Forty years after David Carradine’s Kung Fu debuted, Kung Fu (2021) showed a different twist on the old story: Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) learns at the Shaolin Monastery in the Yunnan Province of China, after she runs away from the arranged marriage her mother attempts to force her into as a student studying abroad. When her shifu (master) is killed, Shen gets caught up in a mystery revolving around a sacred sword, and finds herself fighting to clean up the mean streets of San Francisco where the Triad seeks to exert control.
Shen’s pursuit of justice against her shifu’s killer, and against the Triad, provides some exciting moments throughout the first season of the show (with the second season coming in March 2022). But the show is mostly remarkable for its focus on Asian culture in the United States, and the way that Shen and her siblings have adapted to the expectations of their parents at different levels. It’s sometimes funny, often adventurous, even mysterious. It’s a throwback in its connection to the central storyline with brief deviations to sub-stories along the way.
Shen’s shifu shows up in visions (think Obi-Won or Yoda post-demise) with bits of advice and encouragement for her young protege to follow. “Faith makes the impossible possible,” she says at one point, and Shen dives deeper into the mystery, against the cultural malaise that threatens her home, family, and community. She’s a force of nature in the battle against evil, and as she reminds another character early on, she’s not alone.
Henry Yan (Eddie Liu) serves as Shen’s love interest and sidekick. Her older sister Althea (Shannon Dang) provides tech support, and a back story of sexual abuse; her brother Ryan (Jon Prasida) is openly gay and relatively unaccepted by any other than his siblings. Shen will need all of their help when combatting Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman), who wants to find eight artifacts including the sword to gain ultimate power.
Together, Shen and her friends will serve up some cool choreographed fight scenes and some life lessons about who is accepted, or not, and how we should respect the gifts of others.
The Blu-ray pack includes “Kung Fu: Bond of Honor” and unaired scenes.