A remake in name only, CW’s “Kung Fu” (premiering Tuesday at 8 p.m.) finds a young woman trying to come to terms with her past while embarking on a dangerous quest.
And at a time when assaults against Asian Americans are at record highs, “Kung Fu’s” greatest achievement is not the impressive fight choreography but its depiction of a complicated, loving Chinese American family – one anyone can relate to.
Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) deserted her family and her boyfriend in San Francisco and has spent the last three years training at a Shaolin monastery in China filled with extraordinary warrior women led by her mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai).
Pei-Ling warns Nicky she will never know peace until she comes to terms with the pain that caused her to leave America.
Before Nicky can take Pei-Ling’s advice to heart, the monastery is attacked and destroyed by mysterious raiders and Pei-Ling is slain.
Left with little choice, Nicky returns to San Francisco and to a mixed welcome from her family.
Her father Jin (Tzi Ma) and sister Althea (Shannon Dang) are thrilled to see her. Her brother Ryan (Jon Prasida), a pre-med student, resents her for abandoning him.
Her mother Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) takes one look at her and declares that her daughter died three years ago.
Nicky learns that her beloved neighborhood has changed and is now under the control of a vicious gang that threatens her family.
As Nicky tries to help her community – and save her parents – she also learns some vital information about the attack on the monastery that points to a conspiracy that could leave millions dead.
“Kung Fu’s” entertaining, expertly made pilot deftly blends drama, action, and even a little bit of comedy. The fight choreography is practically a ballet of destruction. Nicky and her family all get moments to flesh out their characters. Dang’s Althea is a delight, a bride-to-be who seems like a superficial ditz – but spoiler! – is so not.
The show is even smart enough to poke a little bit of fun at the action cliches of the martial arts genre. After one street battle in which Nicky decimates some goons, Ryan enthuses, “You were practically floating on air!”)
“It was just a big jump,” Nicky downplays. “…I had momentum. It was physics.”
Given all that is going on in this country, one can’t help but wish there was a Nicky on every street corner to surprise some racist thug. At least we can enjoy “Kung Fu.”