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

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

NEW YORK — 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 neighbourhood 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.”


Follow Alicia Rancilio at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar

Alicia Rancilio, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read