New York Daily News
NEW ‘KUNG FU’
Olivia Liang whirls into role as Chinese fighter in CW show
The pilot script of “Kung Fu” was written more than a year ago, but its premiere, coming a month after six Asian women died in an Atlanta mass shooting, couldn’t be more timely, says star Olivia Liang.
The CW series, premiering Wednesday at 8 p.m., follows a young Chinese-American woman, Nicky Shen, as she returns home to San Francisco after three years at a remote monastery in China, only to find her family has moved on without her.
“She has to reconcile the new Nicky with the Nicky she left behind. She’s figuring out how to use the voice that she’s found back in a place where she felt like she didn’t have a voice,” Liang told the Daily News. “It’s an apology tour while not apologizing for what she did.” Nicky left the U.S. for all the normal college-kid reasons: Her parents didn’t understand her and she didn’t know what she was doing in life. What she eventually finds in China isn’t normal: a merciless assassin who murders her Shaolin mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai). And what she comes home to isn’t normal. Her parents, Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan), under the thumb of a mysterious gang called the Triad after borrowing money to keep their restaurant alive.
Her family’s troubles, more than anything, finally give Nicky the purpose she’s been seeking.
The martial arts are deliriously fun, a chaotic choreography of kicks and flips that Liang estimated she did about 70% of, with the rest left up to her stunt double.
But more impressive than that is the honesty of “Kung
Fu” itself, embracing, rather than hiding, its culture.
The series, created by “Lost” writer Christina M. Kim, is a modern-day adaptation of the original “Kung Fu” series, which ran for three seasons from 1972 to 1975 with David Carradine playing Shaolin priest and martial arts expert Kwai Chang Caine who returns to “the west.”
In the 2021 version of “Kung Fu,” “the west” means San Francisco, but the show finds life and color in the city’s Chinatown district. Nicky’s goal isn’t to just protect her family, but her entire community.
Less than a month after eight people, including six Asian women, were fatally shot at three massage parlors around Atlanta, celebrating her community feels right for Liang.
“It really hits different that we’re premiering in April 2021 with what’s going on in the world,” she said.
“Who would have thought that it would be so relevant and so necessary to humanize us, to empower us, to give us a voice. We always knew our show was going to be important, but it’s so much more important now to see Asian women be unapologetic, take up space, be strong, have a voice and be unafraid to use it.”
Growing up, Liang never saw anyone who looked like her on TV. Now, she said, she has the chance to be that familiar face for the next generation.
“It’s empowering to show some strength and show that Asian women are not to be messed with,” she told The News.
“It’s about time we showed a woman being able to kick ass in this capacity.”