Debuting this week on the CW is a new series called Kung Fu. For older viewers, the title Kung Fu brings back memories of David Carradine wandering the west, looking for his brother. The tale goes this story originated with Master Bruce Lee, but was stolen from him and recast with Carradine. Either way, erase that series from your head. I am not sure if the title Kung Fu simply points to the martial arts at the center of this plot, or if they intentionally tried to rip off the name for some free publicity. This story does not deal with the old show in any way, so don’t expect any parallels. What Kung Fu does do is give some eye popping fight scenes mixed in with a story of family healing and growth. Oh, and did I mention the magic sword?
Olivia Liang plays the lead, Nicky. While visiting China, Nicky flees from her family to avoid a marriage she did not want. She finds herself at a Kung Fu temple and begins a three year training process. One night the monastery is attacked. One of the attackers steals a special sword and kills Sifu Haley. Nicky tries to retrieve the sword, but during the fight she is disarmed. Nicky picks up the stolen sword, but it glows bright green and burns Nicky’s hand. The assassin escapes with the sword. Nicky decides she has nowhere to go, so it’s time to head home and face her worst fears.
Healing and Growth – Heading Home
Heading home means Nicky must now face those she ran away from three years ago. Papa is happy to see her as is her sister, Althea. Althea brings some spunk to the family as well as some computer skills that come in handy later. Of course then Nicky gets to meet those holding grudges. Her brother, Ryan, felt betrayed and abandoned. Not only did he have to come out as gay to his parents alone, but he looked up to his over achieving sister. After a few words and a couple rounds of ping pong, they are good again. Mom on the other hand won’t be so easy.
Mom greets her daughter with the line “my daughter died three years ago”. Not a great way to start a reunion. While mom wishes Nicky had talked to her, we find out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Nicky’s mom also butted heads with her parents and the guilt there only widens the chasm between the two for most of the episode.
Of course there must be love interests. Her ex fiancé questions her return. Obviously, he felt betrayed that she ran away. He feels Nicky didn’t stand up for him because he is the lone white guy in the show. They make up fast enough, so is that the end of Evan? Nope. How convenient that he happens to be the assistant district attorney, a position that will come in handy later.
In the process Nicki happens to run into (literally) her next possible love interest, since Evan has moved on to another girl. Henry not only takes a quick interest in Nicky, but he just so happens to be the local Tai Chi teacher. Nicky and Henry can engage in lovey moonlight strolls, looking at the stars…as they leg sweep and round house kick the bad guys. A few of these relationships seem a bit too convenient, but in the end the cast chemistry does flow well. Each brings either an entertaining interaction with others, or a personal chemistry that makes them very likeable.
Healing and Growth – Not the Home She Left
When Nicky bolted three years ago, home seemed safe and secure. Things changed and not for the better. Crime boss Tony Kwong started squeezing local businesses, and Nicky’s parents fell into the trap. Papa greets Nicky with a black eye, and later she finds him being beaten in the alley later. What makes things worse is when papa brings to light the fact this whole predicament came about because of the mother. She made a deal with Kwong to help her struggling store, but she could not repay him, leaving the family in Kwong’s debt.
It is here that the real story lines begin to unfold. Nicky, being a Kung Fu expert, sets out to take on the Kwong crime ring. Her friends and family fill the needed roles from attorney (Evan) to expert hacker (Althea). Getting the public to help can be difficult when fear controls them, but Nicky gets her chance. When a couple henchmen try to take Nicky down, she and Henry kick their butts. The display of martial prowess inspires a witness to come forward. They trace Tony to a major operation taking place at the docks. The hope is to get the authorities involved, but Ryan doesn’t believe they haven’t been bought off.
Ryan heads down to the docks, and Nicky follows him. A major fight ensues and Nicky manages to cold cock Kwong. Knocking out a crime boss is not the same as ending his reign of terror. The war between Nicky and Tony will drive this series for some time. Of course Tony Kwong is not the only threat.
Healing and Growth – What’s Kung Fu Without a Little Mysticism?
This show could easily stay current and realistic with no problem, but the martial arts can be a bit more fun when you add a little mysticism. Henry loves ancient Chinese culture and studies it. When Nicky tells him about the sword, he does some research.
Turns out this sword is one of eight ancient, magical weapons and whoever wields all eight will control the world. So now we have Nicky and Co not only trying to beat a local crime boss, but hunt down eight magical weapons to same the world. Whether this becomes a nice twist to the show or an unwelcome distraction remains to be seen.
Healing and Growth – A Solid Start
This Kung Fu may not be anything like the David Carradine version, but it doesn’t need to be. The cast looks solid all the way around. Each will bring something different as the show goes forward. I really like the job Olivia Liang does with her lead role. Her siblings should keep on her toes as well as help flush out Team Nicki in the struggles ahead. Eddie Liu makes an intriguing character to follow. He has an easy manner about him, and because of his Chinese Studies looks to be the book worm the team will need to track the mystical weapons.
The Kung Fu fighting looks amazing. In today’s TV world, I use Arrow as the bar for fight choreography. Steven Amell is extremely acrobatic and can execute anything the stunt team needs. When you pin a fight style down to a single form, Kung Fu in this case, it can hold back the visuals a bit, but the Kung Fu looks incredible and Olivia and her stunt team sell it well.
The question going forward will be how well writers can mix the every day crime fighting with the mystical elements of the ancient weapons. Will one story be sacrificed for the other, or will Kwong tie into the search for these weapons? The final element needed is an overpowering criminal. Kwong fits the role of ‘bad guy’ well enough, but he fails to set a very high bar for our heroes. I’d really like to see a character step up and be a true enemy to Team Nicky. Perhaps the one who killed Sifu Haley will be the one over time.