‘Warrior’ Star Jason Tobin Is More Than A Screen Gangster
— 4 July 2023

‘Warrior’ Star Jason Tobin Is More Than A Screen Gangster

— 4 July 2023
Garry Lu
WORDS BY
Garry Lu

Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow may have been his breakout film, but Cinemax’s Warrior is undoubtedly what secured Jason Tobin the mainstream recognition he rightfully deserved.

For the woefully uninitiated, the Hong Kong native portrays gang leader Young Jun in his third official collaboration with Lin; having reunited with the director for The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift in the years following Better Luck Tomorrow before eventually returning as race engineer Earl for F9 to mark his fourth Lin-helmed project.

And while Warrior has thankfully found both a home and wider audience thanks to HBO Max (now rebranded to just “Max” for whatever reason), there was a moment where the gritty martial arts period drama almost came to a tragically premature end.

“To be completely honest with you, I was really hurt when I heard that Warrior had been cancelled, and I took it personally despite having been in the business for so long and having experienced other disappointments,” Jason Tobin admitted when I prompt him about Cinemax’s decision to axe original programming.

“This one cut deep because we had done everything right. The show was great, we worked our asses off, and we delivered on every count. It just felt wrong that a show that Bruce Lee wrote, that took 50 years to make, could end like this.”

Suffice it to say, those months of creative purgatory looked rather bleak. But Mr Tobin’s optimism would soon be rewarded.

He added: “I still held on to a bit of hope that we might get picked up by another streamer but it was dwindling fast. Fortunately the fans spoke up, signing petitions, and keeping it loved and alive on social media. And behind the scenes, no one had given up on the show: [executive producer] Justin Lin, [show creator] Jonathan Tropper, and [executive producer/daughter of Bruce] Shannon Lee kept pushing, kept fighting.”

INTERVIEW: 'Warrior' Star Jason Tobin Is More Than An A Screen Gangster

“Then season 1 & 2 was launched on HBO Max and that’s when we felt a real shift. We could sense the numbers were way bigger having gone from a small subscription-only cable network like Cinemax to a big streamer in HBO Max.”

“18 months after we had been cancelled, I get a call from Jonathan Tropper, and as soon as I see his name on the caller ID, I knew we had a season 3… I was going back to play Young Jun. We were going back to make Warrior.”

Tobin’s role as Young Jun, the head of San Francisco’s Hop Wei Tong, is unique in that the demands are equally physical and dramatic. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to characterise the Warrior fight sequences as amongst Hollywood’s elite as of this moment (and not just within the realm of television, either).

“Between season 2 and 3, we had the pandemic and l didn’t work a lot so I kept my focus by giving myself personal and physical goals to keep myself sane,” said Jason Tobin.

“I continued to train striking and grappling arts while doing callisthenics and running and then entered a couple of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments when we were allowed to again.”

“For me, martial arts training is as much about getting into the character of Young Jun, as it is about preparing for the choreographed fight scenes. I want to feel like a fighter… a warrior. I want to feel brave and courageous to play him, while I take my licks, too.”

“Once I’m in Cape Town, then the training becomes much more specific to the fights scenes that we’re going to shoot and that’s when I begin working closely with Brett Chan, our stunt coordinator, the stunt team, and Haiyang Zhang my stunt double.”

Warrior season 3 was bigger, badder, and more action packed, which meant more time in the stunt tent. The best thing about that is getting to spend even more time with the people you love to work with. And I love the martial arts and the choreography on Warrior, but it would be all for nothing if it weren’t for the story that our incredible writers create.”

“It’s the story that raises the stakes in those fight scenes… I wanted to know where the relationship between these two brothers, Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) and Young Jun, was going to go. I knew the writers weren’t going to shy away from this conflict and for me as an actor I couldn’t wait to dive right into the fire.”

“In life, we try to avoid conflict, we resist change, and pursue comfort. But in drama we must chase it doggedly and that is something we do really well in Warrior.” 

Parallel to his Warrior-related commitments, taking a page out of co-star Andrew Koji’s book, Jason Tobin has been working with Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight for yet another historical drama about the criminal underworld: A Thousand Blows.

Coming soon to Disney+, this 12-part affair also stars character actor extraordinaire Stephen Graham, and explores the illegal boxing scene of Victorian London through the lens of best friends Hezekiah Moscow (Malachi Kirby) and Alec Munroe (Francis Lovehall); who arrive from the sunny shores of Jamaica.

Tobin explained: “On the surface, the similarities between Warrior and A Thousand Blows are undeniable… And like Peaky Blinders, it’s a dramatised work of fiction, but the characters are based on real life people. Although the tone of the two shows is completely different.”

Warrior is more of a pulpy martial arts drama, where it might be historically accurate thematically, but we take much more license to stylize it which is evident in the costumes for example. The Hop Wei in their Armani suits and the Long Zii in their tunics (thank god I’m in the Hop Wei).”

“In A thousand Blows, I play Mr Lao and he’s the polar opposite of Young Jun — a mild-mannered intellectual in exile in London who’d rather not be seen. Not the life of the party like Young Jun. He carries a secret that will be revealed later in season 1.”

“And unlike Young Jun, Lao is not a fighter or at least not in the physical sense. So there’ll be no fisticuffs with Sugar Goodson unfortunately.”

So what else does the future hold for this diligent thespian? While you’d be well within your rights to assume more period pieces and more action content, it’s a little more varied than that.

INTERVIEW: 'Warrior' Star Jason Tobin Is More Than An A Screen Gangster

“I have a couple of projects I’m working on right now, including a road trip movie that [Warrior co-star] Andrew Koji and I want to make,” revealed Jason Tobin.

“I would love to do more comedy. I want to do as many different roles as I can because it keeps things interesting. I just want to do good work and work with good people.”

“There is one dream project I’ve always wanted to be a part of and some filmmakers have attempted it and that is the story of the 442nd Infantry Regiment… the most decorated regiment in US military history and was made up of Japanese American soldiers who fought in World War II while their families were put in internment camps back home.”

For the time being, however, the man himself would just be happy to play Young Jun for another season. 

Warrior season 3 is currently streaming on HBO Max (MAX) and Binge here in Australia.

Garry Lu
WORDS by
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]

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