Yvonne Chapman Discusses Zhilan’s Plans on ‘Kung Fu’

Warning: This interview contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Kung Fu.

This week’s episode of Kung Fu was full of surprises. 

We learned more about Mia’s (Vanessa Yao) parentage and the father who abandoned her for “for her own good” and how disappointing their reunion turned out to be. There was a little bit of chemistry going on between Harmony Dumplings line cook Sebastian (JB Tadena) and Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) — only to be thwarted by her son Ryan’s (Jon Prasida) growing attraction for Sebastian. And, of course, yhere was also the unexpected team up between Nicky (Olivia Liang) and her archnemesis Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) as they worked together to rescue Mia.

Yvonne Chapman, who plays the wicked Zhilan, says the team up between Nicky and Zhilan was one of her favorite fights this season because it just felt empowering to see two badass women team up. 

“Being allies and taking down a roomful of mercenaries, it’s so satisfying to see that,” Chapman told The Nerds of Color over the phone on Tuesday. “It just felt so powerful.”

Of course, Zhilan hasn’t changed completely and manages to take Mia away for herself. But, Mia quickly turns on Zhilan, returning with Nicky to be with the Shen family. But, before Zhilan could convince Mia otherwise, Zhilan is pushed back by the unanticipated strength from Mia’s punch. Now, Zhilan must figure out how to take down Russell Tan (Kee Chan) alone and the mystery behind Mia. 

“What I love about this episode is that it’s in [this] moment that aren’t spoken that speak a lot and there’s a moment where Mia shows her power as a [Guardian/Warrior] hybrid,” said Chapman. “She pushes Zhilan down and [is thrown] against the wall. It’s an incredibly powerful hit — and that doesn’t come from just anybody. At that moment, Zhilan is like, ‘“wow, who is this girl? What is this really?’ And, at that moment, for [Mia] to choose Nicky, I think [Zhilan] completely understands that she doesn’t have the repertoire that [Nicky] does. [Zhilan] needs to understand first who this girl is, especially in that powerful hit. I think that was very telling for her. That also brought a lot of mystery for her that she needs to understand before she can go back in and try to reunite with Mia to take down Russell Tan [together].”

We got to chat further with Chapman about the episode and if we should expect more Nicky team-ups — especially for many of the Zhicky shippers — and what Mia means to Zhilan now. 

Kung Fu — “Reunion” — Pictured (L-R): Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen and Eddie Liu as Henry Yan — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Check it out below:

So, what was going through Zhilan’s mind when she saw Nicky again? I know she suspected they would meet again, but now, Zhilan knows Nicky wants the same thing — to find Mia. What was she thinking? 

I don’t think [Zhilan] was surprised to see [Nicky] considering what Zhilan knows about Mia — from what Kerwin has told her. She knows [Nicky] is a smart one. She puts things together. [Zhilan] knows that they’re both going up against the same thing because she’s not surprised to see her there especially because, in that particular episode, she even says like well Russell was expecting you. [Then] here [is] the guy that she has in the basement that she’s torturing — Zhilan-style. [She tells them Russell] put a lookout here expecting [Nicky]. What I love about that moment is we’re seeing a bit of the old Zhilan or the Zhilan that we’ve known since season one, and she’s still a little bit ahead of the game. She’s very intuitive [about] what’s happening. But this season, overall, what we see is a more equal foot race between her and Nicky and understanding what’s going on with Russell Tan’s plans. But I don’t think she’s surprised at all to see Nicky at that moment.

Zhilan honestly only knows torture and death to get her way. Russell Tan wants Mia — so the best thing for Zhilan to do is to kill off Mia, but she doesn’t. What’s stopping her?

Well, I think she needs to understand [where Mia fits in] the puzzle [for Russell Tan]. Because she’s trying to figure out what Russell is up to. She only has so many pieces of the puzzle right now and Mia is a big part of that piece.

I couldn’t help but feel the loneliness from Zhilan’s voice, especially telling Mia the same thing — she lost everything because of Russell Tan. Could she be finding some sort of solace in Mia since they both shared that trauma?

Absolutely. There’s some understanding there. The common denominator between the two of those characters is Russell Tan and understanding that this man destroyed both of their families. In particular, for Zhilan, the two people that she loved the most are her parents and she barely got to know them because they both [were taken from her. Her mother died in childbirth. That’s always been something that’s haunted her entire life — not being able to know the love of her mother. She’s only known anecdotally what her mother was — a guardian of the sword. It was something that she’s really held onto very dearly. That has always been a huge gaping hole in her heart of not having a mother and for her father to be taken away from her. That’s why she was so mad at Pei-Ling because [their father] was really the only [parental] love that she knew growing up.

