Wong Kar-Wai TV Series Heading to Amazon

Wong Kar-Wai has made an indelible mark on the cinema, helming foreign film classics like In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express. But even for a well-regarded director like Wong, the grass is starting to look a little greener on the TV side. And not only TV, but TV streaming.

That’s right, Wong Kar-Wai is the next auteur director to strike a deal with Amazon for a historical crime drama series called The Tong Wars, following filmmakers like Woody Allen, Barry Jenkins, and others who have made the leap from film to streaming.

The Hong Kong director is directing The Tong Wars for Amazon, which follows the clashes between Chinese immigrants and Chinatown crime families in 19th century San Francisco, according to Variety. The hour-long drama series will be directed by Wong and written and executive produced by Paul Attanasio (creator of CBS’s Bull), and will span several years of organized crime war over drugs and prostitution territories.

It’s unknown whether Wong will be directing the entire series, or whether he will have more input in the writing and creative processes.

The project is exciting not just because of Wong’s achievements as an auteur, but because of the subject matter: a gritty crime story centered around Chinese immigrant families. There have been so few Asian-centric television series on American television, though the numbers of Asian protagonists have been growing on streaming platforms, such as the now-canceled Marco Polo and Sense8 on Netflix. Aside from ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, Asian-American stories have been all but absent on primetime TV since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl went off the air in 1995.

And there was the recent resurfacing of the existence of classic film star Anna May Wong’s lost TV series, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, which briefly premiered in 1951 before being pulled and is now lost to history.

It’s clear that Asian, much less Asian-American representation, is still lacking in both Hollywood and the TV landscape, so it’s encouraging that Amazon, Attanasio, and Wong are spearheading this series about Chinese immigrants in a time that is politically unsteady for immigrants. The historical setting lends the series a layer of prestige — though not as prestigious as Wong — and the Chinese-American community in the 1800s has been relatively unexplored in American storytelling, so there all kinds of opportunities here. It’s so heartening to see Chinese characters in an era that has remained relatively white when depicted on television — you’d be hard pressed to find an Asian character in the 1920s-set Boardwalk Empire, for example — which also acts as an important reminder that Chinese communities have been in the U.S. for a long time. This should help put to rest arguments that minority characters showing up in prestigious period dramas ruin the “historical accuracy.”

The Tong Wars is currently in development and doesn’t yet have a release date.

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