Olivia Liang Spills Some Juicy Details for a Darker ‘Kung Fu’ in Season 2

The CW’s Kung Fu returns this week for their second season! 

We last left the Shooby (Shen family + Scooby) Gang with Nicky (Olivia Liang) defeating Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) in the battle for the biange — sending the latter to prison; Althea (Shannon Dang) and Dennis (Tony Chung) finally tying the knot with her revealing everything to her newly-wedded husband; Ryan (Jon Prasida) truly coming out to his parents; and, Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Tan Kheng Hua) finally having Nicky back in their lives. 

Kung Fu — “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” — Pictured (L-R): Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen and Eddie Liu as Henry Yan — Photo: The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The new season picked back up six months after the finale with Nicky and Henry (Eddie Liu) being happily in love; Althea returning to the workforce; Ryan graduating from medical school; and the family restaurant Harmony Dumplings thriving. Everything seems all good and dandy for the Shens, but, we all know, nothing lasts forever. And, from the looks of the Season 2 trailer, some crazy things are going to happen to Nicky and her group leading Nicky to go head-to-head with the big bad crime boss Russell Tan (Kee Chan) and discover shocking news of a long-lost cousin named Mia (Vanessa Yao).

The Nerds of Color got to chat with Nicky Shen herself, Olivia Liang, about what we should expect from this season — from what seems to be a darker season to the threat of Russell Tan to the return of Zhilan — and, of course, Nicky and Henry “Hicky” moments. 

First off, congrats on your Critics Choice nomination! I’m so excited for you!

Liang: Oh my gosh. Thank you very much. That truly came as a surprise.

Oh no, you deserve it. You kicked ass — literally. But, what I really need to know is about this season though. Nicky is now the savior of the town and she’s determined to stop Russell Tan — so has she found her purpose in life? Is stopping Russell Tan now her purpose this season?

On a micro-scale, yes. That is her immediate purpose. But I think, from what I’ve seen of season two and from shooting it, I see Nicky has a very volunteer type of heart and like a pro-bono type spirit in her that just wants to give back to the community. I think that she’s unlocked what she cares about the most is her family and her community and making sure that she’s doing right by them and protecting them. So I think on a grand scale, that is her purpose. So when the threat of Russell Tan comes for both her family and her community, her major purpose is to stop him.

I do see a big difference between Nicky last season and Nicky this season. Mostly the confidence she exudes. What is the difference that you see from last season’s Nicky to the Nicky we see now?

Yeah, I think the biggest difference definitely is [her] confidence. I think that the confidence comes from the support of her family. She’s not keeping these secrets from her mom and her dad anymore. All of the Shen [family] and Dennis, Evan, and Henry know. So all of the people who Nicky cares about the most know who she is and what she’s about. I think for someone like Nicky who cares so much about her family and friends and loved ones, their support really prompts her up and helps her feel that confidence that she can really do anything.

Kung Fu — “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” — Image Number: KF201c_0258r.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Jon Prasida as Ryan Shen and Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen — Photo: Michael Courtney/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

What I love most about the series is how connected it is to family. Nicky has worked so hard to build her relationship with her parents and siblings, and they all seem to have it together. But now, Nicky’s cousin Mia is in the picture. How does this change the Shen family dynamic?

Yeah, so we start Season 2 off like six months since the shenanigans of Season 1. Nicky and her family are all in a much better place with Harmony Dumplings doing well. Althea has a new job. Ryan just graduated med school. Nicky is, as you said, the sheriff of Chinatown, making sure that her community is safe. So with the introduction of her long lost cousin Mia, who her mom didn’t know about — Mia is her niece. It really shakes the Shen family. And, on top of her being in danger, it makes the whole family band together to want to protect her. So I love that the whole family’s in on it and it’s not just Nicky’s job to protect her but that it’s everyone — all hands on deck. 