Kung Fu — “Reunion” — Pictured: Vanessa Kai as Pei-Ling Zhang — Photo: The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

She blames Russell for all of it. Because in season one’s [Zhilan] backstory, Russell Tan’s factory poisoned the groundwater which crippled [Zhilan] before she was even born — and ultimately led to the death of her mother. So, having that commonality between her and Mia in knowing that this man destroyed both of their lives is really something that she’s going to hold onto as we see in the season to come. She doesn’t understand it yet, but she says in the episode, “well, look, I don’t really know you, Mia.” What she doesn’t say to Mia is that she intends to understand [her] because she’s a big part of the key for Russell’s plans. “I don’t know you yet. But all I need to know is that [Russell] wants you. He’s not going to get you. He can’t get what he wants right now.” This is part of Zhilan understanding and trying to formulate what her plan is. Last year, she had a plan, but now she doesn’t. She’s trying to figure it out as she goes.

With Nicky and Zhilan fighting over Mia, and Mia going with Nicky — does Zhilan still have a grudge with Nicky or is her main focus Russell Tan? Is she like “I don’t have time for the Shens – they’re small time. Russell Tan is the big time player”?

That’s exactly what it is. Her main focus has always been and continues to be, at this point of the story, Russell Tan. She needs to take this guy down. You’ve seen Zhilan. What is really great about this season is that she’s still resourceful, but she’s stripped of a lot of her resources. So, she’s got to be smarter about how she uses and utilizes those resources to get what she wants. So, her focus is Russell Tan right now. Yeah, Nicky is an annoyance for her. [Zhilan] is intelligent and aware that Nicky is a worthy adversary. She’s said it many times. As much dislike that she harbors for Nicky, she still admires the woman. She’s not just going to get rid of [Nicky] for the sake of getting rid of her. I think she’s smart in understanding and having the foresight that Nicky could be really useful to her as well. 

I was surprised when Nicky and Zhilan decided to work together. But I was even more surprised Nicky refused to allow Zhilan to kill or torture anyone and Zhilan went with it — which is unlike her. What made her agree to Nicky’s rule?

I think because [Zhilan] understands Nicky’s hard-line [rule] and, at this moment, Mia is heavily guarded and we both need to get her out. Rather than waste time, because the clock is really ticking, and argue with [Nicky], [Zhilan] is like, “Okay, I know I can do this. I know we can both do this even without guns. So fine, let’s do it. Let’s have some fun.” You know, for Zhilan, I think that’s what I really love about the season is a little bit more of humor for her. This woman is such a badass. She’s like, “alright, I can do this with a gun or without. Rather than stand here and argue with you, let’s just go and get it done because we [gotta] get this girl out.” At that moment, [Zhilan] is agreeing [with Nicky] to get it done. 

Did you find it more entertaining to fight alongside Nicky or against Nicky?

I love fighting alongside Nicky because it’s so powerful to see these two women — no matter how different they are — in their great/bad aspirations. It’s just their full power. I think that’s why it’s one of my favorite fights of the season — to see these two women really unite. 

Kung Fu — “Reunion” — Pictured: Vanessa Yao as Mia – Photo: The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

So, in the scene with Mia and Nicky — Zhilan said something that sparked the Zhicky shipper in me. When Mia asks Zhilan, “you two know each other” and Zhilan responds “intimately.” I screamed. Was this for us shippers? Was this a tease? Scripted? Ad-libbed?

I loved that. The writers thought of that. It was scripted. They know there’s fans like you that want to see [Zhicky]. But, we know each other “intimately,” take it for what you want. I’m not going to really [going to] interpret that for the people. I mean, last year, we saw that they know each other very, very well.

It was hinted that we will see an emotional moment between Nicky and Zhilan. Are we going to see more of the discourse of partnering up or are they going to remain butting heads throughout the season?

You’ll see both. Russell Tan is the big bad and [Nicky and Zhilan] are united in a front of knowing [that they have to take him down. [They need to] learn [that they] are still very different [people], which I love playing the odds of that by seeing them [be] at odds. I love playing that because we get to see a variety of these different psyches mash up and come together — [the] collaboration between the two of them and also for them to be [at] a discord with each other, which is far more intriguing to play than for them [being] allies from the start. I love seeing that dynamic between the two play out throughout the season. So you will be seeing a lot more of that.

Final question — We saw Mia push Zhilan out of the way with a powerful punch. Are we going to see any fights between Mia and Zhilan? Or, because of their power dynamic, are we going to see them team up as the three [including Nicky] powerful beings against Russell Tan?

Yeah, I think that push is definitely a teaser to all of the above. Because Mia is a hybrid, they set it up really beautifully — [Zhilan] being the Guardian, Nicky being the Warrior, and Mia being both. She’s really in-between both of us and so you see a really fantastic push-and-pull between those two worlds for her, but also [a] united front because they’re all very much part of the same legacy as well. So, in that dynamic, you [will] see the fight choreography between the three of them and the intentionality behind the fight plays nicely in the story aspect of how that all comes [together].

Kung Fu — “Reunion” — Pictured (L-R): Eddie Liu as Henry Yan, Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen, and Gavin Stenhouse as Evan Hartley — Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Kung Fu airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on The CW.