Based on a concept by Bruce Lee, Max’s (formerly on Cinemax) ‘Warrior’ is a martial arts Crime drama series set against the backdrop of the Tong Wars in the 1870s in San Francisco. Mai Ling (Dianne Doan), whose original name is Xiaojing, is a Chinese immigrant who came to the US to escape from her abusive warlord husband. Once in San Francisco, she married the leader of Long Zii tong, quickly gaining his trust and becoming a high-ranking member of the group. When she discovers that her younger brother, Ah Sahm, has come looking for her and joined the rival tong Hop Wei, she becomes furious and tells him to go back to China. Their relationship only deteriorates as the series progresses, with Mai Ling ordering the death of her brother at one point. If the historical setting of ‘Warrior’ has made you wonder whether Mai Ling was a real tong leader, here is what we know.
Is Mai Ling Based on a Real Tong Leader?
No, Mai Ling doesn’t seem to be based on a real tong leader. ‘Warrior’ was developed from an eight-page pitch created by Bruce Lee in the early 1970s. The project was named ‘Ah Sahm’ and was supposed to revolve around the eponymous character as he travels across the American West. Like Ah Sahm in ‘Warrior,’ this Ah Sahm from Lee’s pitch took part in the Tong Wars. But the project never materialized. Sometime later, ‘Kung Fu,’ starring David Carradine, came out, and it had an eerily similar concept.
Doan initially declined when the creators of the show requested an audition through her manager. “If I’m being completely honest, I hadn’t heard of the show when they approached my manager about an audition,” Doan said in an interview with Collider. “At first, there was not much in the breakdown. My character breakdown was, ‘Female lead, and sister to Ah Sahm,’ but I didn’t know who Ah Sahm was. I said no to the project, at first, because I was hesitant. At the bottom of the audition, it said, ‘Must be comfortable with nudity or simulated sex,’ and usually, whenever I see that, I just pass on the audition because it’s a big indication, especially for Asian women, that maybe I’ll just be the girlfriend, or a character that may not necessarily have a strong arc in the show. I passed on it and I was okay with that.”
The actress explained that she continued with her life, but something kept bothering her, making her wonder what the project was really about. “… I decided to Google, ‘Warrior for Cinemax,’ and as soon as I hit search, it was Bruce Lee’s story, with Shannon Lee and Justin Lin attached, and how it found its home at Cinemax with Jonathan Tropper [series creator],” Doan said. “I was floored. You’re right, there hasn’t been anything like it on television, so of course, I went crawling back to my manager and said, ‘Let’s just try to get all of the information,’ because we had so little. That’s when I got the chance to sit down with Jonathan on Skype, and I asked him all of my questions like, what is Mai Ling’s arc? Who is she, in the story? Where do you see her going? Of course, I wanted to hear about the actual show, itself, and they were able to send me the pilot. It would have been silly not to even try to be a part of such a great time in television, especially for representation.”
Although she is fictional, Mai Ling is an exceptional character. She killed her second husband to take over Long Zii, and in season 3, she continues to expand her power and influence by forcing other tongs to submit to her. Her relationship with her brother remains strained, and they both know they will inevitably face each other at some point in the future.