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By Amy Lee
Ah Toy is one badass Asian female character. Didn't think that existed? Yet you see her brilliantly portrayed by Olivia Cheng in Cinemax's Warrior. Set in San Francisco Chinatown, 1878, this Bruce Lee-inspired TV show was recently revived by Shannon Lee upon discovering her father’s notes and drawings.
Unlike Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, Ah Toy doesn’t depend on dragons nor a romantic male lead to complete her causes. She sashays her own swishing sword, unleashing retributive justice at night. Ironically, she does so knowing her sexist and racist world is unlikely to suspect an Asian female is capable of wielding such power. By day, she is fearless as the Madam of her brothel. She is also an astute businesswoman who invests in property by fronting a “Mr. Patterson” as her Caucasian business partner. She survives and works within the unfair patriarchal world which she was born into.
First, Ah Toy survives by investing the gold showered by the captain after her husband’s death en route to America. She is a complicated and multifaceted Asian female lead who has been allowed to flourish, as written by an Asian representation aligned writing and production team. She is sexually liberated without the cringes of Asian female tokenism. More complicated is the paradox of Ah Toy saving tortured prostitutes whilst trading prostitution.
Her most admirable trait is her fierce loyalty and passion. She lovingly heals the wounded protagonist, Ah Sahm. Despite Ah Sahm being disowned by his clan (“tong”) after losing his epic duel against their rival tong, Long Zii, Ah Toy risks her own safety to help him. She also wisely refrains from frivolous Queen Bee battles with her rival villainess, Mai Ling (e.g. the Game of Thrones’ Sansa vs Daenerys meaningless banters). Ah Toy knows to put their tongs’ differences aside to save Chinatown from being razed by racist thugs.
Ah Toy’s female warrior-ship is so exciting and revolutionary to watch. Yet the predominately white male Hollywood executives have not rushed to continue her narrative nor the legend of Warrior, leaving it vulnerable to cancellation. Probably because the truths of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the segregation, lynching, and violence committed against the Chinese population during the late 19th century in America are palpably ugly and inconvenient.
There’s no point raising this cultural silencing of the Asian model minority either. Think of how the media disgracefully tried to shut down Andrew Yang by turning off his microphone during the Democratic Presidential Nomination debates. Sadly, this predominantly white male Hollywood and frat brat culture also seems to prefer the mocking of Bruce Lee and Asian representation in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Ah Toy’s following will always worship her fashion, flair and fate as Ah Toy—no one’s toy. It would be intriguing to see how Ah Toy might fare if she was reincarnated to take on modern Manhattan in the rebooted Sex and the City as the new fourth character.
To support the renewal of the show, sign the petition linked here.
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