CW launching updated version of ‘Kung Fu’ at right time

Rick's Reviews

Olivia Liang stars in the new CW Network series “Kung Fu.” (Photo courtesy of CW)

(KGET) — Olivia Liang is certain the timing is perfect for her new CW series, “Kung Fu.” The launch at 8 p.m. April 7 comes at a time when violence toward the Asian-American community has escalated during the pandemic.

Liang says, “So much about representation and inclusion is not so much that we, as Asians need to see ourselves represented on the screens, but we need to be invited into people’s homes who don’t see us in their everyday life, just to humanize us, normalize seeing us, remind them that we are people just like they are and that we have a place in this world, and hopefully having our show in their homes will expand that worldview for them.”

Her hopes lie in the story of a young Chinese American woman, Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), who leaves college to go on a life-changing journey. This leads her to an isolated monastery in China where she learns martial arts skills and Shaolin values.

When Nicky returns to San Francisco, she finds her hometown has been overrun with crime and corruption. Even her own parents – Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) – are at the mercy of a powerful Triad. She must use her training to save her family and the city while searching for the person who killed her Shaolin mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai).

Nicky is joined on her mission by her tech-savvy sister Althea (Shannon Dang),  Althea’s fiancé Dennis (Tony Chung), pre-med brother Ryan (Jon Prasida), Assistant District Attorney and ex-boyfriend Evan (Gavin Stenhouse) and new love interest Henry (Eddie Liu).

Interviews to promote the new series come the day after the shootings in Atlanta that left eight dead including six women of Asian descent.

Ma – who is heartbroken by the news – doesn’t think there is a quick solution to ending the violence. He does believe the “Kung Fu” series is part of a long-term way of making a difference.

“Hopefully those messages will come out loud and clear about inclusion, about representation. These are part of our long-term goals,” Ma says. “It pains me every day it happens, every day it’s something. And, we did everything we can.

“At first, there was no coverage. And then there’s coverage. Everybody talked about it, everyone I know and I don’t know talked about it from the President on down, including the House of Representatives. Everyone talked about it and it still goes on every day. So I have no answer for that. And hopefully our long-term solution will make a difference.”

The new program is very loosely based on the 1972 series starring David Carradine. Christina M. Kim, the executive producer of the new “Kung Fu,” has a great respect for the original series calling it “groundbreaking” because it introduced an American audience to Kung Fu and to Buddhism. Those were elements she wanted to continue with the update version.

Kim adds, “The basic idea of someone using Shaolin Kung Fu to help people in need, someone who is bringing about justice is a wonderful concept and that is very much alive in our show.

“Of course there are things that I wanted to change. In the original series, the actor, the lead actor was not Asian. And for me, in developing the show, it was really important that we change that. And, and for myself as a woman, I really wanted a strong female Asian lead who was kicking butt and was the role model that I wished I had growing up on TV.”

Liang looked at clips from that series after she was cast. What she found was a major link between the two programs is the sense of wanting to fight for the underdog. These battles aren’t waged to be a hero but out of sense of duty.

Another connection is both feature some high-flying fights. Liang had no martial arts training before she was cast but came to the series with a background in dance. Liang – who is fluent in Mandarin – was accepted into the acting program at UCLA after receiving her Bachelor of Arts at the University of California San Diego. She has had a recurring role on The CW’s “Legacies” and can be seen in Hulu’s anthology series “Into the Dark.”

She found her dance training made learning the choreography for the fight scenes easier to learn. But, the work getting ready for the show was brutal.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body through. I’ve so much respect for martial artists. It is an incredible sport. It is an art form. It’s beautiful,” Liang says. “Our stunt team has whipped me into shape, but I also have an amazing double who makes me look so cool.

“There isn’t too much of a difference between the hand-to-hand and the weapon, because the weapon really just becomes an extension of yourself and you use it accordingly. It’s been really fun and really rewarding. And I can’t wait for everybody to see all the fights we’ve been working on.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.