Olivia Liang hopes 'Kung Fu' series combats Asian hate

Olivia Liang plays a Chinese American who returns to the United States after studying kung fu. Photo courtesy of The CW
Olivia Liang plays a Chinese American who returns to the United States after studying kung fu. Photo courtesy of The CW

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (UPI) -- Olivia Liang, star of The CW's new action-drama Kung Fu, said she hopes the show encourages empathy for Asian Americans.

The show's Asian cast spoke on a recent Television Critics Association Zoom panel after the Atlanta-area shootings at three massage parlors in which eight people died. Six of them were women of Asian descent.


"We need to be invited" into the homes of people "who don't see us in their everyday life, just to humanize us," Liang said. "We are people just like they are."

The show is a modern update of the series that starred David Carradine from 1972 to 1975. Carradine played a kung fu practitioner who helped new people each week.

In The CW's Kung Fu, out Wednesday, Liang plays Nicky Shen, a Chinese American girl who dropped out of college and studied kung fu at a Shaolin monastery. When she returns home three years later, Nicky uses her martial arts skills to defend her family and friends against criminals.

"It has empowered me to play a character who has found her voice and who is trying to use her voice," Liang said. "It has empowered me to do the same in my own life and to encourage the men and women around me to do the same."


The rest of the Shen family is played by Shannon Dang, Jon Prasida, Tzi Ma and Kheng Hua Tan. Nicky's mother, Mei-Li (Kheng), does not forgive her daughter for abandoning her family and her education.

Nicky's brother, Ryan (Prasida), sides with their mother, although her sister, Althea (Dang), is happy to see her again. Their father, Jin (Ma), got into debt with loan sharks to save the family business.

The struggles and pressures of an Asian American family were just as important to Liang as the show's martial arts. Liang said she hopes all audiences can relate to the familial disagreements and misunderstandings.

"We are also not explaining the nuances," Liang said. "We're not qualifying, or having to teach the audience. We are simply inviting them in."

Although the Shen family is conflicted, Liang said the actors who played them supported one another before they even got their respective roles. Liang said it was simply important to all of them that Asian actors were up for prominent TV roles.

"One of us would go in for the audition, come out, [and] we would all get into a big group hug like, 'You did it!'" Liang said. "If it's not me, thank God it's going to be one of us. "


Before landing the role of Nicky, Liang had no martial arts experience. As an actor, Liang recently appeared on The CW's Vampire Diaries spinoff Legacies in its third season.

"The training was brutal, and it's the hardest thing I've ever put my body through," Liang said. "Our stunt team has whipped me into shape, but I also have an amazing double who makes me look so cool."

Liang said she felt pressure to represent Shaolin tradition faithfully. She had to train to appear like someone who studied Shaolin kung fu for three years.

"I don't want to let anyone down," Liang said. "There are real experts out there who are going to be watching my every move, and I want to do them justice."

Kung Fu films in Vancouver under COVID-19 safety protocols. Liang said the cast and crew take multiple COVID-19 tests weekly and limit their activity after work hours. This way, they can ensure safety while they choreograph fight scenes in close proximity.

"We trust that all of our performers -- from the actors to the stunt performers -- have been just really responsible with their personal lives," Liang said. "So we carry on as usual in terms of proximity and the closeness of the fights."


Kung Fu premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT on The CW.

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