TONG WARS

Wong Kar-wai is casting for his series about Chinese gangsters in 19th-century San Francisco

Conquering the small screen.
Conquering the small screen.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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Famed Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, best known for his 2000 dark romance In the Mood for Love, is among the wave of renowned film directors embracing web series. Earlier this year, Amazon’s streaming service announced that it has ordered Wong’s Tong Wars, a crime drama series about Chinese gangsters set in the United States of the late 19th century.

“The thing that attracted me to this project was the first opportunity to tell the story of the first Chinese-American experience in the most authentic and proper way, because I think there aren’t many films about this experience,” Wong said at a film festival in France in October, noting the story would span decades, until the 1970s.

Few details about the show’s story line have been revealed except for the fact that it will explore the clashes between Chinese immigrants and organized-crime families in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Thanks to a casting call notice circulated online this week, we have a slightly better sense of what Wong’s first online series would look like. For starters, the criminal mastermind of the series is a woman.

According to the notice, Wong is looking for Asian actors who speak fluent Cantonese and American English to play four leading characters in the 10-part original series. Leanne Wang, an assistant to Chinese Canadian casting director PoPing Auyeung, who’s responsible for the show’s casting, confirmed the notice was genuine in an email to Quartz.

Behold, here are the four main protagonists of Wong’s Chinese-American gangster saga.

Vicky Sun: Vicky, a woman in her 70s who runs a global criminal network. She began her life in the US as a slave girl growing up in a brothel, and rose to become the richest woman in 1970s San Francisco. “Imperious, volatile, cunning, stylish, educated, with a cutting sense of humor, altogether fabulous,” the casting call says of Vicky.

Tom Sun: Tom is the adoptive gangster father of Vicky. A revolutionary fugitive from southern China, Tom flees to the US and becomes a killer for hire during the street wars between Chinese gangs. He has two wives living with him in the brothel, and eventually falls in love with a wealthy, married white woman. It looks like Tong Wars might feature a spot of martial arts—at any rate, it’s listed as a plus point for the actor trying out for this role.

Lo Mo: Mo appears to be one of Tom’s wives, and runs the brothel. A shrewd and dominant figure, she directs and molds Tom with her knowledge of her society and its players. She has developed a fondness for opium to deaden her rage.

Johnny Young: An orphaned teenager, Young is raised on the streets by his fellow members of a Chinese gang that seems slated to go to war with Vicky’s criminal empire. “Violence, after all, is how Vicky understands love. Johnny reminds her of Tom and herself.”

Paul Attanasio, who received Oscar nominations for the screenplays for Quiz Show (1994) and Donnie Brasco (1997), is writer and executive producer for the series.

The notice says candidates for the roles must be available from July 2018 to January 2019. There is no set time for the release of the show.