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Series / Kung Fu (2021)

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Kung Fu is a 2021 TV drama that reimagines the original Kung Fu (1972) series (and to an extent, to Kung Fu: The Legend Continues) that starred David Carradine by updating the setting from the Old West to San Francisco in the 21st century.

The show is produced by Christina M. Kim, Ed Spielman (who also produced the original Kung Fu series), Greg Berlanti, Martin Gero, and Sarah Schechter.

While on a trip to China, Chinese-American college student Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) disappears from public life and retreats to Yunnan Province, where she trains in a Shaolin monastery. Three years later, Nicky chooses to return home after her Shaolin mentor, Pei-Ling Zhang (Vanessa Kai), is murdered by mysterious forces under an unknown criminal named Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman).

Back at San Francisco's Chinatown community, Nicky reunites with her overbearing mother, Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan), whose disapproval at her daughter's relationship with DA Evan Hartley (Gavin Stenhouse) led to their breakup; her father, Jin (Tzi Ma), a restaurant owner; her older sister, Althea (Shannon Dang), a hacker who is engaged to Dennis Soong (Tony Chung); and her younger brother, Ryan (Jon Prasida), a med student still upset at Nicky for leaving the family. After Jin is attacked and nearly killed by Triad 49ers, and Ryan almost gets himself killed as well while trying to take evidence of their criminal activities, Nicky decides to put her fighting skills and Shaolin values to good use to defend Chinatown and take on criminals and other bad guys. Befriending fellow martial arts expert Henry Yan (Eddie Liu), she learns from him that Zhilan is collecting a series of sacred weapons, one of which was stolen from Pei-Ling during the attack on the monastery, and Nicky may be the key to secure the others.

The series aired for three seasons before being canceled in 2023.

