Shannon Dang on How the Latest ‘Kung Fu’ Changes Everything for Althea

Tonight’s Kung Fu had a new Shen on the frontlines of a mission. With Nicky (Olivia Liang) now under house arrest, someone had to step up for an undercover mission to infiltrate Delta Security Endeavors’ shareholders meeting. That’s where Althea Shen (Shannon Dang) comes in. As the business-savvy tech-wiz with the PI.I know-how, Althea was the perfect choice to send on the mission.

“We realize that Althea is the best fit for this job,” Dang told The Nerds of Color over the phone on Tuesday. “She is tech-savvy. She knows business. And, she can schmooze with these people and from her experience working as a private investigator, she’s pretty good at lying.”

Althea does just that and is able to persuade Matthew, the real brains behind Delta Security Endeavors, into showing her the application’s coding. Though Althea thought she could handle this task alone, Nicky sends Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) in to assist as the muscle of the mission, which did come in handy at the end.

Dang chatted with The Nerds of Color about how this mission changes things for Althea and the Shooby gang and to expect some exciting things for the character!

The Nerds of Color: Althea gets her own adventure! I was so happy to see her take charge in this. How much fun was this episode?

Shannon Dang: It was so much fun. To give a little backstory, my favorite movies growing up were The Parent Trap, Mean Girls and She’s The Man. All of those are comedies revolve around movies where the protagonist is undercover or in disguise and deceiving people but in a comedic way, so to do an episode like this, where Althea goes undercover and becomes this character Madeline Jang and has to fool everyone and go on this mission is a dream come true for me. It was so nice to be able to juggle those personalities and find little comedic bits and try to fool everyone. Honestly, it was a blast to do.

It’s her first solo venture without anyone else – besides Zhilan later on, but initially, all by herself.  What’s going on in her mind to do this?

[The last episode] Nicky goes to jail. Entering this episode, we know that she cannot be on the mission moving forward and so she tries to figure out ‘okay, so who’s gonna go after Delta Security Endeavors at this annual shareholders meeting?’ We realize that Althea is the best fit for this job. She is tech-savvy. She knows business. And, she can schmooze with these people and from her experience working as a private investigator, she’s pretty good at lying. So it just worked out that she is the best [fit] and it excites her, but also terrifies her. And I think it’s a really sweet moment for the scene between Nicky and Althea where Nicky is really worried about putting her sister in danger because we’ve never seen that. It’s a full circle moment where Althea assures her by telling her about the many times Althea has helped Nicky from a distance on comms, being a tech warrior from behind the scenes, and how the family always trusts that Nicky is going to be okay and that she can handle herself. All Althea is asking is for it to be returned and this is her opportunity to do what she can because Nicky can’t. So she just wants a little faith and encouragement and she’s really excited and it ends up being great. Althea kicks butt and has a successful mission. So I think the audience is really going to have fun watching all of that unravel.

With every adventure, there are consequences to their actions. Poor Matthew fell in love with Madeline. Are we going to see him again? How is she feeling conning him?

I think that’s a really fun twist. Because even when I first read it and at the fact that Matthew falls for Althea — we were very specific. We didn’t want to make it look like Althea was trying to seduce him. It was actually quite innocent in a way that she was so good at relating to him and their brains and they had a lot in common. They’re both smart. They both understand and live for tech. And she pulls it off to where she has a sibling that — aka Zhilan — she lives in the shadows and is taking credit for all of Icarus Strategies, her fake company, and that really gets to Matthew.

Kung Fu — “The Architect” — Pictured (L-R): Shannon Dang as Althea Shen — Photo: Justine Yeung/The CW — © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

I think that was her whole point. Her plan was to relate to him. He was an easy mark, and it just so happens that he becomes infatuated with her. That’s why it’s a funny twist because Althea is like, ‘wait, this wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m so sorry. But I have to kick you. I’m so sorry. I took advantage.’ She was too good at her job, clearly.

Yes, she was. Another thing I loved about this episode was Althea and Zhilan teaming up. We’ve really never seen them interact. They were always connected by Nicky. What’s her feelings towards Zhilan from then to now?

It’s funny because Yvonne [Chapman] and I are actually close outside of work and we always laugh about how close we are but we’ve never worked together. We were both really excited when we found out we were going to have a Zhilan and Althea team up. I think Althea and Zhilan couldn’t be more opposites. Althea has been skeptical of Zhilan. Althea with her bubbly personality. Zhilan is very serious. She’s on the recovery from being the baddie that we all thought and she’s really come into our Shooby gang for the greater good to help Pei-Ling. I think what’s nice about this is that she was probably scared of Zhilan. Zhilan was always at a distance, but when we see the team up and Zhilan helping her and stepping into help with the mission, I think Althea grows to appreciate her. She sees Jalon sacrifice herself to fight off bad guys so that Althea can escape.I think it’s a really full circle moment where the audience sees Zhilan’s warmer side. Althea becomes really appreciative that Zhilan really does have a heart. She’s not just this cold-blooded villain that only has one goal in mind. It’s also really nice to bring it back to the full sister moment. Nicky is helping Zhilan with her sister, Pei-Ling, and Zhilan is helping Nicky with her sister, Althea. It rolls around sisterhood and it’s a really full circle moment for everyone.

