News

Kung Fu Star Olivia Liang on Martial Arts and Demystifying Asian Stereotypes

The CW’s modern-day remake of Kung Fu is about showing a character who has “a full life — not just the stereotypes,” the series' star says.

by | April 6, 2021 | Comments

With a growing sense of awareness in the United States of the prejudices and hate crimes inflicted upon Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, it’s an interesting time for the premiere of The CW’s Kung Fu.

A new take on the martial arts franchise often associated with the David Carradine–starring Western from the 1970s, this version focuses on Olivia Liang’s Nicky Shen. A Chinese American college dropout from San Francisco, Nicky ditches the life her parents had planned for her and ends up practicing martial arts in a Shaolin monastery – until tragedy strikes and she ends up back home just when her family might need her the most.


Olivia Liang in Kung Fu

(Photo by Kailey Schwerman/The CW)

In the series, which premieres April 7 and is created by Lost and Hawaii: Five-0 vet Christina M. Kim, Nicky is seen protecting herself and those closest to her with jabs, strikes, spins and kicks while barely breaking a sweat (and sometimes to the surprise of her siblings; Shannon Dang’s tech-wiz Althea and Jon Prasida’s medical student Ryan).

“It definitely conflates my own sense of self confidence,” Liang admitted during a recen with Rotten Tomatoes.

“Especially with the things that are happening in the world right now with Asian hate crimes and violence, I find myself walking on the street and being, like, OK what fight choreography did I learn that I can translate if need be at the drop of a hat right now?” she said.

Fight training is a relatively new skill set for Liang. Although she has a background in dance, martial arts was a completely new art form for her when she was cast as Nicky. Training began when she was still busy at her previous job on The CW’s Legacies. That Atlanta-set show’s stunt coordinator, David Morizot, showed her basic moves between takes before she worked with stunt coordinator Sam Ly to prep for the Kung Fu pilot. Then it was an aggressive three-to five-hours-a-day schedule for two weeks where  “they molded me and they whipped me into shape,” she said.


Olivia Liang in Kung Fu

(Photo by Dean Buscher/The CW)

Although she’s not allowed to do any of the intense wire work lest she get injured and cause a delay in production, she said, “you can maybe expect to see at least 65% me” on screen during the fight scenes and that “I try to do as much as possible because it’s also just really fun and really empowering and I feel really cool when I do it.” But she gives credit to her stunt double, Megan Hui, and others in that department “if I ever look cool and badass and powerful during a fight scene.”

The show also both fits in with the other programs on The CW and stands out from them. It’s one of the few options on that channel that concentrates on a woman and is the only one with a predominately AAPI cast. And, although Kung Fu is about a woman crimefighter and counts Arrowverse kingpin Greg Berlanti as one of its executive producers, Liang’s lead doesn’t come with either superhero powers (like The Flash or Supergirl) or – depending on the season of Batwoman — family connections or the luck of finding the high-tech suit of a lost vigilante.

“I think it’s pretty cool that Nicky’s just a regular person who has a skill set and wants to use it for good,” Liang said. “She’s not a superhero and she’s not necessarily wanting to be a hero, but she is very heroic.”


Olivia Liang in Kung Fu

(Photo by Kailey Schwerman/The CW)

Kung Fu also has the hefty task of demystifying the world of martial arts, an art form that Americans may find alluring and stereotypical when we see it portrayed by people of Asian descent (like in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and in Bruce Lee’s films) or as agro when portrayed by white men (like in TV series like Cobra Kai, Arrow, or even the original Kung Fu).

“The great thing about our show is the diversity all around that’s happening,” Liang said, mentioning the Kim-led diverse writers room in particular and that she and other cast members have been reading Charles Yu’s National Book Award-winning Interior Chinatown, which discusses both immigrant Asian stories and TV’s depiction of them.

“I think, because we’ve so long been on the receiving end of this voyeuristic [depiction] of ‘the Orient’ and the mysticism of Asian-ness or otherness, we really know how it feels .. to be under that lens. We know what we don’t want,” Liang said.


Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen and Jon Prasida as Ryan in Kung Fu

(Photo by Kailey Schwerman/The CW)

The show also brings up the question of what is a stereotype and what is part of a culture. In the first episode, Nicky is angry that her mother’s (Tan Kheng Hua’s Mei-Li) big dream for her was that her daughter attend Harvard. This could be perceived as trumpeting a tired trope, but wouldn’t most parents want their kids to get good grades and go to a respected university?

“The interesting thing about stereotypes, from my perspective, is that sometimes they are true,” Liang said, adding that she had “kind of a Tiger Mom growing up [who] did want me to be a genius” and that “I took Abacus lessons for some reason.”

“I think the problem with stereotypes is if that’s the only thing we know about that person and that’s the only thing that they’re defined by,” Liang said, explaining that Mei-Li may come across as a Tiger Mom in the first episode, “but we also get to see her backstory and get to see her care for her kids and where she’s coming from.”

With Nicky, Liang said, “She was the kid who was pressured to go to Harvard and to be everything that her parents wanted her be…[but] we also get to see her break out of that. We get to see her forge her own path, fall in love, fight with her siblings. We see a full life; not just the stereotypes.”