Kung-Fu contains examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Nicky and Evan broke up before she ran off to the monastery. When they reunite three years later, too much time had passed. Eventually, they both end up moving on from each other (or at least Nicky does; Evan is clearly still into Nicky despite having a girlfriend, and "Choice" deals with whether Nicky chooses to rekindle their romance or start a fresh one with Henry. She chooses the latter).
  • Adaptational Diversity: The show's cast is predominantly Asian, and the protagonist is played by an actual Asian female instead of a Caucasian male pretending to be half-Asian. Nicky's younger brother, Ryan, is also gay.
  • Actor Allusion: In "Destiny", Althea wears her old cheerleader uniform at her bachelorette party. Shannon Dang was once a cheerleader for the Rams.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Althea and Dennis call each other Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm (doubles as Shout-Out).
  • Alchemy Is Magic: Introduced with Xiao, the ancient alchemist whose experiments created the Warriors and Guardians bloodlines, giving Nicky her enhanced abilities. Ryan is also able to use one of Xiao's alchemical recipes to help Nicky go to the dream realm to save Mia.
  • Amicable Exes: Despite having broken up, Nicky and Evan are still on speaking terms, and occasionally team up together. While initially disliking him, Evan eventually becomes friends with Henry, Nicky's current love interest, as well.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The sword of Liang Daiyu was passed down to Pei-Ling through a family of guardians meant to protect it. It's also revealed that Nicky and Mei-Li are the actual descendants of Liang Daiyu and the guardians are just watching over the sword until it can be returned to them.
  • Artifact Collection Agency: The Wan Zai, who Henry's dad works for.
  • Asian and Nerdy: All three of the Shen siblings qualify. Nicky was a law student before she dropped out to find herself, and was known for having excellent grades in school. Althea is a Techno Wizard when it comes to computers. And Ryan is a medical student.
  • Babies Ever After: Nadia reveals she's pregnant by Evan near the end of Season 3. The season epilogue shows them celebrating the birth with the Shooby gang.
  • Badass Family: The whole Shen family contributes to Nicky's vigilante activities in some way, including friends, significant others, and spouses.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The third season finale-turned series finale ended the series conclusively on some sad notes, but overall towards the "sweet" side. Nicky had to kill her master Pei-Ling to stop Xiao, leaving her and Zhilan devastated. Zhilan is uncertain about what to do with herself now that her sister is gone. Mei-Li decided to leave Harmony Dumplings after making too many concessions to the new corporate owner. Despite the sadness, the remaining main characters forged ahead on promising trajectories. Jin became district supervisor, bringing leadership to Chinatown. Althea secured a position with the CIA while continuing to collaborate part-time with Evan. She and Dennis began to build a life together outside of their respective families. Ryan and Sebastian reconciled, and Mei-Li decided to join Sebastian's food truck venture. Evan welcomed a new baby with Nadia. Finally, Nicky decided to travel the world and help those in need while Henry finishes out his debt to the Wan Zi. They are both still in love with each other, and they look forward to reuniting when their separate adventures are over.
  • Brand X: The web browser used is Zindle. And the Wikipedia version is called Zindlepedia.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Some female prisoners harass Zhilan on a constant basis, even paying off a guard so they could go into her cell and rough her up. It seems like Mugging the Monster at first, until one of the prisoners explicitly states that only the most dangerous prisoners are kept in solitary like Zhilan is. Zhilan ends up showing no mercy to them once she gets the opportunity.
  • Cain and Abel: "Silence" reveals that Zhilan and Pei-Ling were sisters. This was hinted at in the first episode where Pei-Ling tells Nicky she is not the only one with a difficult family. Pei-Ling was Nicky's heroic mentor, and Zhilan the first season's main antagonist, who killed her in the opener to steal an ancient sword.
  • The Chosen Many: In a sense — there are multiple Warriors and Guardians throughout the world, passed down through families. Within Nicky's own family, her grandmother and aunt were both Warriors and Nicky points out one of her or her siblings' children could be chosen if she doesn't end the cycle.
  • The Chosen One:
    • Nicky — she is the Warrior of her generation, as one member of each generation of her family has been born with the capability to use the sword of her ancestor, Liang Daiyu. Before her, her Po Po and Auntie Mei-Xu were also chosen, but one refused it and the other has since passed away.
    • Henry inadvertently became this when he was marked by the Lodestone as the Compass Bearer as a child, able to detect magic. He activated these abilities in "The Compass".
  • The Chooser of the One:
    • Each sacred weapon has a Warrior and a Guardian. The Warrior uses the weapon and the Guardian protects the weapon until the Warrior can be found.
    • The Lodestone chose Henry as the Compass Bearer after he reassembled it as a child.
  • Cock Fight: Henry and Evan start out doing this, with both competing for Nicky's affections. In "Isolation", however, they surprisingly bond during their journey to help Nicky find Mei-Xue, and agree that whatever they do, it's ultimately her decision to choose either of them.
