The Rebirth of “Kung-Fu”

The Rebirth of Kung Fu
Kung Fu Pictured: Olivia Liang as Nicky — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

March 23, 2021 (NYC)– The Rebirth of “Kung-Fu”. On April 7th Warner Bros. Television will be introducing the Kung Fu franchise to television. This version is a re-imagining, rather than a reboot, of the 1972 television series starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, the fugitive monk traveling the American Old West.

The original series was a fan favorite, but ended after three seasons due to Carradine’s desire to exit the project.

Whether this ambitious project will meet with similar fan appreciation, in today’s competitive media landscape, remains to be seen. However, what is already clear is that this project is a shining example of how creative minds can combine an old premise and new perspectives to attract a new generation of viewers.

The Rebirth of Kung Fu
The Rebirth of Kung Fu

Synopsis: A quarter-life crisis causes a young Chinese American woman, Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), to drop out of college and go on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. But when she returns to San Francisco, she finds her hometown is overrun with crime and corruption and her own parents Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) are at the mercy of a powerful Triad. Nicky will rely on her tech-savvy sister Althea (Shannon Dang) and her 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) as well as her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice…all while searching for the ruthless assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) and is now targeting her.

Review: As a fan of the 1972 David Carradine television series I was not sure what to expect when I heard that Warner Bros. Television was re-imagining the series for release in 2021. The original show, despite the controversies surrounding its development and casting, was a show that had great significance in the martial arts entertainment world. It, like Bruce Lee’s film career, inspired many Western viewers to seek to learn the martial arts of East Asia, including Taekwondo.

David Carradine 1972 Kung Fu
David Carradine 1972 Kung Fu

The current version of Kung Fu bares little resemblance to the original program; however, it is still worth exploring. Unlike its inspiration, this series is not a period piece, but a contemporary story set in modern day San Francisco. Similarly, the lead role is now not the solitary, Chinese born monk and loner made famous by David Carradine but a modern, urban Chinese-American woman with strong ties to her colorful family. The lead role is played adeptly by Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen, perhaps because she is too young to realize how big the shoes are that she has been charged to fill.

The current version also goes beyond the simplicity of the original version of the show in its exploration of mystical and magical topics. This includes the underlying premise surrounding Nicky Shen’s pursuit of the weapon that killed her Shaolin Master. This may unfold to develop into a larger and more mythical storyline than a simple martial arts, revenge plot.

What is very familiar is the immersion of the main character in her Shaolin training and the significance of the relationship between teacher and student that is woven into the fabric of the show. Liang, like Carradine, experienced the devastating murder of her mentor. As Liang proceeds in her quest to find the killer she is guided by the presence and memories of her impactful Shaolin instructor, that is well played by Vanessa Kai.

There are several elements of the show that I found particularly satisfying. The first is the visibility of strong, intelligent, and capable women. Olivia Liang carries her quest for independence, as well as her fighting acuity, with a sense of self-confidence that is not limited by anger or hubris. There is a humanity that pervades the performance.

Additionally, I found the portrayal of Shen’s family in non-stereotypical roles to be refreshing. The family issues and dynamics represented are familiar to many families, Chinese and otherwise. The role of Liang’s father is played by Tzi Ma, familiar to fans of Netflix’s Wu Assassins. He always delivers a solid performance, and so does the rest of the Shen family.

Kung Fu (2021) is a family friendly show. While there were multiple fight scenes in the Pilot episode, none contain a level of violence that makes the show limited to, solely, adult viewers. In fact, I would guess the targeted demographic is teen viewers; however, there is something in it for the whole family.

I recommend checking out Kung Fu. While it isn’t the classic show that inspired me to start studying Taekwondo,  it is still enjoyable television.

 KUNG FU stars Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen, Kheng Hua Tan as Mei-Li Shen, Shannon Dang as Althea Shen, Eddie Liu as Henry Yan, Gavin Stenhouse as Evan Hartley, Vanessa Kai as Pei-Ling Zhang, Tony Chung as Dennis Soong and Tzi Ma as Jin Shen. 

Credits: Christina M. Kim wrote the pilot episode and serves as executive producer and co-showrunner of the series with Roberto Berens. Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Martin Gero and David Madden also serve as executive producers. Hanelle Culpepper is directing and co-executive producing the pilot episode.

KUNG FU is produced by Berlanti Productions and Quinn’s House in association with Warner Bros. Television and is inspired by the original series created by Ed Spielman. Format: Drama/60 mins Origination: Vancouver, British Columbia

Kung Fu will premiere on The CW on April 7, 2021.

-The Rebirth of “Kung-Fu” Review by Marc Zirogiannis


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