I noticed that Mia is a cross between Guardian and Warrior, but we’ve always taken it that Nicky was “the chosen one” to protect the biange energy. Is Mia the new “chosen one” since she’s the mixed of both bloods? Are we going to see a competition between Nicky and Mia regarding this?

I don’t think we’re gonna see a competition, but there’s definitely a duality within Mia. She had a very sheltered life because her mom knew that her status — both Warrior and Guardian — was going to put her in a lot of danger. So watching Mia struggle with who she is, is something that’s quite parallel to what Nicky went through season one. I think, more than anything, Nicky sees her cousin as someone she can take under her wing, and kind of be the Sifu to the way that Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) was. So we’ll see Nicky step into that role of teacher.

Well, I do see parallels to Mia. I’ve only seen two episodes, but I also see parallels between Mia and Nicky with Pei-Ling and Zhilan and their relationship. Pei-Ling’s entire purpose was to protect her family and legacy just like Nicky and Zhilan felt confused and lost like Mia — unsure. Are we going to see a parallel between those relationships — especially since we really don’t know Mia’s true intentions?

Yeah, definitely. I think what our writers have done so beautifully — and they did so beautifully in Season 1 — [is that] there were so many parallels with the sister relationships that were going on and the teacher-student mentorship relationship. We definitely see that those parallels continued this season. Yeah, and I think it goes beyond Zhilan and Pei-Ling and Nicky and Mia. You’ll see it with every single character there. There are parallels that are happening in each other’s lives, and every character is learning something from a different character’s journey.

Kung Fu — “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” — Pictured: Yvonne Chapman as Zhilan — Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

This season feels a lot darker than last season because — unlike last season, which had weekly episodes of meeting the people of Chinatown — this one is focused on one overarching theme and story. Zhilan was only one person last year, but Russell Tan has an army. So, the stakes feel higher. Would you say this season is a lot darker?

Definitely. It is both a darker and lighter season. The writers have done an amazing job of bringing a lot of levity to the Shen family and watching their love for each other. Because we’ve created this beautiful bond on-screen of loving each other when things happen to the Shens, it hurts even more. So yeah, the stakes have definitely been raised because we started to fall more in love with these characters. Yeah, Russell Tan has an army and we are at war. It’s a little bit of a David and Goliath thing with Nicky leading this ragtag group of people trying to stop the all powerful like Russell Tan, who has all of the resources and all of the connections. I love that we’ve got this through line threat throughout the season because the stakes feel high every single episode knowing that Russell could be getting closer to what he is trying to achieve.

So, we know Zhilan killed Nicky’s mentor Pei-Ling last season and Nicky puts Zhilan in prison, but we know she’s coming back for Tan and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” How do you feel their reunion will be and how will Nicky handle this emotionally?

Yeah. I think what I’ve learned is that there’s a through line throughout this season of what lengths you will go for your family and that is really tested when it comes to Nicky’s relationship with Zhilan. Because, as you know, Season 1 is a fraught one — she does not like her to put it very plainly and [Zhilan] has done a lot of horrible things. But it’s a darker season because Nicky starts to toe the line of what is right and she may not always be following the right thing to do, but she just needs to do the thing for her family. 

Okay, moving on from family, we need to talk about Hicky. I know it’s been a few months since the final battle — and Nicky chose Henry. But, does it feel a bit weird — because it was weird for me — that Evan is still hanging around and seems to be buddy-buddy with Henry? Is that weird? What’s up with that?

I think that they are a very evolved trio. Nicky and Evan have such a long history as friends first. I think it also helps that Evan works at the District Attorney’s office and can really have an in for Nicky. But no, I think that their friendship just went beyond what the relationship is. They really care about each other. Henry’s a very evolved dude. He’s like ‘I don’t feel threatened. I feel confident in my relationship with my girl. I don’t need to be worried that her ex is coming for me.’ But yeah, personally, as Olivia, I don’t think I would be able to be friends with my ex like that. But, you know, Nicky is much more evolved than I am as well. 

