The first season finale of The CW’s Kung Fu answered a lot of questions for fans, while raising new ones for season 2. Sure, the Shen family seems to all be doing great the last six months — Nicky (Olivia Liang) is kicking butt as the new protector of Chinatown; Harmony Dumplings is doing great; Ryan (Jon Prasida) is a full-fledged doctor; and, Althea (Shannon Dang) is happily married with several job prospects. But, of course, things happen. Russell Tan (Kee Chan) is still up to no good and in search of Nicky’s long-lost cousin, Mia (Vanessa Yao).
The Nerds of Color got to chat with showrunners Christina M. Kim and Robert Berens to answer some questions we’ve been most curious about: What is Nicky’s purpose for this season? Who is Russell Tan? Are we getting more shirtless Henry, Evan, and Kerwin scenes? Just things we’re all wondering about.
Check it out below:
The Nerds of Color: So we spoke last season regarding what to expect for this season, but I know there wasn’t a clear picture yet at the time. But now that season two finale is wrapping up. What can we expect for the rest of the season?
Robert Berens: I think the biggest thing you can expect is generally a much more integrated season, where [in] last season, things were a little more siloed between our series villain and hero, and even between our hero and her family. [For] this season, everything is really much more connected and moves a lot faster. The first two episodes are just a straight shot, so it’s a very propulsive story. I don’t think any episode feels the same to each other like it’s a very varied season, but each and every episode, really cues to the central narrative about Mia and what Russell Tan wants with her [and] what his plan for San Francisco in the world is. So I think it’s a really exciting, very mid-forward season of television.
Christina M. Kim: Just to add to that, I think it was really fun for us to break the season because we have this amazing ensemble cast. And all of them now have a part in the big mystery and in all of the action. So they [are not] separated this season at all. They’re totally integrated. Everyone has an emotional investment, ao that was really fun to weave these stories together.
With the introduction of Mia, this kind of complicates things of the “chosen one” idea, because she is a lot more powerful than Nicky. Mia is a mix of Warrior and Guardian. Will Mia join the Shooby (Shen+Scooby) gang or is this a one time thing for the series?
Kim: Oh I don’t know.
Berens: I don’t know if we can save this one up or not without sort of spoiling the direction of stories. I do think Mia is a really invaluable character for us in a lot of ways. One of those is that Nicky had a lot of [problems] with her family last season. Though she does go through some really intense stuff this season, we wanted to keep the family, at least at the top of the season, in a really good, lighter place. And, in a sense, Mia is a character who is the flashpoint for so much pain and so much drama — and there’s a mirroring between Nicky and Mia throughout the season that gives us a lot of story and a lot of [dramatic] stuff to play with.
I can’t help but see the parallels of Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) and Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) with Nicky and Mia. Pei-Ling was the big sister taking care of her little sister, but Zhilan felt betrayed by Pei-Ling. Now, Nicky is taking care and mentoring Mia. Are we going to see some parallels between their relationships and is there potential for Mia to be an adversary?
Berens: I think there’s definitely that.
Kim: For sure, there’s that potential. When she first appears, she certainly is an adversary. It’s going to take a little bit to figure out what her motives are, who she is, [and] what her story is. That’s going to be the fun of the first few episodes. [Now] going back to the teacher relationship/arc, that is going to be part of Nicky’s journey this season. How do you help someone that perhaps doesn’t want to be helped? What kind of teacher is Nicky? Nicky learned from Pei-Ling as her mentor. Is she going to be the exact same kind of teacher that Pei-Ling was for her? Or does she have to sort of adjust and figure out what kind of teacher she’s going to perhaps be in the season? Those are all big questions that she’s going to grapple with.
Berens: Building on that, it opens up Nicky’s core somatic and to a larger theme of legacy which touches all the characters.You’ll see her asking herself what of footprint she wants to make on the world, what she wants [to leave] behind — Jin and Mei-Li as well. You’ll see the beginning of a story where now that they’re succeeding in the community, they start asking themselves, ‘but what about everyone else?’ What are we leaving behind if the success is just for us? So they start interrogating their own success — questioning their own relationships with the community that supported them for so long. There’s definitely a mentorship somatic but also a larger theme of legacy this season.
Last season, my biggest fear was that Zhilan would be a villain trope of the Madame Butterfly, but then you guys gave her layers with her deep backstory. This is my fear for Russell Tan — that he would only be seen as power-hungry and one-dimensional. Are we going to see layers to this character to provide more context into his mindset?
Kim: I don’t want to give anything away, but that was one of the most satisfying kind of exciting things about breaking the season with having a villain that does have a real backstory – a real motivation for why he is the way he is and why he became the man [we know]. [And] how [and why] he is the kind of father that he is. We’re going to explore all of that. We’re not going to know right off the bat, but we will be revealing it and it’s really good.
Berens: To build on that, we have so many demi-villains. Zhilan has come out of the first season as a more layered villain who exists somewhere in between, certainly at the start of the season. Russell is the true big bad. It’s a journey to get what drives them and a mystery that plays out over the course of the whole season. But, that allows us to play shadings with Kerwin, Juliette, and even Zhilan and meet these people who are sort of somewhere in between. The villain dynamics and the characters [have] antagonistic [features that are] really rich and dynamic this whole season. Kee [Chan] channeled some really deep human stuff with Russell, but also [brought] the fear. He’s really delivered a knockout performance for us this season. [We] are really excited for people to see him though shading.
