At the end of Kung Fu Season 1 saw martial artist Nicky Shen defeat her nemesis Zhilan while learning her fate from her family in San Francisco as she saved the world. Although the Shen family has since enjoyed a period of prosperity and peace, the harmony does not last. Kung Fu Season 2 opens with evil tycoon Russell Tan targeting Nicky’s hometown as part of his own plans to reshape the world in his image. As Nicky prepares to defend San Francisco against Russell, she is surprised by her long-lost cousin, Mia, who is every bit the martial arts prodigy that she is.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, showrunners and executive producers Christina M. Kim and Robert Berens updated audiences on what happened between seasons of The CW hit series. They laid out the rising stakes of Season 2 and hinted at what fans can expect as the season continues.
CBR: Unlike Kung Fu Season 1, Season 2 begins with Nicky as the most open and honest with her family she has ever been. She reconciled with Ryan and Mei-Li while continuing her romance with Henry… Yet nothing golden can remain.
Christina M. Kim: It was like we put Nicky and [the] the whole family through the season 1 wringer. She shot Zhilan. She avenged her sifu and saved the world. She did a lot! [laughs] There was so much drama, angst, and emotion that it felt like these characters needed a bit of a break. It was actually [Robert Berens’] idea, saying “I think we need [to give the characters] six months. We could skip those six months and let the public know.
It was as if the characters needed a little time to get back to normal life. When we catch up with Nicky, we can see that she is in a happy relationship. he also saves the community and does what she does as a warrior but in a different way and in a more vocal way. It was a good place to start, and you’re right – things can’t stay happy and perfect forever. Very quickly, things change and a lot of it starts with the appearance of the mysterious cousin Mia.
The second half of Kung Fu Season 1 saw Nicky and Mei-Li examine the untold secrets of their lineage. Is Mia some kind of personification of these family secrets?
Robert Berens: Absoutely. I think she wakes up a lot of things for Nicky and Mei-Li. In Mei-Li’s case, we explore her unresolved feelings about her sister and never get close to her. For Mei-Li, Mia represents a bond with the sister she never got to say goodbye to. She has a very strong emotional drive to protect Mia and welcome Mia into the family. For Nicky, Mia represents a path not taken. In Season 1, we got to explore the challenges she had with identity and her family, and then come to terms with what it means to be a warrior.
In Mia’s case, you have someone who was trained to be special at a very young age but with a very different upbringing, whereas Nicky has the advantage of having a large, loving family. Mia lived in isolation. She was alone and lived on the run with her mother. This stirs a lot in Nicky in the sense of wanting for Mia what she had. The challenge of the season is that Mia doesn’t necessarily come into this fold willingly. Nicky feels the imbalance and injustice of getting what Mia didn’t get because she wants to give it to her and protect her with the security she grew up with, but it’s not as easy as it looks. it seems.
Althea now works for a technology company that seems ill-suited to her in this era of the Great Resignation. Kung Fu Season 1 saw her and Dennis come to terms with a traumatic experience she had with a former employer. Will this be addressed again in Season 2?
Kim: I’m really excited for everyone to see more of Althea and Dennis, they really shine in Season 2. Althea is in a job she’s overqualified for and is looking for what the next iteration of her career will be. There are aspects of their history and also of their marriage history. They’re a couple everyone wants to be part of, they’re pretty perfect. Their Season 1 story may return — it’s not quite over — when it comes to Althea dealing with the fallout from her former employer.
Watching his story unfold and how it involves his family and Dennis’ family is something to look forward to this season. One of my favorite episodes this season is episode 4, which is an Althea and Dennis centered episode. [that] is a bit different for Kung Fu. It’s very comical. This is an episode that I can’t wait for audiences to see and it’s coming soon.
After working with the lead actors for over a year and learning their abilities, what directions did you want to push them into? Kung Fu Season 2?
Berens: I think it was realizing that anyone could do anything. [laughs] It was about making the season a play for all our artists. Everyone has had a chance to do comedy and heartbreaking drama. We had to present everyone with a whole range of stories and colors to play. It was truly the delight of this season, developing a story that could serve all of these nuances and all that our cast can contribute. We knew we wanted to start Nicky and her family from a lighter place, but we talked to our cast at the end of the season and got some ideas of what they wanted to do.
