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Warrior producers talk ‘bolder’ season 3 with a new action star, new network

Learn about the Netflix movie that brought Mark Dacascos to Warrior, and what’s changed in the move to Max

Mark Dacascos stands up straight wearing his Tong uniform in Warrior season 3. Photo: David Bloomer/Max
Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s curation editor for movies and TV, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

The third season of Max’s thrilling martial arts drama Warrior premieres this week, and there’s an exciting new face in the cast: martial arts movie (and Iron Chef) legend Mark Dacascos. Dacascos plays Kong Pak, the charismatic leader of a rival Tong absorbed by the powerful Long Zii.

Warrior has no shortage of skilled martial artists in its cast, from its hardworking star Andrew Koji to former Indonesian national judo team athlete Joe Taslim (whose skills can also be seen in The Night Comes for Us and The Raid). But Dacascos adds another dimension, as an extraordinarily skilled martial artist who also brings a lovable easygoing energy to every role.

“If we’re going to bring in somebody to be an adversary for any one of these guys, they can’t just be able to act,” co-creator and executive producer Jonathan Tropper says. “They have to also look believable as an antagonist to these guys.

“We want people who we know will hold their own and uphold the extremely high level of martial arts action we’re doing on the show.”

Dacascos seems an obvious pick, but his casting was a happy accident.

Mark Dacascos and Joe Taslim square up in martial arts stances, with their wrists touching, in Warrior season 3.
Taslim and Dacascos spar in Warrior.
Photo: David Bloomer/Max

“I didn’t think for a minute we could get Mark Dacascos,” Tropper says. “Luckily, Dustin [Nguyen, an actor and director on Warrior] did a movie with him in the off season and said, ‘He loves the show, you should call him,’ and boom!”

That movie was Blade of the 47 Ronin, a straight-to-Netflix sequel to the 2013 Keanu Reeves movie 47 Ronin. Directed by seasoned stunt professional, actor, and martial artist Ron Yuan, the movie stars YouTuber Anna Akana and up-and-coming martial arts star Mike Moh alongside Dacascos and Nguyen.

While it flew under the radar on release, Blade of the 47 Ronin was praised by the people I follow in the action movie community, and they were right to do so: It’s light, fun action fare, with balletic swordplay, a charismatic cast, and a neat spin on the “unconventional chosen one” narrative. It felt directly in line with Warrior, which shares a pulpy action vibe (albeit in a very different time period), its own “chosen one” narrative, and, of course, multiple members of the great Blade of the 47 Ronin cast, now including Dacascos.

Mark Dacascos, Mike Moh, and Anna Akana stand in the middle of a hotel lobby in Blade of the 47 Ronin. Dacascos wears an old-fashioned robe while Moh and Akana wear modern clothing. Dacascos and Moh hold swords.
Blade of the 47 Ronin
Image: Universal 1440 Entertainment

The addition of Dacascos isn’t the only big change for Warrior this season, as the show finally moves from Cinemax to Max. In January 2020, Cinemax announced it would be halting its production of original content, which seemed to spell the end of the road for Warrior, even when the show’s first two seasons were added to Max. But then Max announced it would be picking up the show’s third season, bringing new opportunities — and obstacles — to the crew.

“It was a unique challenge, because we sort of lost our sets and our costumes and our props,” executive producer Evan Endicott, promoted to co-showrunner for the third season, says. “And we had to sort of make a season 1 again, but with more ambition, more scope, more everything. But they were just really supportive. I think they’re genuine fans of the show. And that made our lives a lot easier.”

“They encouraged us constantly to try to swing for the fences, go bigger, go bolder,” executive producer Josh Stoddard, promoted with Endicott to co-showrunner, says. “I think we all needed to sleep about three months after we were done.”

That’s an energy both Warrior and Blade of the 47 Ronin share — making the most of the limited resources at their disposal to prioritize exciting, legible action featuring charismatic, attractive people. In both projects, you can feel the passion and commitment on the screen, but also how much fun it must have been to make throwback genre fare for a modern audience.

That modern audience has a better chance of catching Warrior since the first two seasons were added to HBO Max in January 2021. With the third season arriving around the same time as the platform’s rebrand to Max, the producers are hoping the show can capitalize on that momentum and reach even more people.

“We’re becoming aware of a much larger audience already,” Tropper says. “We already know we’re reaching way more people than we’ve reached before. And the hope is that that will lead to the show just gaining a much larger fan base that will enable us to make more seasons.”

For now, fans will have to make do with the first three seasons of Warrior, and hope along with Tropper that a fourth will get greenlit by the new network. Warrior season 3 premiered on Max on June 29 with three new episodes. Blade of the 47 Ronin can be watched on Netflix.

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