Kung Fu premieres at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7 on The CW.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Ghostbusters cartoon zombies monster movies Box Office satire Rock See It Skip It 007 comedies game of thrones OWN WGN Mary Poppins Returns The Walt Disney Company Reality reviews documentaries Pop TV Tomatazos elevated horror Schedule Avengers comic christmas movies BET Awards Mary poppins aliens YouTube Red television hist Christmas Fox Searchlight Emmys Kids & Family X-Men Action Superheroes indie reboot biography Amazon Prime Video Podcast boxing Interview zombie crossover kong Lucasfilm revenge MCU pirates of the caribbean renewed TV shows 2015 scorecard MTV ratings Winners ABC Signature docuseries cancelled television strong female leads Sundance Now The Arrangement Western worst travel Netflix Pixar king kong halloween CW Seed psychological thriller New York Comic Con festival child's play nature godzilla versus Emmy Nominations BAFTA Film Festival FX french Certified Fresh IFC Films Shondaland Fall TV fresh History Family james bond streaming Rocky Lifetime Disney streaming service Columbia Pictures LGBTQ GLAAD police drama PlayStation USA doctor who movies superhero richard e. Grant Thanksgiving romantic comedy Star Trek Cannes 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Winter TV toronto football TLC NYCC rotten movies we love E! HBO Go Tubi dc Music game show Writers Guild of America Paramount Plus TBS Bravo Set visit Sneak Peek toy story disaster Sundance witnail green book harry potter anime El Rey BBC classics FOX MSNBC popular batman Pride Month Film Baby Yoda movie GoT Comic Book asian-american Super Bowl joker directors Superheroe Vudu Funimation Tumblr Valentine's Day Stephen King crime drama Apple Black History Month Hallmark Christmas movies Extras fast and furious Sci-Fi 2016 ESPN Trailer PBS The Purge Marvel dark TV One TV Land deadpool sequel Video Games Red Carpet festivals HBO venice Freeform YA rotten cops TruTV golden globe awards finale spanish First Reviews USA Network political drama TCM CNN Martial Arts Universal NBC Holidays blockbuster BBC America Biopics universal monsters romance HBO Max Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Esquire archives Brie Larson cancelled nbcuniversal mockumentary chucky Syfy 4/20 psycho blaxploitation spanish language Warner Bros. name the review Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ITV 20th Century Fox Lifetime Christmas movies superman all-time zero dark thirty RT21 Disney Channel Cartoon Network crime Pet Sematary Ovation Starz Adult Swim APB Toys Hallmark comic books Peacock The Academy cancelled TV shows true crime comiccon Fantasy DirecTV robots discovery Sony Pictures Alien jurassic park 2019 YouTube Premium spinoff BBC One justice league criterion Creative Arts Emmys Shudder CBS based on movie films period drama spider-man Chernobyl transformers Epix Comedy Central Calendar National Geographic 2020 TNT DC Comics cancelled TV series Mindy Kaling sitcom 24 frames independent war Captain marvel Reality Competition Song of Ice and Fire prank CMT remakes trailers Comics on TV adaptation australia Mudbound slashers 2018 Musicals Travel Channel 99% ABC Oscars Discovery Channel cults American Society of Cinematographers Paramount Network FX on Hulu Rom-Com Classic Film Exclusive Video Star Wars Marvel Television obituary DC Universe E3 Teen PaleyFest kaiju FXX werewolf Disney thriller Rocketman GIFs Apple TV Plus WarnerMedia Academy Awards sports jamie lee curtis blockbusters scary movies theme song crime thriller japanese Watching Series Hulu mutant Turner worst movies concert Trivia space Nominations Binge Guide TCA ABC Family 2021 mission: impossible TCA Awards Mary Tyler Moore animated Television Critics Association Holiday docudrama Fox News anthology emmy awards The Witch Food Network stop motion Grammys parents Showtime facebook canceled TV shows Lionsgate video TCA Winter 2020 First Look Year in Review ViacomCBS 72 Emmy Awards talk show OneApp technology spy thriller unscripted historical drama children's TV Awards Tarantino tv talk book Country documentary Television Academy adventure a nightmare on elm street CBS All Access ghosts 45 telelvision Infographic Women's History Month Crunchyroll Nat Geo Black Mirror hollywood indiana jones free movies spain golden globes BET VH1 LGBT Trophy Talk Comedy Dark Horse Comics dceu Musical Ellie Kemper IFC 21st Century Fox science fiction 71st Emmy Awards women TV renewals San Diego Comic-Con VOD President Drama comics kids Pop south america Marathons Netflix Christmas movies Awards Tour stoner TCA 2017 quibi Turner Classic Movies Heroines DGA casting Character Guide Pirates serial killer Photos diversity medical drama composers rt archives stand-up comedy video on demand cinemax Endgame Horror series politics Nickelodeon dogs The CW die hard Britbox Elton John Quiz razzies SXSW DC streaming service Anna Paquin Paramount natural history binge screenings best canceled italian Animation nfl foreign franchise The Walking Dead latino black Polls and Games dramedy A24 Acorn TV Broadway sag awards cars Amazon Logo Crackle cooking boxoffice Countdown rom-coms 2017 critics Election Walt Disney Pictures Masterpiece Amazon Studios Legendary hispanic sequels TV news what to watch Disney Plus Spectrum Originals miniseries laika vampires RT History AMC Best and Worst Spring TV twilight Sundance TV Apple TV+ SundanceTV A&E social media halloween tv Cosplay VICE Summer dragons Amazon Prime Mystery Disney+ Disney Plus ID screen actors guild teaser Marvel Studios Arrowverse cats Premiere Dates hidden camera award winner Spike Hear Us Out breaking bad TIFF supernatural singing competition Opinion YouTube SDCC