Cinemax’s ‘Warrior’ Star Dustin Nguyen Talks Stepping Behind the Camera
It takes a director who really knows martial arts to make an episode of Warrior. Luckily, Dustin Nguyen has plenty of experience with Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, Eskrima, and Jeet Kune Do.
“Martial arts action is a very particular kind of action,” says Nguyen who first made a name for himself starring opposite Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street in the 1980s. “You can’t just shoot it the way you shoot other action. To do it well, or to get the maximum impact out of it, takes quite a bit of time. It takes somebody who appreciates martial arts to find the right angles, to put the moves together.”
In Warrior, Cinemax’s hard-hitting series about San Francisco’s Tong Wars—violent clashes between rival Chinese organizations in the 19th Century—Nguyen plays dastardly gang leader, Zing. But with his character sidelined—for now anyway—after being arrested in last week’s episode, Nguyen had time to take on a different role: that of director.
A prolific director in Vietnam, Nguyen has been eager to get behind the camera since signing on for the show’s first season in 2019. Series creator Justin Lin has been supportive of the idea since the beginning, says Nguyen. It was always just a matter of finding an episode that Zing wasn’t in.
That made Season 2’s sixth episode perfect. The show‘s latest stand-alone installment finds fighters Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), Young Jun (Jason Tobin) and Hong (Chen Tang) leaving San Francisco with hard-nosed businesswoman Rosalita (Maria Elena Laas) to travel to a town on the U.S.-Mexico border where Ah Sahm intends to fight in a lucrative tournament.
“It’s somewhat an homage to Enter the Dragon,” Nguyen explains. Fans should keep an eye out for small touches and Easter Eggs nodding to the 1973 Bruce Lee classic. “It’s done very subtly.”
The ambitious episode required an entirely new set, which Nguyen was determined to make the most of. He went so far as to expand a scene that was supposed to be contained in one location. “I was telling the producers, ‘We’ve gotta take the action down the main street.’” Nguyen assured them he could figure out a way to film the sequence on schedule. In the end, he managed to get the show-stopping set piece he wanted. “Things like that you just do on the fly and hope for the best!”
Warrior, Fridays, 10/9c, Cinemax