What to Watch Verdict
The Shen family storyline is getting better and better, but fails its villain as she falls into the 'dragon lady' trope
A family that fights crime together, stays together.
Yay to more queer relationships on television.
Althea is finally getting her story shared and it's pretty deep.
Only one major fight? Give us more!
Zhilan potentially falling into the 'dragon lady' trope.
This post contains spoilers for Kung Fu "Patience"
Check out our last review here.
The third episode of Kung Fu is finally playing on its greatest strength — the Shen family. Last week, I was worried that Nicky (Olivia Liang) would be too consumed in helping other people that she would lose sight of the people in front of her. Fortunately, this episode was able to do both in having Nicky solve a problem and getting closer to her family while doing it.
In the beginning of the episode, Nicky tries to reconnect with her family by making herself useful at the restaurant, but she proves herself more of a nuisance since her return. As she tries putting groceries in the refrigerator, the door has become ajar. We learn that it has been broken for quite some time. Jin (Tzi Ma) complains that it would be too expensive to fix or replace. Like many typical Asian parents, even when Althea (Shannon Dang) offers to replace the refrigerator, Mei-Li (Tan Kheng Hua) is too prideful to accept the help. Instead, Jin and Mei-Li deal with the broken fridge the best way they know how - just jamming it back in.
There is obvious tension between Nicky and Mei-Li as Nicky tries to volunteer to help her parents with a catering job. Mei-Li dismisses Nicky’s offer and expects Ryan (Jon Prasida) to help since he has been helping with their catering events for the past three years. Frustrated that she cannot get through to her parents, a vision of Pei-Ling appears telling Nicky that she must be patient and that forgiveness is earned. Nicky does attempt to bond with Ryan by offering to take him out to lunch, but to no avail - he’s just too busy at the clinic. As Nicky is leaving the clinic, she notices one of Ryan’s patients, Faye, struggling with a heavy bag. Nicky helps her carry it out and finds that it’s full of union literature for a King Kwong, a fashion brand that overworks and underpays their employees. Nicky is instantly involved in the case when a few days later Faye collapses from exhaustion.
Fortunately, with the help from Ryan, Ryan’s activist boyfriend Joe, and Althea, Nicky is able to confront Eddie Kwong, owner of King Kwong, at one of his launch parties. Like a true bro, Eddie has no idea what she’s talking about and refers her to his colleague, Brett, who is supportive of Faye and her work with the union. Nicky is relieved until she gets a call from Ryan telling her that Faye had high levels of a chemical in her body that could only come from the factory. Determined to find evidence of this chemical, Nicky sneaks into the factory to find all the union papers in the trash. Brett traps Nicky in the factory closet and calls one of his assassins to get rid of her, but she is able to dismantle the assassin in a really great fight scene. It’s unfortunate that this is the only fight scene we get. Instead of using her martial arts skill, Nicky is able to outsmart Brett by having him reveal his plans of poisoning Faye to end the union plans in front of everyone at the party, including Eddie who had no idea about Brett’s evil plan.
Although the episode did have Nicky helping a stranger with her problems, it tied in with Ryan’s relationship with the community. Through Faye, Nicky finds out how dedicated of a doctor Ryan is and how he’s making a difference to those who need it most. Both the Shen siblings are heroes in their own way and it is great to see them grow stronger together as they solve problems that come up in the community.
