The CW’s Kung Fu’ Cast: Creator on Nailing Asian American Experience

  • Christina M. Kim is the creator of The CW’s programming “Kung Fu”The reboot wants to be a representative of a range of Asian American experiences.
  • Kim and the rest of the cast spoke to Insider about their personal experiences that have influenced the show.
  • Olivia Liang, Series Star, Hopes the Show Can. “be a place where our community can feel a little bit at ease and breathe out a sigh of relief.”

Christina M. Kim, a television producer and writer, set out to create The CW’s gender-flipped reimaginings of 1970s dramas. “Kung Fu,”She realized immediately that she could not just create one character to represent an entire Asian American community but rather create a variety of characters who could represent different aspects of the Asian American experience.

Kim said to Insider it was important that she give viewers her opinion “a three-dimensional view of one particular family” — in this case, lead character Nicky Shen (played by Olivia Liang), her parents, and her brother and sister.

“The Shens are like all of us,”Kim spoke. “They’re hard-working, trying to do the best that they can. But they’re extraordinary because they have Nicky, who is special.”

“It was really fun to write for this family where you have a strong mother figure, a loving father, and these sibling dynamics that were really based off of my own family,”She added.

Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen in "Kung Fu" season 2 episode 3

Olivia Liang is Nicky Shen “Kung Fu”Season 2 Episode 3.

Jack Rowand/The CW

In April 2021 “Kung Fu” — which centers on Nicky, a young Chinese American woman who, after spending three years at a remote Chinese monastery, uses her martial arts skills to protect her hometown of San Francisco — became the First network drama featuring a majority Asian cast.

Kim, a Korean American, insisted from the beginning that Asian Americans be well represented on both sides.

Kim also enlisted the help of Sherri Chung (a Chinese American composer), and said that she has a wide range of writers who were able to capture both the universality of family dynamics as well as the cultural particularities of growing up with an Asian American family.

Many cast members are Chinese American and have contributed creative ideas about their family traditions and customs, which were infused throughout the second series, beginning with the Lunar New Year celebrations in the two-part premiere on March 9 and March 16.

Liang said that Althea, Shannon Dang, and her husband Dennis (Tony Chung), make fun of Althea’s younger brother Ryan, (Jon Prasida). “because he’s clearly sucking up so that he can get some extra hóngbāo [red envelope] money from the newlyweds, which is such a culturally specific thing that you would only understand and be able to relate to if you were Chinese.”

Family and community are at heart of ‘Kung Fu.

Tony Chung as Dennis Soong, Shannon Dang as Althea Shen and Jon Prasida as Ryan Shen in "Kung Fu" season 2 episode 1

Tony Chung plays Dennis Soong, Shannon Dang portrays Althea Shen, and Jon Prasida portrays Ryan Shen. “Kung Fu”Season 2 Episode 1.

Dean Buscher/The CW

Liang said she grew up in the West Coast where there are significant numbers of Asian immigrants. “never felt out of place” — which is a sentiment that is shared by the Shen family, who live in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This show is a success. “seamlessly move through being American and Asian, and more specifically Chinese,”Liang is particularly interested in this current TV landscape. There is still a lot of TV. Lack of Asian-led projects.

“I hope that people who don’t live in huge Chinese or Asian communities can watch our show and be like, ‘Oh, I can be really proud of who I am and what I look like and where I come from, and there’s no reason not to be,'” Liang said.

At the heart of “Kung Fu”Kim stated that family is everything. Asian American families in particular tend to be close-knit, with a strong reverence for their elders. Nicky, a strong and independent warrior, wants her parents to respect her.

This is just one example of the show’s remarkable portrayals of love in Asian families. Love isn’t often expressed directly across generations, but rather through individual sacrifices and caretaking.

“I think it’s a safe haven when we get to watch Althea and Dennis be in love, and Nicky and Henry (Eddie Liu) be in love, and Ryan going on dates [as a gay man], and the deep love between the parents Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) and Jin (Tzi Ma),” Liang said.

