Shannon Lee revealed new details about how she helped adapt her father Bruce Lee's writing into the Cinemax original series Warrior in an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com. Lee found an eight-page treatment for a TV show in her father's journals, which she and fellow executive producer Justin Lin then developed into the acclaimed martial arts drama we see today. Lee gave us more details on what that treatment looked like and how it was updated.
"So, my father had created this treatment, now that we're in 2021, I guess about 51 years ago... and he had pitched it to Warner Bros.," Lee explained. "It is typewritten — 'cause that's what existed back then — but also annotated a little bit. He took some colored pencils and underlined certain words and things like that, as he liked to do for emphasis. That was sort of the official treatment that he pitched, but there are several drafts of the treatment — some handwritten, some more typed — [and] a number of notes as well, about his research and his intent, and playing around with different characters and different ideas, things like that."
Bruce Lee's original pitch in the 1970s got him nowhere, though in her memoir Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, his widow Linda Lee Cadwell claimed that Warner Bros. and Paramount used his ideas to create the 1972 series Kung Fu, starring David Carradine. Author Tom Bleecker later wrote a book called Unsettled Matters: The Life and Death of Bruce Lee, where sources close to Warner Bros. told him that the concept had been developed independently and that Lee couldn't be cast because of his accent.
In any case, Bruce Lee's vision has been brought to life today in Warrior, through a process of updating and expanding that Shannon Lee revealed. She continued: "Although that eight-page treatment is sort of the nucleus of the whole thing, there were some supporting materials as well... You know, an eight-page treatment does not a multi-season show make. So while the treatment did have a lot of the themes, the characters, the setting, some plot points and things like that, we really had to rely on a lot of research."
The research is not only extensive but sometimes obscure, delving into the Chinese immigrant subculture of the late 19th century that laws and social pressures sought to suppress. Lee credited head writer and showrunner Jonathan Tropper with bringing this lost world to life. She also felt that the historical accuracy and the unflinching look at the Chinese Exclusion Act were especially important to her father in his creative vision.
"My father specifically wanted to set the show during this time," she said. "My father was very focused on telling Chinese stories, and this is a Chinese-American story that takes place during two significant, true cultural, historical events, which are the Tong wars of San Francisco Chinatown and the Chinese Exclusion Act. So, while those things were in his notes, and in various drafts of the treatment, we wanted to make sure we really developed that out, and those tensions were really present in the drama of the show."
The result is two acclaimed seasons of Warrior, which are available now on HBO Max. However, Cinemax has stopped producing original content altogether, which means that Warrior is in need of a new home. Lin recently posted a plea on Twitter for fans to share the series and help get the word out, hoping for a renewal on HBO Max. So far, there have been no updates on the process.