You and I touched on this last season about Althea’s role beside her Warrior sister. Now, we are seeing Althea shine on her own as her own hero. How does this adventure help Althea in the long run?

It definitely inspires her. I think it gave her a boost of confidence. We’ve seen in season 3 that she lost everything. She is banned from the internet with her plea agreement. She has lost her job, her tech, and had to adapt a lot. That comes with a lot of insecurity. But, she finally found her footing as a private investigator with Evan. She’s like ‘wow, life does go on without tech. I do have these skills and stuff that I can bring to the table.’ It’s not her only superpower that she thought she lost. So for her to be able to step in and put herself out there on the frontlines for this mission, I think it really boosts her confidence that she can help. She wants to do everything she can. She was feeling so hopeless, but this proves that she can take care of herself. It’s really going to inspire her. It shows that everyone in the Shen family has their strengths and what they bring to the table. It solidifies the family as a crime-fighting family and that not all warriors wear capes. We all bring something to the table. I think Althea is feeling really inspired and fulfilled that she could give back what she can. 

It’s so difficult for a common person to be away from tech. I cannot imagine someone who lived their life around tech as a career. Althea was a girlboss and built programs and systems. How is she holding up with being away from tech? Does she feel like she will eventually go back to tech after the year is up? Or is she over that?

She’s always gonna have that in her nature. I love how Althea is unapologetically brilliant and also has a big heart. So those mix together. What’s ironic is that she was a girl boss entrepreneur before that, and then she got stripped of her stuff, stripped of all of her [identity] and yet when she has to step into that Alias character [Madeline], she’s right back where she started. She’s playing that entrepreneur, girl boss, techie. And that’s why she fits in so well. That’s why she was the right fit for this mission. It’s always going to be inside of her. You’ll see the rest of season 3 that it’ll come back full circle. I don’t think she can stay away for too long. I don’t think her talents will go unnoticed and unwanted by outsiders. That’s gonna be fun. You’ll definitely see her have to be where she wants to take these new skills.

Kung Fu — “Alias” — Pictured (L-R): Ronin Wong as Alfred Soon, Françoise Yip as Diana Soon, Tony Chung as Dennis Soong, Tzi Ma as Jin Shen, and Kheng Hua Tan as Mei-Li Shen — Photo: Justine Yeung/The CW — © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

I think the hardest part in this entire series — as an Asian person — was seeing Dennis asking his parents for their money. What does this mean to Dennis and Althea now? Yes, family helps each other, but there are repercussions to the actions — especially as an Asian family.

I think the general rule is Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems — so that definitely complicates things. In season 3, Althea and Dennis lost their jobs. They were cut off and had to move back into the Shen family home. We really got to see them find their own two feet and they like who they are now. They might not have their old lifestyle, but they can fend for themselves and are doing something with their lives and making their own money. Dennis loves it. So we’ve decided not take the money from the Soongs, but of course, once Nicky is in trouble and the fate of the world is at stake… Yes. We are not afraid to ask for the money even though we really don’t want to. While that might come with some strings, it does tie back into the whole “family” message. The message of Kung Fu is it does revolve around family and seeing that scene where the Soongs want to make amends with the Shens and saying that Nicky, Dennis and Althea are a big part of the Soongs’ lives. It’s really nice to see that the other side wants to help and it’s not just about money. They just happen to have resources and they’re willing to and it’s really nice. I think it brings both families closer together.

Is this going to bite themselves in the butt later? Asian parents are really good at being passive aggressive. 

Yeah, it’s not a no. I definitely think that lending money does come with drama. So you will definitely see that. It’s always fun. We love family drama, so stay tuned for that. Well, many more problems.

We’ve seen Althea and Dennis go through their ups and downs, but the thing about money — or lack thereof, it complicates relationships. Are we going to see that kind of situation between Dennis and Althea?

Dennis is such a good guy. I love that, throughout the three seasons, anytime Althea is in jeopardy, I love what a champion Dennis is and how loving and supportive he is. He’s always worried about his wife. I think it’s really nice to see, especially in Asian culture where sometimes emotions and signs of affection aren’t always at the forefront. So to be able to see a man — a handsome, masculine Asian American man like Dennis — always choose his wife and not be afraid to show affection and worry about her, I think it’s really cool. And I think at the heart of it, people are rooting for this couple. No matter what happens — yes, there’s ups and downs, but I think they’re always going to be pretty solid and a couple that people can rely on versus you know, Nicky and her love triangle going on. I think people find comfort in the steadfastness of Althea and Dennis’ relationship.

What can we expect from Althea for the rest of this season and how she plays a part in this adventure towards the bad guys — Delta and Xiao?

It’s really exciting for the rest of the season after this episode. The audience gets to see that Althea can step up, take care of herself, and has a lot to contribute to the missions more than we had thought. Her skills and talents will not go unnoticed by others outside of this Shen family. So her skills are going to be less of a secret. That’s gonna come with a new territory of who else wants her skills and who else wants to bring her on to their team. She’s gonna have to deal with that. And that tidbit of like, ‘whoa, do I go there? Do I come back? What does it mean? If I join this force, I think it’s gonna be really cool.’ She’s gonna have some options. People are gonna have fun seeing that and her figure that out.

Kung Fu airs Wednesdays on The CW.