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Kung Fu 

click to enlarge GIRL POW! Olivia Liang stars as Nicky Shen, a Chinese-monastery-trained martial artist who uses her skills to fight crime, in Kung Fu, a contemporary update of the 1970s Wild West series, currently screening on HBO Max. - PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. TELEVISION
  • Photo Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Television
  • GIRL POW! Olivia Liang stars as Nicky Shen, a Chinese-monastery-trained martial artist who uses her skills to fight crime, in Kung Fu, a contemporary update of the 1970s Wild West series, currently screening on HBO Max.

What's it rated? TV-14

When? 2021

Where's it showing? HBO Max

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Based on the 1970s TV series Kung Fu, which featured David Carradine as a Shaolin monk wandering the Wild West and righting wrongs, armed only with his martial arts skills, this updated version set in the present centers on Chinese American Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), a disillusioned young woman who drops out of college, travels to an isolated monastery in China, and learns mad martial arts skills. After the monastery is attacked and her Sifu, Pei-Ling Zhang (Vanessa Kai), is murdered, Nicky returns home to find her community overrun with crime and corruption and her family threatened.

This is a CW series, meaning it's aimed squarely at adolescents, so there's plenty of drama and youthful romance, but the fight sequences are pretty fun, and it's nice to see a female lead in an Asian-centric action-adventure series. It turns out Nicky comes from a family of warriors tied to a set of ancient, magical weapons that have been scattered but if united can imbue whoever wields them with untold power. Not only are there criminals to contend with, but Nicky must also face her destiny and the dark forces aligned against her. Yes, it's fairly silly.

What makes the series worth watching are its performances. Liang is an engaging lead, and the Asian American cast is wonderful, especially veteran actor Tzi Ma as Nicky's father, Jin, and Kheng Hua Tan as Nicky's mother, Mei-Li. The series also explores contemporary issues like BLM and LGBTQ-plus issues. The Shens' family dynamics are also thoughtfully explored. A second season is in the works for 2022. (in English and Chinese; 14 roughly 40-min. episodes) Δ

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