The CW’s “Kung Fu” appears to be inspired in title only by the 1972-75 series. The show follows a Chinese-American 20-something woman, Olivia Liang plays Nicky Shen, a young woman who interrupts her college career to live in a monastery in China and learn martial arts. She’s on the run from her family’s expectations as well as from a sense of uncertainty. She’s a bit adrift as a student but finds herself in righteous pugilism. After her mentor (Vanessa Kai) is killed, Nicky returns to San Francisco to find that life has continued without her. Her sister (Shannon Dang) is now engaged and fulfilling the family’s ambition to have a married daughter. Her brother (Jon Prasida) has tried, without much success, to be honest with his family about his sexuality. Her ex (Gavin Stenhouse) has moved on, too.
Created by TV vet Christina Kim, the show has a largely Asian writing staff. It treats the Chinese traditions and ancient stories that surround Nicky’s quest to find Zhilan with the utmost respect. The characters, including Nicky, are real people with real reasons for doing what they did. Nicky couldn’t deal with her mother’s pressure to go to Harvard; Ryan was upset that he didn’t have Nicky at his side when he came out to their parents.
Most of the dialogue is fast and smart with the same sense of humor other Berlanti shows to exhibit, but there was a lot of situations where it felt like Nicky had to save her siblings from a case of stupids, like when Ryan brought a huge and loud camera to the factory where the Triad leader was doing an arms deal. We know that both of Nicky’s siblings have skills — Ryan knows the neighborhood via his clinic, and Althea has mad tech skills — and we hope Nicky uses them to help her instead of constantly needing to save them with her kung fu skills.
The show’s fight scenes are a similarly mixed bag but fare better than its plot-driven elements. Of the premiere’s three main fight scenes, the two that primarily feature practical effects and grounded choreography excel. There’s a surprising physicality to several of the fight scenes and Nicky’s brawls with nameless criminal goons strike the perfect balance between empowering her character while still making it seem like she might be in actual danger. Still, “Kung Fu” would be wise to stick to more grounded action scenes, because things go off the rails when special effects and slow-motion are heavily incorporated into the fighting. The premiere’s first action scene, which takes place at Nicky’s Shaolin monastery, is the episode’s worst by a considerable margin: People’s kicks fail to connect with their intended targets and you can practically see the background is rendered on a computer in real-time. The budget or technical skills for even remotely believable CGI is not available here, but “Kung Fu” has already proved it doesn’t need those things to create enjoyable action sequences.
There are caveats upon caveats to “Kung Fu,” but despite all of its quirks, the show has potential, and with a tighter focus on its characters Nicky’s adventures to defend her community could be worth the investment.
Final Score – [5.5/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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