With Warrior Season Two premiering this Friday, The Beat spoke with one of its leading actresses, Dianne Doan on what we can look forward to for the Sophomore season. Doan plays Mai Ling, the head of the Long Zii Tong and sister of Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji). In the world of Warrior, Mai Ling is easily one of the most powerful people in Chinatown, but she’s had to sacrifice a lot to get there.
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. Mai Ling feels like one of those departures that really helped to fill out this story about the Tong Wars in 1870’s San Francisco, a chapter of American history rarely touched on.
“I had heard of the Tongs, and there’s the Yakuza in the Japanese culture, it’s a very similar story in a lot of different cultures,” Doan explained. “I feel like Warrior shed light on — yes, the Asian American immigrant experience in America — but also how what happened in our lives, as much as it’s not showed, is very relatable to other cultures and other walks of life.”
She continued, “When you signed on to the show; Bruce Lee had written it, Shannon Lee, his daughter, is producing it. We didn’t really get a glimpse of what it really was until we were filming it and how important it is right now for our community to be seen. Yeah, it’s such an amazing project to be part of and I’m so proud of it.”
Last season, we saw Mai Ling planning from the shadows behind her husband, Long Zii (Henry Yuk), survive assassins, and ultimately ascend to the head of her Tong. It was a joy to see characters like Mai Ling, as well as Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng), given room to grow, change, and develop. For Ah Sahm, Mai Ling was a lodestone, his impetus for coming to America. His goal was always to ‘save’ her, not knowing that not only did she not need his saving but had found a place where she could thrive.
Dianne Doan touched on this and fine-tuning Mai Ling alongside showrunner Jonathan Tropper. She said that although Tropper wrote the scenes, “it was very much in my hands. I would come to him, we worked on our backstory, what Mai Ling has gone through. The really beautiful thing is, it’s a collaborative effort.” Doan went onto say that if something didn’t feel right, she was encouraged to go and speak with him about it.
“But it was really important for me to do a lot of research on that era and what women had in front of them. Their education, or lack thereof, their jobs, how they were seen in society,” she continued. “Coming into San Francisco, most of the time the women were either the wives of very affluent men or traders. But if you weren’t, you would be in the brothel.” For Mai Ling, it is all about escaping this fate. So, by the time she arrives in Chinatown, Doan says, “It was a point of, ‘I will never get there, I will never be there again, I will never need anyone again.'”
At the end of Season One, Mai Ling made some momentous choices. One key choice ended up fracturing her relationship with Ah Sahm during the fight in episode 9 “Chinese Boxing,” when was ready to watch Li Yong (Joe Taslim) fight Ah Sahm to the death. I wondered if this was the answer to the question on whether Mai Ling would choose power over family and asked Doan what she thought.
“If she could have her way, she would have both. Ultimately, she chooses power because of what it gives. That is her comfort zone, to know that she’s okay. To own other people. Of course, that means she would have to own her brother; she wants her brother to be on her side,” Dianne Doan explained. “By the end of season one that relationship is fractured and that guilt going into season two really takes a toll on Mai Ling. She goes out of her way to try to mend that relationship and ultimately, Ah Sahm, he’s seen her for her true colors. There’s no going back for him.”
In regards to what we have to look forward to for Season Two, Mai Ling is stepping in fully as the leader of the Long Zii Tong, but that comes with a heavy burden. “I feel like Mai Ling really takes off right where we left off in Season One, having just taken [the role of leader] for herself but also the decisions that she made for Ah Sahm,” Doan said. “There’s a lot of guilt involved in my choices for my relationship with Ah Sahm. Throughout Season Two, I feel like as soon as Mai Ling got hold of that power, it kind of released something in her: the need for more power.”
Dianne Doan expressed some concern for Mai Ling in the upcoming season. “In my opinion, she goes too far. And there are points when I would talk to some of the writers being like, ‘Is where she’s going? Like, is this too much? People around her, maybe Li Yong, the audience… You know, is it gonna be too much for the audience as well?'”
“It’s funny, because, in many people’s eyes, she is the villain of the show, but playing her I don’t think she’s the villain. So, it is a progression [on] having this power and finding her place within it,” Doan explained.
Although Mai Ling has had to make some hard choices and definitely has made mistakes, it’s not too much to hope that perhaps she will be redeemed, or perhaps her relationship with her brother will be mended, right? However, it sounds like we’re not through the storm yet for Mai Ling. But given Mai Ling’s connection to Ah Sahm, her role as leader of the Long Zii, her secret alliance with Buckley (Langley Kirkwood), and her desire for power, she’s going to be one to watch for Warrior Season Two.
Warrior Season Two premieres this Friday, October 2, 2020 on Cinemax.