Kung Fu starts with a wonderful first outing.
Kung Fu Season 1 Episode 1 presents the viewer with a brilliant lead character in Nicky Shen. Olivia Liang shines in the role, which makes the show all the more enjoyable.
While some may consider the fight scenes a bit cheesy, the action pairs well with the emotional beats, and the stunt performances are breathtaking.
Nicky Shen is very complex. She left home for three years and trained in kung fu at a Shaolin Monastery in China.
Her kung fu master, Pei-Ling, acts as her kung fu teacher, her mentor, and mother figure. They mutually cared for each other during Nicky's time at the monastery, and that care was evident through their short time on screen.
From the moment they met, there seemed to be an unspoken connection.
I wish we could have seen more of Pei-Ling before her untimely death.
Pei-Ling's tragic fate was at the hand of the incredibly mysterious Zhilan. We don't know much about Zhilan, and her character raises more questions than answers.
Vanessa Kai performed all of Pei-Ling's scenes with finesse. The short amount of screentime that she and Nicky shared showcased their connection beautifully.
Given the wonderfully performed and emotionally charged fight scene between Zhilan and Pei-Ling, I'd argue that it is safe to assume that the characters share a unique past. Pei-Ling seemed to know who Zhilan was by name, which adds an exciting mystery -- how do they know each other?
Yvonne Chapman plays Zhilan, and even though she was on screen for a short amount of time, she's a notable standout. Her expressions during fight scenes and her body language make it clear that she is an unmatchable force.
Nicky and Zhilan had an intense fight, culminating in Zhilan throwing Nicky off a cliff. Nicky is strong and saved herself by grabbing onto a ledge and climbing up, but her psyche must have taken a beating from losing. I wish we got a bit more of the aftermath instead of jumping right into the passive narration.
Instead, we are left to assume that Nicky's battle with Zhilan and Pei-Ling's death incited Nicky to head home. It was a brutal defeat for Nicky, and I can only imagine how hard it would be to lose someone with whom she spent the last three years.
Her family offers an interesting dynamic.
Her father, Jin, and her sister, Althea, were delighted to see her, while her mother, Mei-Li, and her brother, Ryan, were still bitter from when she had left. The bitterness versus the delightfulness is enjoyable to compare.
The feelings they each hold are personal and get explored individually. Each member of the Shen family (including Nicky) has to reconcile with Nicky's return, and I don't think we have finished exploring that. I hope we will get a lot more about what Nicky missed during those three years and the emotions behind her return.
Tensions were high when she returned, and Kheng Hua Tan's performance was stellar. Mei-Li resented Nicky for leaving the family and did not hesitate to share how she felt. The emotion Hua Tan displayed was so raw, I felt it in my soul. The pain of her daughter leaving is still fresh.
Jin: Nicky! Don't leave.
Nicky: She doesn't want me here.
Kheng Hua Tan plays Mei-Li, and Tzi Ma plays Jin. Their husband-wife dynamic is charming, showcasing their love on-screen by how much they care for each other's well-being.
They both care for all of their family, even if they make mistakes.
Shannon Dang's Althea is complex, and Dang pulls off the challenging role with ease. She has lots of comedic moments, and Dang's comedic timing is a pleasant relief from the show's darker plot.
Rounding out the main cast is Jon Prasida as Ryan. Even though Ryan's naivety was a hurdle at the end of the premiere, he's a loveable character.
The supporting characters, including Evan, Nicky's ex-boyfriend, add to Nicky's situation.
Gavin Stenhouse plays the dreamy Evan Hartley, whom Nicky broke up with before her stay in China.
She still holds some feelings for him, which got squashed when his new girlfriend walked in the door. He's one of Nicky's main allies with the mystery surrounding Zhilan, and it seems that both characters are going to be challenged emotionally with the feelings they may hold for each other.
Evan's character was the lead on the Tony Kang case, which acts as the main focus for the rest of the installment.
A brutal scene involving Jin introduced the Tony Kang case to Nicky.
Nicky found her father beaten up outside of their family restaurant, resulting in her shouldering a lot of emotional trauma.
