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The Cast of The CW’s Kung Fu Discusses How the New Show Is “About Social Justice”

The actors and creators discussed Asian representation.

Kung Fu -- "Pilot" -- Image Number: ALA101fg_0001r.jpg -- Pictured: Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

For the cast of The CW’s reboot of Kung Fu, it feels like their new series, which premieres on April 7th, could not come at a better time in terms of advancing positive and powerful Asian representation on screen. Having seen the pilot, I’m also incredibly happy and excited to see an almost entirely Asian cast on a major network telling a distinctly Asian American story about family, community, and yes, some awesome martial arts fights. The cast is excited for audiences to see the series, as well, and shared their excitement for the story and show with reporters today at a virtual press conference, where The Mary Sue was in attendance.

The mood at the press conference was generally bright and hopeful, but given the national attention on the tragedy in Atlanta and the rise in anti-Asian racism and violence it was part of, the cast and creator Christina Kim also took time to speak about how they hope the series will be a beacon for representation and for justice.

Olivia Liang stars in the series as Nicky Shen, a young woman who returns home after ghosting her friends and family to spend three years training in Kung Fu in a Shaolin monastery. Nicky returns home looking for justice for her murdered mentor, but her biggest hurdle may be repairing her relationship with her family. And it’s in showing a loving and complicated Asian family that the series shines, and it’s in that way that Liang hopes the series will be a positive force.

“So much about representation and inclusion is not so much that we as Asians need to see ourselves represented on the screens,” said Liang. “But we need to be invited into people’s homes who don’t see us in everyday lives, just to humanize us, normalize seeing us, remind them that we are just like they are and have a place in this world. And hopefully having our show in their homes will expand that worldview for them.” Liang also noted that “The timing of our show is really impeccable.”

Series creator Christina Kim was clear that better Asian representation onscreen is only part of the solution to the problems facing America today. “Our show is not the solution, but I hope we are part of the solution,” Kim explained. “And having a show like ours on the air makes us part of the narrative and as Olivia said, brings us into the homes of so many people. And brings about cultural awareness and acceptance. I hope that we are a part of the solution.”

Tzi Ma, who plays Nicky’s father, Jin, spoke emotionally and honestly about how the show fits into the broader context.

“What happened last night with eight people killed breaks my heart,” Ma said. “I’m not quite sure what the short-term fix is and I know we are the long-term solution. To do our show, to show the world who we are. And hopefully, those messages will come out loud and clear about inclusion, about representation. These are part of our long-term goals. Short-term solutions, I don’t have any. We aim to knock it out of the park, man, because it’s important to all of us that this happens.” He added, ” Hopefully our long-term solution will make a difference.”

Kung Fu -- "Pilot" -- Image Number: KF101f_0185r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Tzi Ma as Jin Shen, Shannon Dang as Althea Shen and Kheng Hau Tan as Mei - Li -- Photo: Kailey Schwerman/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The series, at least the first episode, very much achieves that with an authentic but still entertaining story.  Set in San Francisco, the Shuen family is dealing with unscrupulous criminals threatening the neighborhood as well and dangerous assassins looking for ancient weapons, and that’s all a good excuse for some incredible fights and stories. But as with any great show, the best moments in Kung Fu come from the characters we learn to care about and how they interact with one another and stand up for what they believe in.

“‘Kung Fu’ is all about social justice,” said Kheng Hua Tan, who plays Nicky’s mother, Mei-Li. “Episode after episode, you see every single character trying to rise above their own inhibitions or fears, to do what is right. You see characters of all ages and walks of life trying to work together to do what is best for the community to help. It doesn’t come easy, I think. I think that the characters go through many challenges in order to find what it is that works as a group. I’m hoping that audiences that actually see characters, like the ones that are represented in Kung Fu, overcoming challenges will find inspiration to maybe adopt that and do that for themselves in their real lives.”

When Kung Fu debts in April, I think it will do just that.

(via ETOnline, images: Katie Yu/The CW)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.