With Asian American stereotypes, CW’s ‘Kung Fu’ misses its mark
What’s in a name? The potential to make new deals from old intellectual property, for example. “Kung Fu,” which hits the CW on Wednesday, is linked by contracts and the company’s history to “Kung Fu” the 1970s David Carradine series about a half-Chinese Shaolin monk wandering the old west; what they have in common is a martial arts-trained main character whose mentor is killed. And, aside from a title and screen credit for Ed Spielman, who created the original series – Christina M. Kim, whose credits include “Blindspot” and “Lost,” is the showrunner for the new version – nothing ‘other.
In Arrowverse’s latest adventure series honcho Greg Berlanti, Olivia Liang plays Nicky Shen, who kicks off with a quick trip narrated retracing her progress from Harvard college student to kung fu fighter. Realizing that the “cultural tour” of China she was sent on by her mother is just a dodge to find her a nice Chinese boy, Nicky bursts out, hopping in the back of a truck belonging to Pei- Ling Zhang (Vanessa Kai). “You are walking the path you live,” says Pei-Ling, who takes Nicky to the all-female Shaolin monastery she oversees. “These women were warriors,” Nicky thinks, watching the monks go through their martial arts paces and poses, and sign.
Three years pass and she is one of them. And then a sudden attack on the monastery, led by a perpetually sneering black-clad beauty (Yvonne Chapman as future enemy Zhilan), sends Pei-Ling out of this world into the next. But not outside of the series: Like Keye Luke in the flashbacks of the first series or the specter of Alec Guinness in the second and third “Star Wars” films, she will appear to offer encouragement: “You will find the answers because that fate has brought you here for a reason ”,“ Faith makes the impossible possible ”and so on. As the actress makes a good impression, I support this device.
A magical sword is stolen during the attack and Nicky, attempting to retrieve it, receives some wounds which will become significant later. “Never stand in the way of fate,” Zhilan warns her. Our heroine has no shortage of advice.
Failing to do Pei-Ling justice, Nicky returns “to where I ran from” – San Francisco, represented by archival footage and the real streets of Vancouver, Canada. She finds welcoming father Jin (Tzi Ma), delighted sister Althea (Shannon Dang), resentful brother Ryan (Jon Prasida) and angry mother Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan), who tells her, “My daughter is passed away three years ago.
“Honestly, it went better than I expected,” comments Althea, whose computer skills will come in handy before the hour is up. Despite this, her fiancé (Tony Chung) is handsome and rich – or rather, because he is handsome and rich – I have my doubts about him. But maybe I just saw too many TV shows. And what about that bruise on my dad’s face? No one falls off a ladder in a television series.
Indeed, in a kind of O. Henry twist, Nicky’s parents, who run a restaurant called Harmony Dumplings, independently got into debt with a seemingly untouchable local gangster after their rent increased. As the clock ticks towards a potentially fatal deadline, young people band together to investigate, believing that Chinatown’s oppressed, wary of unnecessary police, will open up, “because we look like them, speak the same language, live in the same neighborhood.
“One of the few times that not being white has its advantages,” says Althea.
Nicky also watches her abandoned boyfriend Evan (Gavin Stenhouse), who is white, and is now an assistant district attorney living in the kind of loft always occupied by television justice officers. He’s unhappy to see her at first, but just as he’s about to serve them drinks, someone walks in: “This is Sabine, my girlfriend. And then there’s Henry (Eddie Liu), a handsome tai chi teacher at the community center where medical student Ryan works, who is earning his Masters in Ancient Chinese Art History – a combination of skills and interests. most auspicious. “You are a beautiful couple,” an old woman says to Nicky and Henry as they meet. Well, they’re all beautiful here.
The Pilot – the only episode available for review at the time of writing – is a busy, busy thing that contains a mess of superficial exposures, introductions, family matters, romantic background work, an operation for a subdural hematoma and a game of ping-pong. , at the expense of subtlety and character, while the Asian-American decor – a revolutionary opportunity in its own way – feels oddly drawn to stereotypes. (Not unusual for an Arrowverse show, after all.) The episode also hints at the bizarre tale to come, with engaging explanatory animations; Based on the opening time and Film B’s obvious and almost arbitrary plot of its ordinary criminal plots, it is suspected that the series will fare better as its mysteries become mystical.
And there is kung fu, of course. Martial arts farrier actors appear, or are made to appear, with edits and camera shots and in slow motion, as if they know what they are doing. As American filmmakers have long discovered – and often lose sight of in the dust of superhero muscle punch-ups – the balletic and gymnastic elements of martial arts lend grace and dignity to fight scenes. It’s almost a relief when they arrive.
Or: The CW
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-V (may not be suitable for young children with a violence warning)