A new era begins for The CW with Kung Fu. Thankfully, it’s a strong one.
Modern day television and classic TV remakes is a partnership that, for better or worse, will seemingly never end. It’s a partnership that The CW knows all about and one that, like other networks, it has had varying degrees of success with. And Kung Fu is its latest attempt, coming just weeks after the Jared Padalecki-starring Texas Ranger reboot Walker.
Walker was mixed bag in the critical department but a major hit nonetheless, bringing The CW its best viewing figures in three years. And that’s often where the network enjoys its biggest success stories, because its shows may adhere to a very “CW” brand of tropes but their formula works really well, with its easy-to-watch but eye-catching programming usually reeling in the viewers regardless of story limitations.
It can get tired, yes, but there’s life in it yet… and Kung Fu is a classic example of that.
Kung Fu is a reboot in name only
Loosely adapting the 1972 series, Kung Fu tells the story of Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), a Chinese-American woman who returns home following an attack on the monastery in China that she spent three years at while embarking on a journey of self-discovery (and also learning herself some martial arts). There, however, she must mend the relationships she ran out on in the first place and face the crime that threatens her own family.
If that description of the pilot didn’t already make it clear, there’s a familiarity about Kung Fu – one that many viewers will undoubtedly feel when they watch it. But it’s not a familiarity that invokes callbacks to the original series. No, Kung Fu is eerily reminiscent of the first season of Arrow, which isn’t all that surprising given that Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter and The CW are involved in bringing it to life.
But the story similarities to Arrow aren’t drawbacks, because they complement the story, ensuring that we all know that this isn’t just some misguided remake, but one hoping to make its own stamp on the world. The recycling of the familiar CW format certainly helps it set itself apart from the original series, but it also offers up its biggest challenges.
Like we’ve seen with many of the Arrowverse shows, the pilot episode takes on some monumental movie-like narratives and tries to juggle them all in the short space of 45 minutes or less. This results in a lot of exposition that is relayed through conversation after conversation. It’s not totally unforgivable given that this is the series premiere and it’s an issue that will undoubtedly be corrected as the series goes on, but it is indicative of some of the regular flaws that become more prevalent every time the format is recycled and all the conversations can leave you a little confused. Thankfully, there is more than enough good in there to make up for that.
Timely TV that packs many punches
Kung Fu is definitely a timely series, one that places the spotlight an Asian American family. That’s something we can definitely celebrate it for before it even airs on our screens and it’s something that is long overdue as well. However, that family and the dynamics between them allow for some of the pilot’s most engaging moments.
Nicky’s turbulent relationship with her mother Mei-Li Shen (Tan Kheng Hua) frames much of the premise, as it was the latter’s attempts to push her daughter into the life she wanted for her that ultimately resulted in Nicky running away. And the chemistry between the on-screen mother and daughter is already very strong, ensuring that it will set the stage for some powerful moments to come.
It seems like Nicky’s brother Ryan (Jon Prasida) could end up being the show’s most important supporting character. The Shen family member with the most interesting relationship with Nicky (other than their mother, of course), he relates to her in a way that the others don’t and the pilot very much places the focus on their relationship.
Speaking of relationships, Nicky may find herself caught between two handsome men before the season’s out (come on, we all know The CW loves a good love triangle) as her ex-boyfriend assistant District Attorney Evan Hartley (Gavin Stenhouse) and the attractive fountain of knowledge that is Henry Yan (Eddie Liu) both make heart eyes at her at at least one point in the pilot.
And yours truly was making plenty of heart eyes at the impressive action scenes that command your attention every time they pop up. The slow-mo approach may not be for everyone, but I certainly didn’t mind it when this non-stop pilot finally took a moment to let us savor something. And they are certainly worth savoring – just like the show Kung Fu is about to become.
Kung Fu premieres on The CW on Wednesday, April 7, at 8:00 p.m. ET. It will then air new episodes every Wednesday night.
Are you looking forward to the premiere of Kung Fu? Will you be watching the series? Let us know in the comments below!