  • Connected All Along: "Sacrifice" reveals that Nicky's grandmother was friends with Pei-Ling's mother, who trained her in martial arts. This causes Nicky to deduce that her own meeting with Pei-Ling was not an accident, and Nicky's maternal family and the Zhangs have been intertwined for generations.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Simon Lau appears to be a self-absorbed pop star brushing off the legends of the weapon and only caring for his own hide. When Zhilan wants his weapons (a spiked ball on a chain), Simon seems ready to give it to her...and instead begins to expertly use it against her as he's been training with it since he was five years old.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A recurring theme in the story is the Chinese way of "saving face" — attempting to deal with changes by not discussing them at all, which affects both Nicky (who didn't fulfill her family's expectation of becoming a Model Minority by dropping out of college) and Ryan (who is gay).
  • Dimensional Traveler: Xiao is revealed in Season 3 to have had this ability before the Emperor imprisoned her, on top of her alchemical talents. Bo/The Harvester shares this ability, which got him stuck in an apocalyptic dimension by accident as a child. Xiao helped train his abilities and used him to steal energy from the souls of the warriors and guardians for her.
  • Doing Research: Frequently done in the library of the community center.
  • The Dreaded:
    • "Pilot" mentions a businessman named Tony Kang, who's said to be a prominent businessman with ties to the Triads and Tongs. Rightfully so as Chinatown residents dread hearing his name. And it takes the Shen siblings asking around for two 49ers to go after them as an example.
    • Chinese law enforcement are so scared of Zhilan and her Biange group that when Nicky asks about her, they kick her out.
    • Nicky herself by the beginning of Season 2. She's able to get a criminal to apologize and return the money he stole once he realized he was up against "the" Nicky Shen.
  • Emerald Power: Biange, the energy which fuels the eight weapons glows green.
  • Engineered Public Confession: How Nicky defeats the Corrupt Corporate Executive Villain of the Week at the end of "Patience."
  • Easily Forgiven: Despite driving Nicky and Evan's relationship apart three years before, Mei-Li and Evan somehow managed to become friendly during the time Nicky was away.
  • Evil Wears Black: Zhilan and her group of bandits wear black when they attack the monastery in the pilot episode.
  • Foreshadowing: In "Isolation", Nicky finds the grave of her aunt, who lived alone in the mountains, and wonders, "Who buried you?" Cut to "Transformation", in which Russell Tan reveals Mei Xue had a secret daughter, showing said daughter at her mother's grave.
  • Generation Xerox:
    • Mei-Li is angry at Nicky for running away to China against her wishes. Nicky later learns that Mei-Li came to the US against her own parents' wishes.
    • "Sacrifice" reveals that Mei-Li's own mother, Yuemu, almost became a warrior until she chickened out and resolved to steer her children away from that path, making her a copy of Mei-Li.
    • "Guidance" reveals that Nicky's maternal family is destined to have a female warrior born once per generation. It can be assumed that the problem Nicky currently faces has been festering in the family for hundreds of years.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: The sword stolen from China is said to date back to ancient times and was made by a Chinese shaman. Its use was made prominent in the Tang Dynasty. It's said that it's one of eight enchanted weapons that have gone missing and assembling all eight is said to bring out an incredible power called "Biange."
  • Heir Club for Men: Inverted with the warrior legacy of Liang Daiyu, as only women are selected to wield the sacred sword.
  • History Repeats: Discussed in "Sacrifice."
    • Mei-Li kept the secret of her warrior heritage from Nicky, which ended up driving Nicky away for three years. Mei-Li's mother kept her own knowledge of their warrior heritage a secret as well, which drove her older daughter Mei Xue to search for answers, never to return. Mei-Li invokes this to convince Po Po to tell Nicky all she knows.
    • Likewise, Nicky realizes the burden of the sword's legacy and the threat of Biange keeps revisiting each generation of her family, and the only way to stop the cycle is to face it and end it.
  • Hollywood Law: In "Sacrifice", Nicky decides to travel to China within a day's time to stop Zhilan. In real life, an American citizen can't just hop the next plane to China (or many other foreign countries) on a whim; they need a visa from the foreign country's government first, a process that typically takes weeks.
  • I Am Spartacus: In "Sanctuary" there's a variation when Joe is about to get arrested for allegedly inciting a riot. Everyone else there claims they've incited riot too. This confuses and delays the cops long enough to uncover a video showing he did no such thing, so they leave.
  • I Have No Son!: Nicky's mom's reaction to seeing her daughter for the first time in three years.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: Althea sees through a supposed rich woman as a thief as the woman had borrowed the identity of a real rich gal. She did her research on the girl's past as a cheerleader, down to the name of the coach. Too bad for her, Althea happens to be a fan of college cheerleading and knew the squad didn't make Nationals in the year the woman claimed it did. That led her to find a photo of the real cheerleader to expose the imposter.
  • In Name Only: While the series shares the same name and basic premise (a Shaolin monk fighting for justice) as the 1972 series, almost everything else about it is different, from the main character's gender and backstory to the time period it's set in.
  • Informed Attribute: In "Isolation", Evan mentions Nikki's awesome woodsmanship skills. A few minutes later, Nikki is confronted by a snarling wolf, and runs from it.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Averted. Not only Asian cultures are clearly delineated but there are passing mentions of inter-Chinese cultural differences as well.
    • The Shen family are Mandarin from Northern China, while Althea's fiance, Dennis Soong, is a Cantonese from Hong Kong. In one episode, Mei-Li is worried that her daughter is slowly drifting away from her roots, as she has been taking Cantonese classes.