I’m really happy that Nicky;’s relationship life seems to be doing well and her and Henry are happy. But, it’s still a CW drama. What can we expect from this relationship? Are we going to find out more secrets? Is Evan secretly in the picture? This is the CW, so you know there’s going to be drama. 

There’s definitely some drama, but it’s not in a love triangle the way that you would expect. It’s super exciting because we get to find out a lot about Henry’s family and his backstory this season and dive more into that. So it’s more outside forces that might rock the relationship a little bit rather than a person coming in and catching one of their eyes.

I want to touch on the fighting this season. The fighting styles this season feel a bit more hand-to-hand combat than last season’s slow motion-flying martial arts. It actually feels more intense. How has this season kicked up a notch in the martial arts and how does it feel different for you entering your sophomore season?

You hit it right on the head. It is much more hand-to-hand this season. [It] is much more grounded in the fighting style. I think what our stunt team has done was really zeroed in on what our strengths were from Season 1 of all of the people who got to fight and then really stepping it up and playing to those strengths. And then us as performers, we’ve all just gotten so much more confident. Last season was really all of our first time doing fight choreography on-screen — and there were nerves. There was a little bit of uncertainty and like ‘oh, do I know what I’m doing? Is this right? Does this look good?’ So this season, now that we’ve got a season under our belt and we know what we’re doing a little bit more, I think the confidence has been the biggest change and the biggest self for the fights looking way more vicious and way more intense.

I spoke to [co-showrunner Robert Berens] last season and he told me he wanted to showcase the Shooby Gang — I call you guys the Shooby Gang — having some fun since you’re all in your 20s. But, because this season starts off so dark, what fun side stories can we expect?

Okay, episode 4 — look out for it! It’s one of my favorite top three episodes of the season. I don’t want to give it away, but it is the most fun episode I think this season. It’s a side story that sounds silly on the surface, but it is one – I can’t even. I love that episode! We get to see the Shooby gang go all in on this side quest that involves Althea and it’s a lot of fun to see them put their heads together for something that isn’t exactly life-threatening. It gives me hope that they can help Chinatown without everything being life and death.

So, my biggest fear of the series is that Nicky will go back to being the “lone fighter” again. There is a scene that feels like that. I know she’s the “chosen one,” but I feel like she’s resorting back to “I’m going to do this alone. Me! Me!” Are we going to see this conflict again of Nicky wanting to include her family, but also knowing she has to deal with it herself? 

Definitely. I think Season 1, she has that lone wolf type of thing going on, but this season, because everyone’s in on her secrets and the threat is so big, no one is letting Nicky off the hook for that anymore. They’re like, ‘no, we’re not letting you do this alone.’ So you’ll see every one of the Shooby gang, including Jin and Mei-Li, really step it up and speak up and say to Nicky, ‘you can’t do this alone. You need us.’ So I do think you’ll see that. Nicky does struggle with that. She doesn’t want to put the people she loves in danger, but she has learned from her past and is not attempting to do everything alone anymore.

Kung Fu — “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” — Pictured: Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen — Photo: Michael Courtney/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Okay, last question — what spoilers can you tell me or, at least, a hint for us regarding Nicky and Russell Tan — and also #Zhicky?

I think by the end of the season, Zhicky fans will be happy. I read the finale and I literally cried at a scene between Zhilan and Nicky. That’s all I’m gonna say. It gave me chills. I was literally weeping. It’s really a gorgeous scene and that’s the credit to Christina [Kim] and Bob who wrote the finale. We’re about to start shooting it next week. And, in terms of Russell Tan — he’s a bad guy. He has really crazy plans. As soon as anyone tries to predict what it is he’s after this season, there’s no way that you’re going to be able to predict it! As we were reading it as a cast, every week was a jaw-dropping discovery of what his real goal is in life. So yeah, the threat is real. Russell Tan is not to be messed with and he really needs to be stopped. We just have to hope that Nicky and her family can stop him.