Interview: Chen Tang on the newest member of the Hop Wei on Cinemax’s WARRIOR
Now that Warrior Season Two has officially kicked off, this week’s episode “Now How We Do Business” brings newcomer Hong to the Tong, played by Chen Tang (Mulan, Fresh Off The Boat). Described as an “enthusiastic recruit with a secret,” Hong is a new member of the Hop Wei Tong. The Beat spoke with Tang on his character’s entry into this season of Warrior and how he approached playing this new arrival.
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.
“This part of history is never talked about,” Chen Tang emphasizes, as we discuss the history that surrounds Warrior. “To bring attention [to] and live in that part of the world, at that time [with] Chinese American history and race relations, to me, that’s one of the big things that I want people to take away from the show. We want to see this section of history that nobody talks about, you can barely read a paragraph about it in history class.”
When auditioning for the character, Tang proved to the producers that he was able to bring something unique to this character. Recalling the process, Tang said, “The producers told me,’Yeah, you know what? We’re gonna be real with you. We weren’t sure what we were looking for. We just wanted somebody who could bring what they brought and you did.'”
“They gave me so, so much to work with. And sometimes when you have like too big of a palette, you have to start picking and choosing which ones you want,” he continued. “What immediately jumped out at me was I wanted to know [what kind of] world I came from, because I’m sort of fresh-off-the-boat like [that’s how] I’m introduced into the season. And so [Hong] comes from China — but I’m a history geek myself, so I love digging into the history — and I know that [in] that time period, it was basically hell on earth. It was just violence, and war, and warlords, and poverty, and famine. Now to come from this world and enter a completely new alien world, that immediately for me, personally, it jumped out as weirdly exciting. And one of the things that I really wanted to bring into Hong was a sense of hope and humor.”
For many of the characters on Warrior, the version of the character that we meet is one half of a whole. All of the Chinese characters have their own origin story, their own reason for crossing the Pacific Ocean, and arriving in San Francisco. When I asked Tang about Hong’s past life in China, he replied, “I’ve imagined one, because they didn’t give it to us. Honestly working with Warrior, and HBO and Cinemax, and the producers, I cannot tell you how much creative freedom they give you. Artists dream of that. The first thing Jonathan Tropper told me was, ‘You create what you want, we give you full freedom, and we’ll meet you halfway.'”
Our first impression of Hong immediately sets him apart from the other two prominent members of the Hop Wei. Alongside Ah Sahm and Jason Tobin‘s Young Jun, Hong is a picture of cheeriness. He not only navigates a new world with a smile on his face, but he keeps that smile on his face even as he takes on multiple opponents during a street fight. Hong is confronted with rival gangsters in “Not How We Do Business” and surprises both Young Jun and Ah Sahm with his fighting skill.
Chen Tang informed me that it was always planned to have Hong fight with a weapon. After some discussion with showrunner Jonathan Tropper and stunt coordinator Brett Chan, it was decided that the weapon would be a chain weapon. “And my imagination just latches on the things, and I go to town with it, I run off with it,” Tang explained. “That means a lot to me, for my life. […] The martial arts that you choose, or the way that you confront things, is basically the way you move through life. It gives me a lot of clues about the character. And as [they] created this weapon, I got images of circles. Hong is very, very circular.”
It is exciting to see a new member of the Hop Wei enter into the mix (especially one that can hold his own against the Fung Hai) and also to see a new trio forming between Ah Sahm, Young Jun, and Hong. I can’t wait to see how the season unfolds with this new addition to the series.
Catch Warrior Season Two on Cinemax, Fridays at 10 ET/11PT.
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