    • In "Attachment", Henry wonders why a Chinese sacred weapon ends up in the hands of a Korean artist. Nicky deduces that said artist, Simon Lau, is a Chinese who broke into the Korean pop industry, citing the real-life example of Kris Wu, an ex-member of EXO.
    • In Season 3, Sebastian bringing his own Filipino cuisine to the Harmony Dumplings menu makes Carrie worry about the brand, since she sold the higher-ups on Chinese, not Asian Fusion, cuisine.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery:
    • Wearing evening or formal wear does absolutely nothing to hamper Nicky's fighting ability.
    • "Rage" is set at a formal visit to a museum, and has Nicky and Zhilan duke it out in fancy dresses.
  • Light Is Not Good:
    • Zhilan wears a very elegant white outfit in "Rage".
    • Master Drake is introduced wearing white and presents himself as a wise martial arts master. In reality, he is crook who is manipulating his students into participating in illegal fights which he is profiting from.
  • Loan Shark: Tony Kang is involved in many criminal activities. This is the one that brings him into conflict with Nicky.
  • Love Triangle: It looks early on like there might be one between Nicky, her former boyfriend Evan, and her new friend Henry. But Nicky realizes in "Choice" that she wants to be with Henry.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Downplayed. Season 3 ends with all the magic from the Warrior and Guardian bloodlines drained away, but Henry's compass powers and multiple magical artifacts still exist.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage:
    • Mei-Li disapproved of Nicky's relationship with the white Evan and sent her on a matchmaking trip to China to find her a Chinese husband. When Nicky found out, she ran away and joined the monastery. Surprisingly, when Nicky returns home, she learns that her mother and Evan are now friends.
    • Averted with Ryan bringing Joe to meet his parents. Not only they are okay with him bringing a man, they don't mention him being a black man at all (to be fair, this is after their Character Development).
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Nicky and Henry end up having spontaneous sex in a library, which she gets teasing comments about later.
  • Meaningful Name: The episode title "Alliance" has Nicky and everyone else join up. Even Zhilan agrees to join because Russel's plans are a growing threat to the city of San Francisco.
  • Monochrome Casting: The main cast is almost entirely Asian or Asian-American (the lone exception is the white Evan Hartley), justified with it being set at San Francisco's Chinatown and revolving around Chinese mythology.
  • Mystery Cult: Season 2 has the Inner Sanctum. Russel's trying to be a member.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • One of the first shots is a grasshopper in a cage, a reference to Master Po's nickname for Caine.
    • Similar to Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Nicky stays in China to train in Yunnan Province at a Shaolin monastery. The monastery Nicky lived/trained in was also destroyed in a fire, albeit due to an armed criminal.
    • Nicky's hesitation to believe in anything supernatural is likely based on Peter Caine's unwillingness to believe in the supernatural after Kwai Chang Caine reunited with Peter.
    • The final shot of the Season 3 finale-turned-series finale resembles the final shot of the closing credits from the original series, with Nicky walking off into the sunset.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In "Guidance", Nicky encounters Master Drake, a martial arts teacher who manipulates his students into unregulated cage fights due to their cult-like admiration of him. She wonders if her own devotion to Pei-Ling, taking her side in a conflict she barely understands, makes her any different.
  • The Nth Doctor: Xiao was introduced as played by Vanessa Kai in Season 2, as she had borrowed Pei-Ling's appearance to trick Nicky. Starting in Season 3, Xiao is played by both Vanessa Kai (when Xiao is possessing Pei-Ling's body) and Jennifer Khoe (in her original form).
  • Office Romance: In Season 2, Ryan develops an attraction for Sebastian, the new chef at Harmony Dumplings. Sebastian, while also attracted, initially tries to avoid getting involved with Ryan since he doesn't want to screw up his opportunity by dating his boss's son, but Ryan wears him down.
  • Offing the Offspring: Russell Tan kills his daughter Juliette for betraying him. Then he effectively kills his son Kerwin so that he can take over his body and gain immortality.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Zig-zagged. The sword of Liang Daiyu burns Nicky when she tries to hold it, despite Nicky being a direct descendant of Liang Daiyu. It does not appear to burn Zhilan. The markings from Nicky's burn, however, reveal the location of the Forge, suggesting that Nicky was meant to find and wield Biange.
  • Outlaw Couple: Zhilan and Kerwin work together to steal some of the weapons from Kerwin's father, among other illegal acts.
  • Pair the Spares: In a sense; the series had Nicky, Henry, and Evan in a Love Triangle in the first season but then Nicky chooses Henry in the second season and the love triangle is not revisited. Evan is then paired with the recurring character Nadia.
  • Police Are Useless: Zigzagged.
    • Althea and Ryan tell Nicky that her idea of going to the SFPD is not going to work since the Triads and Tongs will likely have an informant within the force. In the first season finale, however, the family and Evan are able to get the police to arrest Zhilan's agents who have staked out the Shen house.
