Portrayed by Olivia Cheng, Ah Toy is one of the main characters in Max’s (formerly on Cinemax) martial arts crime drama series ‘Warrior.’ When the show begins, she is already a wealthy and influential woman in Chinatown of San Francisco. Ah Toy is one of the few individuals that Ah Sahm quickly grows close to after arriving in the US. She runs a brothel in Chinatown, which gives her access to the rich and powerful of her neighborhood and beyond. It is also revealed that she is an extremely talented wielder of the dao, going out in the night to avenge her people. If you are wondering whether Ah Toy is based on a real brothel madam, we got you covered.
Is Ah Toy Based on a Real Brothel Madam?
Yes, Ah Toy is based on a real brothel madam, but she has been heavily fictionalized in ‘Warrior.’ In an interview with Collider, Cheng revealed that she had some reservations about playing Ah Toy. Being an “Asian American history buff,” she had known who Ah Toy was since high school and was interested in the notion of creating a fictionalized version of the historical figure.
When Cheng realized what her character essentially was, she did thorough research. “As soon as I saw her name, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a San Francisco Chinatown project. I wonder if this is a re-imagining of the real Ah Toy,’” the actress said. “When I realized that it was, I went back and looked up everything I could on Ah Toy, and there’s nothing from her point of view. There’s just the urban legend that male historians have put together about her. And what little I was able to get from that, I can certainly understand why she captured the imagination of Jonathan Tropper [series creator] and made it into our show, with our fictionalized version of her.”
Cheng continued, “I certainly revisited some Asian American history, but since I understood so much of it, I didn’t have to research to understand those feelings of being in a place where you’re not wanted, where people are hostile, where people see you as less than human because something about your appearance is not okay for them. Those are themes that I’ve experienced, in my own life. Sometimes that’s not really something you need to delve into a book for. You can draw on experiences you’ve had in your life, to lend to a character. With that said, there are a bunch of Asians in this cast, so there were a lot of history books being passed around amongst us.”
Born on May 18, 1829, in Canton, Guangdong, Qing China, Ah Toy began her travel to the US with her husband. After he perished, she became the lover of the captain of the ship. By the time she disembarked, Ah Toy already had a considerable amount of money because of the gold the captain had given her. She was the first Chinese prostitute in San Francisco. She became an influential madam during the California Gold Rush (1848–1855).
Ah Toy initially opened her business in her shack in what has since become known as Chinatown. It grew as more girls began arriving from China. She moved her business to a larger house on an ally named Pike Street, which would become a hub for prostitution and Tong Wars for the next few decades. Ah Toy was also an agent for other Chinese brothels, attending certain gatherings on behalf of her clientele and picking the most beautiful girls.
Predictably, Ah Toy and her business drew the attention of the San Francisco police. As that continued to escalate, she decided to return to China in 1857 with the considerable fortune she had made. However, she came back two years later. Following another arrest, Ah Toy effectively vanished from history. In the accounts of Charles P. Duane, she is described as tall and well-built. He claims that she is the finest woman he has ever seen. Her death, which happened on February 1, 1928, in San Jose, California, brought her back to public attention. She was 98 years old at the time.