The episode actually opens with an awkward meet-up between Nicky, Henry (Eddie Liu), and Evan (Gavin Stenhouse) at the Chinatown Community Center. The tension between Henry and Evan is hilariously uncomfortable, especially when you see Nicky with an uneasy look on her face. The chemistry between Nicky and Henry is there, but I can’t help but think Henry is hiding something. Nicky and Henry break into Dr. Chau’s office in Berkeley and they find a puzzle box with the crane symbol on it. Henry takes it to the library to try to crack the puzzle. Later on, Nicky receives a text from Evan asking about the vandalization of Chau’s office, which Nicky doesn’t respond to. But, it appears Evan already knew the answer to that as he was watching the footage of Henry and Nicky breaking into Chau’s office. Evan makes a call to a friend to check who this Henry Yan is. I don’t blame Evan for being protective of his ex-girlfriend who we find out he’s known since his childhood, but at the same time, he needs to chill because Nicky is no longer his girl. It does make you wonder if Henry is hiding something, I didn’t get the feeling he was until the last scene when he was trying to crack a piece of the puzzle, but couldn’t figure it out. Nicky remembered Pei-Ling doing some puzzles at the monastery and attempting to solve it, which she does successfully, finding a key. It makes you wonder if Henry is getting involved in this adventure for the right reasons.
Meanwhile, Zhilan always seems two steps ahead of everyone. It could be because she’s been hiding from society her whole life. She’s just gotten so good at not being found. After meeting Dr. Chau last week, we find out that Zhilan had kidnapped the professor to question him on his knowledge of the legendary swords. He refuses to answer her questions and turns the tables on her by revealing what he knows about her based on the crane pendant she is wearing. We learn Zhilan is part of the Zhang family, who are one of the guardians of the sword. He also brings up her father, who was murdered when Zhilan was a child.
Zhilan is caught off guard at his comment, but she is able to get through to the professor by showing him the sacred sword, which proves his research on the mythical weapons was not in vain. He eventually cooperates with her and reveals the locations to another sword in Dubai. He asks to see the rest of the sword that she has, which is missing the scabbard which strengthens the sword’s power. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know where it is. Zhilan is relieved to hear because she had poisoned his drink. Zhilan is later shown to have retrieved the swords from Dubai and is one more step closer to obtaining them all. I’m still waiting to see what makes this character more than the perceived ‘dragon lady’ trope. Just when we think Zhilan is showing some sympathy, she surprises you with a stab in the gut and twisting it slowly. I really hope we start to see the layers peel off from Zhilan faster or else the series is going to have a big problem by having stereotypical Asian villains.
The highlight of the episode is really Althea’s story, which is pretty dark when you realize the full situation. While at the King Kwong party, Althea is spooked by a woman at the party. As Nicky goes to find evidence against King Kwong, Althea tries to leave the party, but is stopped by the woman, who we find out has been the one contacting Althea. The woman is actually a reporter who wants Althea to tell her story of what her former boss did to her and to other women. Overcome with shame and anxiety, Althea refuses to say anything and tells the reporter to leave her alone. Although the shame of sexual assault does occur in every woman, despite their racial background, Asian women are culturally left to suffer in silence, because they are raised in a collectivist culture, in which one’s family is viewed to be impacted by one’s actions, even if the actions were not their fault. Dang’s performance is stellar at this moment, when she is fighting back tears, dealing with a situation that seems all too familiar. It reminds me of Rowena Chiu, a former assistant to Harvey Weinstein, who was afraid to speak out against the media mogul because of the stigma attached to speaking out. Like many who have faced this situation, reaching out for help is extremely difficult and how Althea deals with it is so relatable. I commend the show for trying to tell this story and giving Althea agency. If Kung Fu continues with more episodes like this, which involves the family in Nicky’s adventure, I think it’ll continue to be solid. I am looking forward to more Shen family dynamics.
Laura Sirikul is a freelance writer, researcher, and managing editor of The Nerds of Color. Throughout her career, she has written for Nerd Reactor, What To Watch, Nerdist, IGN, Movie View Magazine, Red Carpet Report, Mental Floss, Trek News, The Hollywood Reporter, Character Media, Bitch Media, and many other outlets. She has been on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Nerdist's Fangirls, and many other news shows. For almost ten years, she has covered film and television extensively along with in-depth interviews with major studios such as Disney, WB, and FOX. She is also a member of the Asian American Journalist Association and the Hollywood Critics Association. Apart from addressing topics covering film and television, Laura is a strong advocate for social awareness for the underrepresented in the entertainment industry.