Kheng [Hua Tan] wanted to explore the lighter side of Mei-Li and that worked out well for us because we felt that by solving this big secret that she hid from her family in Season 1, it made sense for us to start it here. That was really what kept her from being as hopeful, open, loving, and strong as she could be. For example, it was a pleasure to kick her off from the top of the season in a place of love, strength and joy as she comes into her own in the restaurant. It was really a pleasure to see Kheng lean into that with his performance. I can give examples to the entire cast of how that’s been the case this year.
Season 1 ended with the villainous Russell Tan regularly buying properties in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He is somehow a star wars-esque figure of emperor like Kung Fu goes from a game of cat and mouse to a showdown for the soul of Nicky’s hometown.
Berens: One thing is that we always wanted our big antagonist in Season 2 to be a local menace, someone who had plans in Nicky’s backyard in San Francisco. From [the] jump, that was always the design and the reason we introduced it at the end of Season 1. We’re building this story where the threat is local and it touches Nicky, his family and his community. We still have such layered and complex villains. With Zhilan, we knew we wanted to present her with a shine for this truly menacing, sinister, and almost evil character, and then we kept peeling back the layers.
We have a whole lineup of delightful antagonists, who are more than just villains, in Kerwin, Juliette, and Zhilan this season. We have to play with that dynamic as Russell becomes very prominent as a big, mysterious antagonist throughout the season. It’s all season to peel back those layers and achieve his ultimate goal for the city and the world. I think audiences will be excited and surprised when they get the answers behind Russell Tan.
Zhilan feels the weight of her deeds as a spectral vision of her sister offers her the path less traveled. Meanwhile, Kerwin’s last memory is of having his throat slit by his girlfriend towards the end of Kung Fu Season 1.
Berens: I think it’s safe to say that with Kerwin and Zhilan, audiences will definitely benefit. In Kerwin’s case, it’s a really interesting story in that he wakes up inside the hornet’s nest. Being killed and betrayed by the love of your life only to wake up in the hornet’s nest of a family you’ve come to regard as quite evil, in Russell’s case – we’re seeing a whiplash for Kerwin over the course of of the first three episodes. This will all come to a head and we’ll see him make a big choice in Episode 3 about how he feels about his family and whether he’s going to work with or against them.
One of my favorite scenes in Kung Fu Season 1 was between Ryan and Jin as Ryan dated his dad and was kissed for it. At the start of Season 2, Ryan is something of a townsman.
Berens: We’ve always wondered what’s next for Ryan, and now that he’s out, let him have some fun. We’ve played this between seasons because he finds he can do casual things and have fun around town enjoying life in his twenties. When meeting Seb, it’s a bit more complicated when he’s someone you have a deeper attraction to and a more romantic attraction to. The days of casual dating are over pretty quickly as he finds himself plagued by this want-they/don’t-they want with Sebastian. It’s also complicated by the fact that Sebastian works with his parents.
Whereas in the first season we were playing with a generational story, it’s a bit more romantic and fun at the start of the story. It was a pleasure to watch JB [Tadena] flourish and create this incredible character and welcome JB to our cast. There’s also a really fantastic dynamic between Mei-Li and Sebastian that we explore. It’s not just love, it’s also a foil for Mei-Li that can bring out the nuances of this character as well.
What else can you tease like Kung Fu Season 2 starts?
Kim: The action is bigger and better. We’re going to see Nicky being challenged in ways she’s never been challenged before. The family is really part of the mythology family now. A really fun part of Season 2 is being able to bring in all these characters that we love and put them in situations that you didn’t really expect.
Berens: The first half of the season is extremely propulsive and very present but as the mythology opens up and we learn more about Nicky, Mia and Zhilan, I think we’ll open up a story between the bloodlines. We’ll get some surprising answers about the origins of Bloodlines, a mythology that predates Season 1’s weapons. You’ll get some unexpected answers about the origins of Nicky’s warrior bloodline.
Developed for TV by Christina M. Kim, Kung Fu airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
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