Mei-Li revealed that she borrowed money from Tony Kang to keep their restaurant afloat. Nicky tasked herself with finding out more about Kang, showing us one of Nicky's many different sides -- the compassion she has for her family. Nicky made stopping Kang a personal vendetta.
The difficulty of helping her family with a notorious gang leader watching their every move was strenuous, and tensions were high in the Shen house.
Mei-Li: What is going on here? Why am I hearing my children are going around Chinatown asking about Tony Kang?
Nicky: We have to do something.
Mei-Li: So this was your foolish idea?
Mei-Li: Mama what? Because of your sister, Tony now knows we're coming after him. Do you know how much danger this puts our family in?
Nicky: We're in danger because of you and your secrets!
Mei-Li was not happy with Nicky's plans surrounding Kang. Both women were going through a lot of stress, and both were not dealing with the stress in healthy ways.
Family is a topic likely to have a significant impact on the rest of the series. She cares for her family. It's fair to say the dynamic will constantly shift throughout the series, as Nicky will not keep her trauma hidden from her family forever.
While trying to figure out what to do about Kang, the whole show's overarching storyline reveals itself, along with one more important character.
Henry knows a lot about Chinese history, and Nicky enlisted his help to figure out Zhilan's plan.
Eddie Liu's performance gives Henry remarkable depth while depicting his excitement towards Chinese History.
Nicky also required him not to tell her family about any of the information she revealed, not to worry them.
Henry: I have some ideas where to start digging. I live for this stuff.
Nicky: Thank you! And um, maybe keep this to yourself for now? My family's dealing with enough.
Henry: Our secret.
After the fight with Pei-Ling, Zhilan left with the sword she used to kill the kung fu master. The sword's impact is more significant than anything Nicky imagined and gives her something more to cause her concern.
By the time of Althea's wedding day picking ceremony, Henry finally figured out the sword's origin.
The information is startling and well-earned within the script. The sword comes from an ancient Chinese sorcerer that wielded eight different weapons.
Zhilan's plan? To obtain all eight weapons and become the most powerful person in the world.
The conversation between Henry and Nicky was intercut with Zhilan revealing that she has a display case ready for all eight weapons. Talk about dramatic embellishment. I think she has been plotting for a long time, and now her master plan is finally coming to fruition.
I need to talk about the ceremony, but there's one final epic battle scene to witness before we can get there.
Kang vs. Nicky!
Nicky and her siblings found the place where Kang performs most of his illicit activities, but Ryan is not confident in the police's ability to stop him, so he headed down to the docks to find evidence himself.
Nicky jumped into action. Her first instinct wasn't to hunt Kang herself; it was to protect Ryan.
By making sure that Ryan was safe, she proves that she'll do anything for her family, even if it meant risking her own life.
However, when she arrived, she had to use more than just her kung fu skills. This scene was a highlight of the episode for me. She had to figure out how to beat a man with a gun with only her kung fu.
Forget bringing a knife to a gunfight; Nicky brought kung fu to a gunfight!
Seeing her critical thinking and quick planning made this scene a delightful watch. By the time she knocked Kang out, I was practically cheering her on.
Now we can discuss Althea's happy ceremony.
Everything during the wedding day picking ceremony looked like a dream.
The costumes, the set design, and the hairstyles were all beautiful! Seeing the stunning traditional Chinese attire was a major treat.
Seeing the whole family happy was excellent evolution from the beginning spitefulness. They looked like a real happy family, and everyone looked like they were having a wonderful time in each others' company.
By the end, I wanted more. I am impatiently awaiting next week. I want to know more about the sword, the ancient sorcerer, and these characters. I want to dig deep into their lives, and I do not doubt that the show will do that in the coming episodes.
Kung Fu goes to great lengths to showcase its incredible Asian leads, which is timely in our current climate. As a character, Nicky holds her own, even when time's get tough. Hopefully, her mental abilities and kung fu skills will continue developing as the show progresses.
So, did the premiere make you a Kung Fu fanatic?
Are you excited to learn more about the mysterious Zhilan?
Sound off in the comments below!
Michael Stack is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.