The APAHM Project 2021 Days 7-14: Kung Fu
Series: Kung Fu
Created by: Christina M. Kim
Where to Watch: The CW App
Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2020
Why it Made the List: In the same way that Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) rights wrongs, this 2021 reboot gives an accurately cast refresh of the the 1972 series of the same name.
I'm not going to lie, the pilot episode didn't necessarily "wow" me. But as I continued on Nicky's journey, I found myself more and more invested in her, her family, and her community.
Nicky, experiencing a quarter-life crisis, drops out of Harvard Law to join a Shaolin monastery in China. After her shifu (Vanessa Kai) is tragically killed by a magic sword at the hands of her sister, Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman), Nicky returns home to San Fransisco with a vow to avenge her shifu. She is welcomed by her father (Tzi Ma) and sister, Althea (Shannon Dang), but receives a not-so-warm welcome from her doctor brother, Ryan (Jon Prasida) and her tiger mom mother (Kheng Hua Tan), who feel as if Nicky abandoned the family 3 years ago.
Nicky meets the Chinese community center cutie, Henry (Eddie Liu), who is a graduate student studying Chinese history. He and Nicky work together to unlock the myths of 8 guardian families who swore to protect 8 different weapons (including the magic sword). The pair, with the occasional help of Nicky's siblings and ex-boyfriend, Assistant DA Evan (Gavin Stenhouse), track down the locations of the items before Zhilan gets to them first.
The genre and premise of this series is way up my alley. I love fantasy and mythical shows as well as superhero action series. I feel "Kung Fu" has both. It also has a mix of the hero's journey, family, cultural identity, and life virtues. Each episode has a different virtuous theme such as strength, quiet, and anger or emotions. My own family has different pieces of art in the house that dons a single character for virtues such as courage, fortune, and happiness. When I was younger, I couldn't help but feel like these were familial traits I was expected to uphold. They are, of course, great things to strive for although my family never instilled them on me directly. But I think the way the show uses these themes to relate to Nicky's current situation and her Shaolin training works well.
Additionally, the show breaks stereotypes while also embracing Chinese culture and traditions. For example, the mom and dad show affection towards one another in front of their kids. This is a common stereotype that Asian parents are not romantic with each other. Another thing I noticed is that the Shen family is well-cast as a believable family. I feel that often times we hear "all Asians look alike" and that idea carries into the casting process. Any Asian person can play the family member of the other Asian actor. But Dang and Liang actually look like sisters and I can see some of Tan's features in them as well. I also appreciate that a lot of the actors are not as well-known (at least to me), thus expanding our pool of AAPI talent.
"Kung Fu" 2021 is a reboot of "Kung Fu" 1972. The series was seen as successful, having 3 seasons before its finale, due to its main actor wanting to stop the show because of the injuries he was obtaining and his desire to go into movies. However, the show also faces a slew of criticism, mainly from the Asian community. After spending about half an hour reading the Wikipedia page, I can see why.
Firstly, it it is believed that the series is a stolen idea that legendary Chinese American actor and martial artist Bruce Lee came up with. Wanting the show to be an East meets West(ern), Lee presented his idea to studios. When casting for the show, Lee was considered but ultimately passed up for several reasons including his height, speech, and lack of star quality. David Carradine was eventually cast as the main character, a half-Asian, half-European Shaolin monk, although Carradine is predominantly Irish and has no note on his Wiki page of being of any Asian descent.
The show would continue to cast non-Asians in bigger Asian or Eurasian roles and Asians in smaller ones. During this time, the Asian acting community did note it was a great way to land a job. However, the show miscast Hispanic and Native American characters as well. Additionally, certain racial and gender groups, particularly women and Black Americans, were depicted in a negative and/or stereotypical way. The Wikipedia page also notes historical inaccuracies, specifically which racial groups were actually present in the US during the time in which the show took place.
"Kung Fu" 1972 was one of the last television shows to utilize Yellow Face. 1972 was not that long ago. Our movement for proper AAPI representation in media is still new and growing (ahem, Ghost in the Shell, Aloha, 21, and Doctor Strange), but so much progress (hello, movies and TV on the 2020 and 2021 APAHM Project and more) has been made in such a short time too. "Kung Fu" 2021, as far as I know (not having ever seen the original), has no ties to the original series except its name. As much as I roll my eyes at remakes and reboots, I have always thought that they were appropriate if they are being changed to amend its predecessor.
There have been two previous "Kung Fu" reboot attempts, both starring females. Both never even got a pilot episode. I feel that this is a show we need today, right now. With all that is happening in the world with Asian Hate, the murdering of the members of our Black community (which Episode 5 centered around), a show about Asians, starring Asians, being every day people, is something worth celebrating. And that the stars aligned to finally make this particular rendition, with this cast, come to our screens. "Kung Fu" received the highest ratings for a Wednesday night CW show in the last 7 years and has already been renewed for a Season 2. I am excited to see the rest of season 1 and eventually season 2 and many more seasons to come.
Stop Hate and Donate:
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Today’s donation link is for Yong Yue, one of the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings that happened in March 2021. Yue immigrated to the US from South Korea in the 1980s. She was a lover of karaoke and cooking,
Donations will go towards Yue's family, which include her children and grandchildren. Click here to donate to the GoFundMe page.
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