A couple of years ago we reported that the latest attempt to revive the Kung Fu series was possibly going to move forward at Fox. The original Kung Fu concept was, of course, a hit for the late David Carradine during its run from 1972-1975. The series followed Kwai Chang Kaine, a Shaolin priest who was forced to flee from China after he kills the man who murdered his mentor, Master Po. Kaine kept moving to avoid his pursuers and also to find his half-brother in the old American West. The series ran for 63 episodes and Bruce Lee always asserted that he had pitched and openly discussed the concept – then known as ‘The Warrior‘ – before the idea was dropped and Warners conveniently went with a show with the very similar set-up, but casting Carradine instead.
Brandon Lee, Bruce’s son, starred as Kaine’s son Chung Wang in a 1986 tv movie version of the concept where Kaine discovers his hitherto unknown son and in 1987, Brandon played Johnny Caine, a descendant in contemporary settings, in Kung Fu: The Next Generation. Carradine returned for Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, playing a modern take on Kwai Chang Kaine for four seasons (eighty-eight episodes) from 1993 to 1997, teamed with Chris Potter as Peter Caine, his son – a police detective. During the last decade there had been talk about reviving the concept in film or tv form, but even though names such as the late Bill Paxton and Baz Luhrmann were mentioned, none of them came to fruition.
In 2018 industry site Deadline noted that Albert Kim and Greg Berlanti (who had previously worked on another female-led variation of the Kung Fu concept which was actually going to be a period drama set in 1950s) were set to produce that Fox show and had received a pilot commitment from Fox – essentially meaning they’d want to see a pilot before deciding if it should go to a full series. But as time went by it seemed that hope was fading for the revamp, though in 2020 came news it was still a possibility.
The project, now at The CW finally gets its launch next month. Christina M. Kim has written the pilot episode and will act as show-runner with Berlanti as an executive producer.
It will focus on Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), who drop out of a prestigious college and travels to an isolated monastery in China to find herself. When she heads back to San Francisco, she is shocked to find her neighbourhood full of crime and corruption… and even her own parents Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) under the thumb of the local Triads. She also finds herself in the middle of the conflict when she saves a local girl from being attacked. Instantly Nicky and her tech-savvy sister Althea (Shannon Dang), along with Althea’s fiancé Dennis (Tony Chung), pre-med brother Ryan (Jon Prasida), Assistant District Attorney and ex-boyfriend Evan (Gavin Stenhouse), and new love interest Henry (Eddie Liu) have to become part of the solution or part of the problem. Add to the mix that she’s also trying to find out who killed her Shaolin mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) and it’s a recipe for trouble.
It will be interesting to see eventual reaction to the revamp when it debuts 7th April. Kung Fu is one of a number of reinventions placing female leads in roles that were originally played by men. Liang is certainly very impressive in the trailer so there should be no worries about the action and choreography, though the description of the show as a whole does make it feel snuggly into a familiar young-demographic team-up CW-template rather than the tone of previous versions.