Kung Fu delivers high-octane action on a weekly basis.
At its core, Kung Fu is the story of Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) as she comes back home to California to avenge her shifu and reunite with her family, which is the heart of Kung Fu’s winning combo of action and story. “We always start with a couple of meetings that get into the tone, feel, structure of the scene and the story we are trying to tell,” student coordinator Andrew Chin says of the process of designing fight scenes. From there, there are a lot of factors to take into account.
For one, Nicky isn’t a vigilante, so Liang focuses on the reason she’s fighting and the emotion behind it. “It has to be rooted in some kind of reason, and not fighting for the sake of fighting,” she explains.
Bettina Strauss/The CW Olivia Liang on ‘Kung Fu’
The show’s different characters’ fighting styles not only come from where and how they trained, but also who they are. Nicky, for example, came back home from a Shaolin Temple, so her specific Kung Fu style is one Chin describes as “regal” and she always carries the principles taught at the temple with her. Comparing her to other characters, you can see how Henry’s (Eddie Liu) street smarts have translated to him having a mix of styles, and Zhilan’s (Yvonne Chapman) training as an assassin results in a more lethal approach even though it’s also Kung Fu. In terms of Nicky’s romance with Henry, that also impacts how she fights. “[Nicky] and Henry have been training together, so she absorbs as much of that as possible, but still keeps her Shaolin principles and fights honorably,” Chin says about how Nicky’s style has evolved.
The evolution of Zhilan and Nicky’s relationship is a prime example of how Kung Fu tells its stories through action sequences. The series began with Nicky hunting Zhilan for killing her mentor, but in season 2, the pair found themselves fighting together on a few occasions. “Fighting as a team came naturally for them. I was given the story point that because of their guardian-warrior combo, they just naturally are supposed to be together,” Chin explains about how the mythology impacts their dynamic. What doesn’t come naturally to them is working together, so they bump heads when they aren’t knocking people out together.
The pair fighting big bad Russell Tan (when he was in the body of his son, played by Ludi Lin) toward the end of season 2 was a real turning point for them. In addition to fighting Russell with Zhilan, an emotional moment in that scene stands out to Liang. “Nicky finally saw a broken version of Zhilan and was able to empathize with her, so not seeing her as one-dimensional anymore adds to the storytelling of the fighting in that scene” she says about Zhilan breaking down right before they confront Russell.
Bettina Strauss/The CW Andrew Chin and Olivia Liang working on ‘Kung Fu’
From a technical standpoint, Chin explains that in coordinating the “very emotional, grand finale scene,” it was important for each of the three characters to have moments to shine. For the actors, part of getting used to the filming process was understanding that these scenes are shot in pieces. Liang used to be nervous about how the quick sections they’d shoot would come together for a strong scene, but she’s learned to trust the process over time. “I’m reminded of how much movie magic goes on behind the scenes that we don’t get to see,” she explains.
Chin credits the actors’ ability to do stunt work, especially Liang, who has trained hard since the show began. “[Olivia’s] come such a long way since season 1. She’s been training, so we’ve been able to lean on her a lot more with all of her actions. She wants to do as much as she can,” he explains. Liang understands that it’s powerful to see the actors doing the fighting. “For me, as Olivia, it is very empowering. When I get to do it, I get to actually feel how Nicky is feeling, it’s a deeper way to connect with the character,” she says. In the fight against Russell, they were able to lean on Lin, who came to the show with a strong background of martial arts movement, as well as Liang and Chapman’s training. “It was pretty easy to put it all together knowing that we didn’t always need to rely on stunt doubles,” Chin says.
Coming into the fray in season 3 is the mysterious Bo (played by Ben Levin) who will be introduced in a fight alongside Nicky. “For Bo, we were looking for a hard-hitting character. We wanted him to have an eclectic style because he’s an unknown and we wanted him to be exciting,” Chin says. “When it comes to the mix, it’s a natural chemistry that they wanted to see with Nicky and Bo. They kind of take an immediate liking to each other, so we want to reflect that teamwork.” That is achieved by having a handful of beats where they fight together, so we get a taste of their initial chemistry without giving away too much.
Bettina Strauss/The CW Olivia Liang and Ben Levin on ‘Kung Fu’
Kung Fu is continuing to refine and add to what it delivers through the fight scenes. “We want to focus more on quality rather than quantity,” Chin says about season 3’s fights. After seeing longer fights get cut down, the stunt team is honing in on the exact story they are telling in visually exciting, shorter fights. Also, they want to use weapons more even though they are a bit more difficult from a safety perspective. Chin teases a sword-wielding character whose blade work will be an exciting addition to the upcoming third season. Liang teases that she will get wired in a harness, which is something she’s wanted to do since season 1.
When looking at the new season, Liang is feeling strong and is excited to show people a different energy through the fighting. “It feels a lot more fun,” she says, “Season 1 and 2 Nicky would never willingly go into a fight and we’re playing into the reputation that Nicky now has around the Bay Area. She’s having fun and the fights look more dynamic.” Part of that evolution is because Liang is feeling stronger in her martial arts training. The biggest testament to her hard work? Showrunner Christina Kim texting he saying she mistook her for a stunt double.
Kung Fu season 3 premieres Oct. 5 on The CW.
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