A new 'Kung Fu' debuts at a crucial time for Asian Americans


Up-and-coming actors will sometimes claim to know a variety of skills to be considered for roles, but Olivia Liang set a boundary early in her career.

“When I started off in the industry, people would ask me why martial arts wasn’t on my resume because it was such a typecast for Asians to do martial arts roles," said Liang. "So I made a promise to myself. I was like, ‘I’ll never learn martial arts until someone pays me to learn martial arts.'"

Liang kept that promise. She learned martial arts as the lead of The CW's new series, “ Kung Fu ” — and she's getting paid for it.

“Kung Fu” is inspired by the 1972 series starring David Carradine. It stars Liang as Nicky Shen, who while visiting China, joins a monastery where she is taught Shaolin values and martial arts. When her mentor is killed, she returns home to find her community disrupted by a local gang. She must use the martial arts skills she learned to protect her neighborhood and family, and soon discovers she's being targeted by the same assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor.

Liang says what makes “Kung Fu” different than the superhero shows The CW is known for is that Nicky is not a vigilante.

“Nicky is heroic, but she doesn’t see herself as a hero. She doesn’t have a hero complex where she is going out to find bad guys. She sees bad things happening and feels like she needs to do something about it.”

The series has a mostly Asian American cast with an Asian American showrunner and executive producer, Christina M. Kim. “I’m so excited that I get to give some people this opportunity to shine," said Kim.

“When I was on set for the first time, we did a camera test and I literally was staring at the monitor and it just hit me. I was like, ‘I’ve never seen the screen filled with Asian American faces like this is.’"

Kim says her writers room is also diverse. She has five writers of Asian descent on staff. Half of the writers are also women, which Kim says is a novelty. “Usually it's just me and one other woman in a room.”

“Kung Fu” premieres Wednesday on The CW and the pilot will be re-broadcast on TNT on Sunday.

Tzi Ma, who plays Nicky's father, Jin, says it's remarkable to have so many people with Asian backgrounds working on the show, because he doesn't have to explain the Asian experience to people who are making creative assumptions to what that's like.

“Not only is there representation on screen but we back it up from our writers room to all our guest directors. It is an amazing sight to behold. I’ve been doing this for a minute now and I have never seen this kind of make up,” said Ma.

Ma hopes the authenticity of the series will help to change the public consciousness at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise.

“The camera is a very interesting instrument. I want the audience to have the opportunity finally to see what real reputation representation is like. And when they get educated... they will begin to develop their taste of what’s good, what’s real and what’s true.”

The Asian American community is also paying attention, not only to see their stories on TV but to see how they're told. Valerie Soe, a professor in the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, hopes the producers and writers will be careful with what imagery is presented to viewers.

“The tricky part will be for the folks who are in charge to make sure that the show doesn’t veer too much into older stereotypes and tropes." She cites the gang storyline as potentially problematic because it promotes the theory "that all Asian men are gangsters and villains."

Overall, Soe says the series is a win because it's one more example of an Asian American story being told.

“There’s a phrase called ‘narrative plentitude’ that Viet Thanh Nguyen the author uses — about having a lot of different stories out there to pick from so we don’t have to just like obsessively focus on one. Like, ‘Is ’Crazy Rich Asians' going to represent us accurately? Is 'Joy Luck Club' going to represent us accurately?' It’s like, ‘Well, if that one doesn’t, then we’ve got this other one,’" she said.

"The more the merrier. I think not everything’s going to be fabulous and not everything’s going to be exactly what we want. But, if you have a lot of different choices, then you don't expect everything from one."

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Another unnecessary remake. And a totally irrelevant connection made with violence against Asian Americans. Like Kung Funis in any way representative of “the Asian American experience”

3 ( +6 / -3 )

It just doesn't have that feel of good old 70s/80s Kung Fu Films.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Looks great.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Yes, learn kung fu while on holiday. Really?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Oh, yes...and politically correct. snicker

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Nothing will come close to the seventies David Carradine Kung Fu series. But yes this series certainly has the present day necessary political correctness with a woman as the hero.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

It must be awful to walk down the street, see women walking around and think, "urgh. Women. Going around, making up 50% of the population. It's political correctness gone mad."

2 ( +7 / -5 )

All those modern remakes compared to the real Classics are so PATHETIC !!..

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

The original was lame. My granny liked it, though.

Why are some grown men so terrified of change?

Guess for a lot of them, television was like a parent or a womb to them.

They associate such memories with happier times.

Change means challenge. Challenge can cause fear.

Time to be brave and fly the nest.

-8 ( +2 / -10 )

Women again! Sheesh!

I'm very confused by all these people who seem to get upset at the very idea of women existing.

That said, I'm personally not so interested in the idea of it being set in the modern day. There are already loads of tv shows set in the modern day with characters who can do martial arts. What I always liked about the original was the juxtaposition of the Kung Fu guy with the Cowboy genre and archetypes.

I kinda wish they'd gone with that time frame along with the female main character.

I guess kids these days probably aren't so into Western stuff though.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

*Master Po**: Between the old series and the new, there is a bridge which neither time nor death can shatter. Each stands at one end, needing to cross and meet.*

*Caine**: Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?*

*Master Po**: If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.*

*Caine**: I am of age. I must put away such memories.*

Grasshoppers, cherish your memories, but do not fear change. That's what Kwai Chang Caine would have said.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

 ‘I’ve never seen the screen filled with Asian American faces like this is.’"

So she's never seen "Joy Luck Club."

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

It'll probably make one season

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Let’s not forget: This was ALL ‘Bruce Lee’s Legacy’ - He brought martial arts into the mainstream.

He pitched the series idea to Hollywood and was told it wouldn’t work. He was saddened to see it premier with a white man playing an Asian role.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

It'll probably make one season

Should be used to that by now.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It'll probably make one season

Should be used to that by now.

That got a big laugh here, thank you.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Trailer looks good. This should go a few seasons if they do it right.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's not like there's no tradition of kick-arse Asian women in martial arts. Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lady Snowblood. The Landlady in Kung Fu Hustle. Even Uma in Kill Bill. OK, she's not Asian, but she learns from Asians.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Should be used to that by now.

And that is exactly why people are cutting their cable TV because Hollywood makes these one night stand series.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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