Liang observed that Asian love depicted on television is very radical, given the fact that much of recent news about the Asian community has focused on the alarming rise in hateful and violent racially motivated acts. “powerful”She hopes that the show will be a success. “be a place where our community can feel a little bit at ease and breathe out a sigh of relief.”

Dang, who plays Althea added: “I love that our show covers a range of what love looks like, and we just happen to be Asian. I think love is a universal language, so I think that helps in the normalizing of seeing Asians onscreen and how we’re just like everyone else.”

Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen and Shannon Dang as Althea Shen in "Kung Fu" season 2 episode 4

Olivia Liang plays Nicky Shen; Shannon Dang is Althea Shen “Kung Fu”Season 2 Episode 4.

Dean Buscher/The CW

The problem with the past representations of Asian Americans was that they were often too superficial. According to Liu (who plays Henry’s love interest), this means that portrayals have historically been lacking nuance and relatability. But it’s not over. “Kung Fu,” Liu said, “we have three-dimensional relationships with each other where no matter who you are, there’s a good chance you’re going to see yourself represented in a certain kind of relationship.”

Liu said that the series also challenged Hollywood’s old portrayals of Asian men. These men have been stereotyped as “Asian men”. “weak,” “sexless,” “effeminate” beings — even if, he joked, the idea of being shirtless on camera would be enough to increase anyone’s workout regimen.

“We’ve heard from the network and from the studio, people that we work with in marketing and publicity, and it’s been clear to them that we care about the product very much”He stated that he is a strong believer in challenging stereotypes of Asian actors.

The show’s elevated season 2 continues to explore family dynamics — and Nicky and Henry’s relationship

Eddie Liu as Henry Yan and Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen in "Kung Fu" season 2 episode 4

Eddie Liu portrays Henry Yan. Olivia Liang portrays Nicky Shen. “Kung Fu”Season 2 Episode 4.

Dean Buscher/The CW

Both Liang and Liu will enjoy the new season of “Kung Fu” honors the recurring theme of kinship by showing the great lengths that Asian families will go to take care of one of their own — even someone whom they’ve never met before.

Nicky met her long-lost cousin Mia (Vanessa Yao) in season premiere. Mia is the secret weapon of Russell Tan’s (Kee Chen) plan to overthrow San Francisco. She has already vengeanced her loss. shifuPei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) was Nicky’s mentor. Liang stated that Nicky will have to apply her teachings at monastery and make tough decisions in gray areas in order to protect her cousin who grew up in isolation. Nicky “has a very good moral compass and always wanted to do the right thing. This season, you’ll see her struggle with what the right thing is.”

The process will test Nicky’s relationship to Henry. “where it’s no longer about how well they can throw fists and kicks beside each other, but we see what happens when things get emotional and when we see the stakes increase,” Liu said.

Henry, a smart, intelligent, and even-keeled partner to Nicky, will now have to confront his past and reconcile with his family. “What I loved about season two was you get to see a lot of characters explore what it is to tow the line between keeping people out and letting them in,”He said.

Last year, the cast as well as the creative team of “Kung Fu”It was a big responsibility to represent Asian Americans. But now, they just get to have a great show, in which all of the elements — including the intricate fight scenes and the attention to cultural details — have been elevated.

Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen in "Kung Fu" season 2 episode 1

Olivia Liang is Nicky Shen “Kung Fu”Season 2 episode 1.

Michael Courtney/The CW

“With season two, we’ve been able to flesh out the nuances of what it is to be a Chinese American family to the point that it is no longer at the forefront of every single thing we say and do. But rather, it is the world that we exist in,” Liu said.

“We can now focus on who these people are as characters and who they are to each other within their relationships, and we see that we can go past what these people look like and what language they speak, but we just see them as people,”He added.

“Kung Fu”Airs Wednesdays at 9 PM ET on The CW ET on The CW

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