San Francisco is getting some of its big-budget TV location cred back after the disappointing cancellation of Netflix's local darling series Sense 8. Amazon is stepping into the void, according to Variety, ordering a new hour-long drama series called Tong Wars, to be directed by respected Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, written by Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show) and set right here in San Francisco Chinatown during the infamous Chinese mob wars over the opium, prostitution, and gambling trades that lasted from the late Gold Rush-era through the 1920s.
The big name here is of course Wong Kar-Wai, a super well-respected indie director best known for the late 90s Hong Kong cinema hits Happy Together and Chunking Express. According to Variety, “The series is set against the Tong Wars of 19th century San Francisco and tells a story spanning a significant period of time about Chinese immigrants and the clashes between organized-crime families in the city’s Chinatown.” I would like to think this will involve several excellent kung fu battles!
Of course, the series was just greenlit last week, with only the announcement of a writer and a director. We have no information yet on featured performers or shooting locations. So it’s not a complete certainty that the series will be shot in San Francisco, but given the presumed budget, it does seem a likelihood. (While Amazon’s Man In the High Castle is partially set in San Francisco, we are not listed among the series’ filming locations. So I guess those scenes are all CGI?)
The Chronicle’s announcement the the Tong Wars are coming digs deep into the paper’s own archives, with some writing on the Tongs dating back to 1912. “The members of these lawless societies are men with no definite occupation living as best they can a keepers of evil resorts, gamblers and criminals generally," the Chronicle wrote of the Chinatown Tong gangs at the time. "Clearly their existence is a constant menace to the peace of the community, and should not be permitted." That assessment may be seen through the xenophobic-colored lenses of that era’s journalism, but SFist has also looked back on the Tong gangs of the early 1900s.
The other series Amazon confirmed ordering in last week’s announcement are an untitled 30-minute Fred Armisen-Maya Rudolph comedy, something called Upload from The Office creator Greg Daniels, and a comedy called Making Friends from the mediocres who brought you How I Met Your Mother.