INTERVIEW: Ah Toy, Power, and ‘Warrior’ with Olivia Cheng

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Olivia Cheng
Olivia Cheng as Ah Toy in Warrior Season One

Cinemax’s Warrior was one of my favorite series last year as a fan and as a critic. Based on an original concept by Bruce Lee, the show was created by Jonathan Tropper and Justin Lin and blends drama, the Old West, and martial arts. Set during the Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the second half of the 19th century. it follows martial arts prodigy Ah Sahm, a Chinese immigrant who arrives in the City of Lights under mysterious circumstances. Once he proves his prowess as a fighter, Sahm becomes a hitman for one of Chinatown’s most powerful organized crime families. That said, while Ah Sahm is the central character of Warrior, he is surrounded by powerful female characters that push the story of the series farther and offer up a look at the intersections of race, gender, and class. This is no truer than in Ah Toy, the most powerful businesswoman in Chinatown, who just so happens to be a madam. Portrayed by Olivia Cheng, Ah Toy is a powerful woman who understands how the world sees her, both within her Chinese American community and among the white men she deals with.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak with Olivia Cheng before the launch of Warrior Season 2. In this interview, we discuss the series’ relevancy during the current rise of anti-Asian hate crimes and how the series introduces audiences to Asian American history. Warrior does this in multiple ways, but referencing specifical historical moments to Ah Toy herself, a character based on a real woman of the same name. A self-proclaimed history buff, Cheng explains how she knew the history of San Francisco ahead of shooting the series, but dove even further into by learning more about Ah Toy, of which there isn’t much written from her perspective.

In this interview, Cheng maps out Ah Toy’s power and how she uses her intelligence of how the world sees her to her advantage, putting on a mask for the public, and using the limited tools that society has given her – namely, her beauty. To explain the point, we dive into the costumes of Warrior and how Ah Toy embodies high fashion and stands at the center of each scene. While the most powerful in the show, she doesn’t push away any of her femininity and instead wields it like a weapon. That said, Ah Toy is also a formidable swordswoman and exacts justice through violence when pushed into it. This sets her apart from other characters on the show.

Finally, Cheng explains the importance of Warrior to representation and storytelling overall.  Hit play on the audio above to hear our full interview with Olivia Cheng and dive even further into Ah Toy and the world of Warrior.

With the series entering its final season with the dissolution of Cinemax, there is hope for a third season via a petition started by fans which can be found here. Season 2 of Warrior airs October 2, 2020 on Cinemax. You can follow Olivia Cheng at @ThatOliviaCheng on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with her projects and her work on the series.

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