    • Exploited in-universe in Season 3. Anthony Chan is blackmailed into using this angle in his political campaign to get the city council to say yes to Delta's privatized police force, because the current police are not doing enough to stop thefts in the city post-earthquake. This was a plot by Delta itself so it could use San Francisco as a testing ground and proof of concept before going worldwide.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Mei-Li already liked Sebastian as a fellow visionary chef who believed in her before finding out he and her son Ryan were together. Sebastian is also initially nervous about getting together with Ryan because he doesn't want to jeopardize his working relationship with Mei-Li. They go into a new business venture together at the end of Season 3.
  • Power Crutch: Dimensional travelers like Xiao and Bo need a totem to keep them from getting lost when dimension hopping.
  • Power Glows:
    • Anything infused with Biange energy, from the weapons to Nicky and Zhilan, glows bright green.
    • In Season 2, the refined Jyu Sa gems glow red in the presence of Mia.
  • Private Military Contractors: Delta Security Endeavors (DSE) took the contract as part of an effort to combat crime throughout San Francisco during the events of "The Architect".
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Master Drake's dojo uniform is black and red. He is the Villain of the Week in "Guidance".
  • Red Herring: It's implied that Russell Tan wants the bell to bring his dead son Raymond back to life. Turns out it's not true and he wants to use it to gain immortality.
  • Relationship Chart: Nicky and Henry make a chart to keep track of Zhilan and the artifacts related to it.
  • Replaced with Replica:
    • After Ryan destroyed the Yuengling Bell in "The Bell", Juliette managed to recreate it from the same materials. The replica worked the same as the real Bell would have, though justified since it turns out the hammer (below) and the jyu sa gems are what gave the Bell its powers.
    • In "The Enclave", the heroes infiltrate a party to steal a mystical hammer from the Enclave and replace it with a fake. This happens just as Russel Tan is undergoing his initiation into their ranks. When Tan decides to keep the hammer for himself, the ensuing fight exposes Nikki and results in Tan realizing the hammer he has is a fake.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • Dennis' sister Chloe is a reluctant member of what Nicky calls a "bling ring".
    • "Sanctuary" is focused both on the reignited Black Lives Matter movement and the heightened racism Asian-Americans experienced in 2020. There is a mention of officers never being convicted for shooting a black man, a frequent topic of discussion triggered by the murder of black victims of Police Brutality such as George Floyd.
  • Secret Legacy: Nicky's maternal family is descended from Liang Daiyu, the first woman warrior who led her village fight intruders 1,500 years ago. Nicky is the latest born to wield the sacred sword, a destiny that affects one female per generation.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: In "Destiny", Nicky's father reveals he secretly went to China and saw her training and thus has known all along about her being a warrior.
  • Sibling Team: Nicky's siblings help Shen in her fight to help people in San Francisco and occasionally out of the city to take on criminals and other types of bad guys.
  • Single Line of Descent: There is only one woman fated to wield the sacred sword per generation. However, it is not tied down to any family name, as it is strictly maternal. A mother-daughter relationship is also not required, since Nicky's predecessor as warrior is not her mother, but her aunt.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Nicky and Evan broke up before she ran off to the monastery. When they reunite three years later, too much time had passed. Eventually, they both ended up moving on from each other.
  • Trash the Set: The community center and Harmony Dumplings are both wrecked in the earthquake at the end of Season 2.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting:
    • Nicky stays in San Francisco to reconnect with her family and her community after leaving China. At the same time, she hunts for Zhilan and learns about the sword she stole.
    • Near the end of the first season, Nicky works with Henry to investigate the stolen weapons while trying to help her siblings out of their problems after she left San Francisco for the first time.
  • Was It All a Lie?: After Nicky discovers Bo's betrayal, she wonders this. Bo insists his feelings were real.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Silence" reveals that Pei-Ling and Zhilan were sisters.
    • "Rage" has Zhilan nab the dagger from Nicky in public. The latter tries to stop her, but is knocked out in the fight.
    • "Guidance" reveals the source of Zhilan's grudge against Pei-Ling. When they were children, their father tried to sell the sword to pay for Zhilan's medicine. Pei-Ling tried to stop him. When they argued over the sword, Pei-Ling accidentally stabbed him and ran away. It's also revealed that Nicky is a descendant of Liang Daiyu, the sword's original owner, and she has a long-lost aunt obsessed with the sword.
    • "Bloodline" has Russel knifes Juliette when she tries to stab him for manipulating her to back his secret plan to find a way to get her deceased brother, Raymond, back and likely get immortality.
    • "Alliance" ends with Russel putting his soul in Kerwin's body, effectively killing him. He was able to ring the bell since his mercenaries were lucky to get a stray shot to destroy the improvised speaker.
    • "Rescue" reveals that Bo is actually the Harvester.
    • "Alias" has Althea scouted by the NSA due to her hacking skills post-SFO earthquake. The NSA agent said that they're willing to recruit her even after she implied that she wanted to the restrictions on using her electronics to be dropped.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Armed criminals have no problem hurting or trying to kill Nicky if they need her out of their way.
  • Wuxia: Two rivals battling it out over a sacred sword? Practically a wuxia touchstone.


An attack on Jin Shen

There's an in-universe ad on Jin Shen after he's campaigning for mayor

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / AttackOfThePoliticalAd

Media sources: