imagined a character that was a far cry from Andrew Koji‘s brooding Ah Sahm. “I immediately had this image of like a stray dog, a stray street dog. Actually, a golden retriever. And imagine if you were a golden retriever, but you were a stray, and you were hungry all the time. You’ve been beaten, and you’re just trying to survive, [so] you learn to be vicious and scrappy and hungry to survive. But at your heart, you’re still a golden retriever. You’re still that happy-go-lucky dog, you know? And you can’t shake that.”

For many of the characters on Warrior, the version of the character that we meet is one half of a whole. All of the Chinese characters have their own origin story, their own reason for crossing the Pacific Ocean, and arriving in San Francisco. When I asked Tang about Hong’s past life in China, he replied, “I’ve imagined one, because they didn’t give it to us. Honestly working with Warrior, and HBO and Cinemax, and the producers, I cannot tell you how much creative freedom they give you. Artists dream of that. The first thing Jonathan Tropper told me was, ‘You create what you want, we give you full freedom, and we’ll meet you halfway.'”

Our first impression of Hong immediately sets him apart from the other two prominent members of the Hop Wei. Alongside Ah Sahm and Jason Tobin‘s Young Jun, Hong is a picture of cheeriness. He not only navigates a new world with a smile on his face, but he keeps that smile on his face even as he takes on multiple opponents during a street fight. Hong is confronted with rival gangsters in “Not How We Do Business” and surprises both Young Jun and Ah Sahm with his fighting skill.

Jason Tobin, Andrew Koji – Photograph by David Bloomer/Cinemax

Chen Tang informed me that it was always planned to have Hong fight with a weapon. After some discussion with showrunner Jonathan Tropper and stunt coordinator Brett Chan, it was decided that the weapon would be a chain weapon. “And my imagination just latches on the things, and I go to town with it, I run off with it,” Tang explained. “That means a lot to me, for my life. […] The martial arts that you choose, or the way that you confront things, is basically the way you move through life. It gives me a lot of clues about the character. And as [they] created this weapon, I got images of circles. Hong is very, very circular.”

“And this weapon, I actually have created a whole backstory about it, because this weapon was given to me. It’s a very unique weapon, you know, it’s like a necklace. And it’s very innocuous, very innocuous. It looks like a decoration and it’s quite beautiful when you wear it, but, when it comes out, you could do a lot of damage with it. And, that is the soul of who Hong is.”
Tang used the chain he was given as a way to develop more of Hong’s backstory. “I learned how to fight with a chain weapon. Actually, in Wushu and martial arts, it is a very advanced weapon; they call it a soft weapon because you could actually hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing with it. And I was trained by a master who actually taught me the importance of height and the importance of how to use circles to get around the opponent. It really came out of my life as a street kid. The first thing you think of [is] you either get a bat or a knife. Or I chose a chain because it’s something that can be hidden.”
Of course, it’s not just the revelation of Hong’s fighting skill that came with this episode’s introduction. When Young Jun and Ah Sahm take Hong to the brothel, we learn that Hong is not heterosexual in a brief scene. “My sexuality is such a huge part of who I am,” said Chen Tang, in reference to Hong. “And it’s funny because it’s all tied into his character. My reaction [to his sexuality] was just one of joy when I read that in the character, there was just joy. And the reason it was joy was that, not only is it something that’s important for representation, but also on a creative level, it gives you such an incredible place to jump off from.”
He continued, “Because imagine, I am from the Qing Dynasty in China. You know, that’s not okay, that’s not something you can just parade around. And also, I’m in a Tong, I’m a gangster, I’m a fighter. So it’s not exactly that I let it be known. [It’s] that essence of hiding; the essence of hiding who you were. And because I’m coming to this alien land where nobody knows me, it’s something completely different from this hellhole that I was in for my whole life. [I had] been struggling, and fighting, and just scraping by. I finally feel free, and that, to me, is joyful. And that’s honestly where a lot of the joy comes from and a lot of the humor comes from.”

It is exciting to see a new member of the Hop Wei enter into the mix (especially one that can hold his own against the Fung Hai) and also to see a new trio forming between Ah Sahm, Young Jun, and Hong. I can’t wait to see how the season unfolds with this new addition to the series.

Catch Warrior Season Two on Cinemax, Fridays at 10 ET/11PT.

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