I did speak to Kee and he told me Juliette (Annie Q) is a powerful adversary. She’s pretty badass. I can honestly say I really like her already and can imagine her taking Russell Tan’s place in the end. She’s now her father’s right-hand man after Kerwin (Ludi Lin) betrayed him. She also stated to be the reason Kerwin is saved from their father’s rage. So what’s the truth? What can you tell me about her relationship with her brother and father?
Kim: She’s such an interesting, complicated, complex character. The Tan family provides this really fun counterpoint to the Shen family. In the Shen family, there’s always this level of support for each other. The siblings are supportive of each other and the parents want the best for their kids. In the Tan family, you don’t really know what everyone’s true motivations are. So we’re seeing these layers of a very different kind of family where Russell and Juliette are both best friends and each other’s worst enemies at times. It’s a game for them. It’s fun for the audience to watch [this] twisted game that these siblings have played their whole lives. So we’ll see that it’s not simple. It’s not easy to characterize their relationship like ‘oh no, they’re best friends.’ Sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not.
Speaking of the Shen Family, I still have a problem with Dennis. He’s still too good to be true. Happy for Althea. I want to see some cracks in Mr. Perfect, because he feels like such a facade. He’s not real. All of this is not real.
Berens: We’ll see more shades of Dennis’s season. Though he existed in the first season, [he is] a little bit like a fantasy husband. I don’t think we were ready to give up the dream of Dennis during the season. You’ll see a deepening of him — a lot more comedy, but also a lot more shading. We get to explore his relationship with his family in the middle of the season. We get to dig a little bit at what drives his young, serious, excessive fondness for one’s life. It’s sort of the root of how deeply he loved Althea and exactly why he is so perfect. So we’ll be getting under the hood of what drives him, particularly in episode 4.
I love that we see the beauty of Chinatown and the people of Chinatown. But, are we also going to see more of the LGBTQ+ scene of San Francisco because San Francisco is known for their lively great gay scene, especially since Ryan is is part of it. Plus, Ryan has a potential new beau, Sebastian (JB Tadena). Are we going to see more of that?
Berens: Most [of] the way that we’re telling that story is through the lens of this relationship between Ryan and Sebastian. Doing a story that sort of set inside the gay community in San Francisco has been on our wish list every season. And, invariably for other reasons, we end up not having the space for it or the story doesn’t quite feel right. Particularly this season, everything is so serialized that we didn’t really have the kind of standalone “case of the week” avenue to open up that world to represent that on our show. You’ll see a really interesting and dynamic “will they, won’t they” romance unfolding between Ryan and Seb. We’re really excited to have that character. We’re excited to have JB on the show.
Kim: They’ve got amazing, hot chemistry and romance that just — from the first minute that we saw dailies — we’re like ‘oh my gosh, we have to write more to this.’ Their story is really fun this season. I’m excited for people to watch it unfold.
Berens: First scene we were talking about, that first little ‘meet-cute’ with them in the kitchen. I remember [being] in the room I [thought], ‘I want this to feel like they’re cruising each other.’ The way that they play it is just incredibly adorable, but has that heat. For me, as a gay man, watching it [and] there’s a little extra realism in how they play it.
Althea had a heavy arc last season, but it never felt complete. Also, it’s really difficult to get over the trauma of what she went through. Are we going to see the return of Chase or are we given Althea a break from this heavy topic?
Berens: No spoilers on that. Six months have passed. We picked her up in a different place, but let’s just say that we have not forgotten that part of her story and, at a certain point in the season, we will be revisiting that subject. But I’m a little hesitant because it is a surprise so that is maybe spoiler territory.
Well, I’m here asking the hard questions for the people. Are we getting more shirtless scenes of Henry, Evan, and Kerwin? Please note, I am the people.
Berens: The answer is yes.
Kim: Yes, yes, and yes.
Berens: Or yes and no? Two out of three.
I noticed something about Pei-Ling and Zhilan and the Shen family. Pei-Ling and Zhilan are both Guardians. We see Nicky is a Warrior. Are we to see Ryan and Althea also be part of that Warrior journey, because it is generational and affects the family?
Kim: That’s something for the future, but they are a huge part of all of Nicky’s adventures this season. While they’re not exploring that dynamic for themselves or taking part in Nicky’s journey, they’re all in it together much more than last season.
This is ultimately Nicky’s story. The first season has her trying to figure herself and her family out. What is her purpose this season?
Kim: Last season was so much about identities – “who am I?” Then she discovered she was of warrior lineage and the secrets in her family. All of that [from] season 1 [was] about identity and finding herself. Season 2 is Nicky embracing who she is as a warrior. We cut forward in time six months, we see how she’s acting as a warrior in Chinatown and helping the people in San Francisco. I think season 2 is very much about ‘I am a warrior. How do I use these skills? How do I help people? How do I put this into practice?’ She [now] has Mia, her cousin, coming into [their] lives and it’s the perfect way for her to figure out what kind of warrior she is and what kind of mentor/sifu that she could become in the future.
Berens: It sort of brings us back to the first issue you raised — does Mia’s existence challenge Nicky’s identity as the chosen one in the show? The truth is Nicky will discover, over the course of the season, Mia has advantages of strength and latent power that [Nicky] doesn’t possess. The question is raised, particularly, as we get deeper in the season. What is it that makes Nicky our “chosen one”? Why is she the star of the show? Why is she the center of it? And it’s not because of her having the maximum amount of this mystical bloodline. It’s about something deeper and that’s something that will come full circle by the end of the season.
Kung Fu airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on The CW.