From 1972 to 1975 David Carradine wandered the Old West in the TV series Kung Fu. His character, Kwai Chang Caine, was a half Chinese/half American Shaolin monk exiled from China and searching for his family on the frontier. He was frequently forced to use his impressive martial arts skills to protect the innocent and rain holy hell on the wicked.
Then there was a sequel series in the ‘90s that saw Carradine play a descendant of the original Caine. And now, almost 50 years since Caine walked the Earth like Jules after Pulp Fiction, having adventures and shit, a third iteration steps to the fore—but there have been some changes.
For starters, the new version of Kung Fu, which comes to us courtesy of showrunner Christina M. King and Arrowverse/Sabrina mastermind Greg Berlanti, gives us a protagonist who is actually Asian. Olivia Liang plays Nicky Shen, a Chinese-American woman who skips out on her doting but strict mother’s (Kheng Hua Tan) attempts to set her up with a nice boy from the old country.
Instead, she spends three years in a Shaolin Temple (as you do…) learning the kind of high-flying, high-kicking, wire-assisted deadly arts familiar to fans of wuxia cinema (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the most visible example to western audiences). After the monastery is burned, her mentor is murdered, and the temple’s sacred sword is stolen, Nicky decamps back to San Francisco, where she finds her community under the thumb of vicious triad gangs and other ne’er-do-wells. What’s a highly trained kung fu exponent to do, other than start kicking heads?