Wednesday, April 7, 2021

REVIEW: 'Kung Fu' - Nicky Returns Home After Her Shaolin Mentor Is Killed by a Mysterious Assailant in 'Pilot'

The CW's Kung Fu - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Nicky goes on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. When she returns to San Francisco, she finds her own parents are at the mercy of a powerful Triad. Nicky will rely on her tech-savvy sister Althea, pre-med brother Ryan, Assistant District Attorney and ex-boyfriend Evan, and new love interest Henry as well as her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community... all while searching for the ruthless assassin who killed her mentor Pei-Ling and is now targeting her.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of The CW's Kung Fu.

"Pilot" was written by Christina M. Kim and directed by Hanelle Culpepper

Nicky runs away from her family. She finds salvation and purpose at a Shaolin monastery in China. It's a life of meaning for her. One where she is free to make her own decisions. Her path is whatever she wants to make it. And then, the monastery is attacked. Her shifu is killed. A dangerous weapon is taken. Nicky is incapable of stopping any of this. Returning home to San Francisco seems like the only path for her. Life has changed though. She isn't the only person who has gone on a journey. She can quickly step back into familiar dynamics with her siblings. She has let them down through running away. Everyone still largely welcomes her back. Her mother, Mei-Li, is reluctant. She is determined to stand firm in her ways. She is the greatest obstacle that Nicky has had to deal with in her life. Mei-Li was determining what life her daughter would live. She has these grand expectations for her children. They can't deviate from the path. Althea is embracing that expected role while Ryan steps out solely for being gay. It's difficult to shake up this family unit. Their identity is so firmly set in its ways. Many aspire for more though. Nicky's father, Jin, is grateful to have her home. She saves him as well. Her return actually reveals the amount of crime that has taken over the city. Businesses are being targeted by a powerful Triad. All of this could connect back to the mysterious organization that attacked the monastery back in China. That isn't really confirmed though. It's mostly just a situation where Nicky can show off her new skills while trying to save her family from this threat. She takes a great risk. People notice her asking questions. However, she has the skills to survive no matter what. She can take on the most powerful adversaries knowing that she can prevail at the end of the day. She has that clarity. And yet, Pei-Ling still appears as a memory over her shoulder always trying to pass along the lessons she once taught. This path is still full of resistance. Nicky tries to reconnect with the people she cares about. This life is one she has chosen to accept. By the end of the premiere, she realizes that she may have greater purpose. Pei-Ling was preparing her for this journey. And now, she must stop the mysterious assassin before she collects all eight magical weapons and conquers the world. The show is very tentative regarding the inclusion of any sort of mysticism. Ryan is amazed when he sees his sister battle the crime lord on the rooftop. He sees her take actions that defy physics. Nicky doesn't have the same understanding of her skills though. Of course, the audience should probably question the practicality of some of these moves as well. That is on more display in the fight that leads to Pei-Ling's death. That moment seems infused with special abilities. One with the full weight of past trauma. The audience isn't meant to understand all of that just yet. That also means the show is keeping the viewer at arm's length regarding some of the things happening. It's not being totally upfront about the narrative. A little mystery and secrets are good and productive. However, the audience needs to have a fundamental understanding of the world being established here. Nicky may not believe in artifacts infused with magical abilities. She's preparing to go to war over that possibility though. She does that all while trying to mend fences with her family and celebrate the wedding her sister has been planning. The balance of family and crime elements works fairly well here. Nicky is a compelling lead. She also happens to be on a familiar hero's journey. That's not inherently bad. It too can offer the audience some understanding of the show and what to expect moving forward. Again, the relationships feel lived in already. That helps the audience understand the dynamics involved right away. Now, the show simply needs to do the hard work of digging deeper to reveal just how much meaning is involved with all of this as Nicky pursues the truth. That should be a fair expectation for the viewer to have following this premiere. It's full of reliable CW tropes that have worked on numerous occasions so far. That may make some developments a little expected - like the suggestion of a love triangle between Nicky, Evan and Henry. But again, those tropes are utilized over and over again because of how effective they are. The success will ultimately come from the specificity the show finds within these characters and the choices they make. Nicky condemns her mother for pushing her will onto her. The audience needs to know the weight of the choices each character makes moving forward. The conflict is resolved for the family at the moment. Now, the future looks fluid even though Nicky has found a new path.