'Kung Fu' Season 1 Finale Review: Transformation

A fitting finale for the Shen family, but lots of sneak peeks for Season 2

Kung Fu -- "Transformation" -- Image Number: KF113b_0r.jpg -- Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
(Image: © The CW)

What to Watch Verdict

Fantastic action, sweet storyline, and tons of plot twists for the next season of Kung Fu.


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    💥 The martial arts throughout this episode was pretty great.

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    💥 The story arc for the Shen family coming full circle.

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    💥 Vanessa Kai, Olivia Liang, and Yvonne Chapman's scenes

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    Plot twists.


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    💥 Introducing a new character like the sorcerer with very little meaning.

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    💥 Lots of new information given during final episode.

This post contains spoilers for Kung Fu.
Check out our last review here

It’s hard to not feel a profound loss when the season finale of one of your favorite shows is concluding. It’s the feeling of saying bye to your elementary school friends for summer break, but you take comfort knowing you’ll see them again when the school year starts again. That’s how it feels for this season of Kung Fu. We were introduced to Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) as she returns home after three years at the monastery to make amends with the family she abandoned. Although the main purpose of the series was for Nicky to fulfill her destiny as the Warrior/Guardian of the sacred Chinese weapons, the major theme that came out of the season was reuniting with family. Last week, we saw Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) destroy the last remaining attachment that would prevent her from reaching her goals--her love, Kerwin (Ludi Lin). But we find out that Nicky’s relationships with her friends and family are her greatest strength and truly are the real reasons she was able to overpower Zhilan and send biàn gé energy back into the Earth where it belonged. 

The episode was a LOT of information overload and it took a while to fully understand the idea of a sorcerer harnessing the power of biàn gé, which in Mandarin translates to ‘to transform’. We discover that energy is neither good nor evil--it just depends on who controls that power. I understand Nicky saw the sorcerer during her time at the monastery, but who is this nameless person? This is the first time we saw their face and learned there was even a sorcerer element to the story. It’s hard to feel invested in a character we barely met--especially when she is killed off. Her death is instantly forgotten when the biàn gé energy is transported into Nicky and Zhilan. 

Kung Fu -- "Transformation" -- Image Number: KF113b_0r.jpg -- Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

(Image credit: The CW)

The dream sequences of life if Nicky never left to join the monastery was pretty interesting because it showed us a life without her Warrior destiny. She becomes a Harvard graduate and practices law. Evan is also still in the picture as her boyfriend. Nicky notices other things that would have happened if she was not destined to become a warrior--mobster Tony Kang would still be messing with Jin (Tzi Ma) and the restaurant, Ryan (Jon Prasida) would not be working at the Chinatown clinic, Althea (Shannon Dang) is acting all snobby like her mother-in-law, and Henry has no idea who Nicky is. All of this could have happened if the biàn gé energy never existed. Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) appears to Nicky in her dream--not as Nicky’s subconscious, but as the actual Pei-Ling brought to Nicky’s dream by the magic of the weapons. In a sweet moment between Pei-Ling and Nicky, we learn that Pei-Ling regrets keeping the secret of Nicky’s birthright from her. Kai delivers the heartbreaking line “Yes. I knew you were not ready [and] that you had to make peace with your family. But I regret I waited to tell you more. I thought we would have more time.” This moment between mentor and student felt like a weight was lifted off Nicky’s shoulders as she finally got the answers she was looking for from Pei-Ling. Throughout the season, Nicky had been talking to herself as “Pei-Ling” looking for answers. Now she knew what needed to be done.

Zhilan was sent back to the perfect post-biàn gé energy dream sequence--a shirtless Kerwin greeting her with lots of kisses.I feel like this was meant to be a treat for the fans after last week’s brutal “demise” of the handsome billionaire. Of course, Zhilan is still the same revenge-driven murderer she’s always been and ignores the pleas for change from both Kerwin and the sister she murdered, Pei-Ling. In this heartbreaking scene where Pei-Ling essentially forgives her younger sibling for the things she’s done, Zhilan refuses to accept this and proves herself to be completely irredeemable in the process.

Kung Fu -- "Transformation" -- Image Number: KF113fg_0003r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Tzi Ma as Jin Shen, Jon Prasida as Ryan Shen, Shannon Dang as Althea Shen and Kheng Hua Tan as Mei-Li Shen -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

(Image credit: The CW)

The final showdown between Nicky and Zhilan was full of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon techniques with the flying acrobatics and wire fu (a combination of wire work and kung fu). The martial arts was pretty epic with the multiple styles of wushu, Shaolin kung fu, and wing chun. Even with the added VFX to simulate the biàn gé energy, the fight was entertaining and didn’t distract from the proper forms being used in the battle scene. It also should be noted that the music throughout the episode fit both the dramatic moments of the fight, but also had a subtle call to the old school Kung Fu movies, including the song at the end of Zhilan’s defeat. Nicky proves herself as a true warrior when she returns the energy back into the Earth and spares Zhilan’s life and tells her, “I’m not you.”

As for the family, the tea ceremony brought back many lovely memories of past tea ceremonies I’ve attended and participated in. Although the event was interrupted by the Nicky/Zhilan situation, it was really thrilling to watch an important Chinese ceremony take place on broadcast television. I know it is cliche to say this, but it felt nice to have our traditions be seen. It was also refreshing to see Althea welcome Dennis (Tony Chung) into the Shen Scooby Gang by revealing the truth about Nicky’s warrior destiny. Although, I still have my suspicions about this so-called “perfect” man.

Kung Fu -- "Transformation" -- Image Number: KF113b_0r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Tony Chung as Dennis Soong and Shannon Dang as Althea Shen -- Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

(Image credit: The CW)

Russell Tan’s (Kee Chan) face is finally revealed and I must say it will be interesting to see how he will be the Big Bad of the next season, especially with the shocking reveal of Kerwin surviving Zhilan’s attack. With all of his money and influence, it seems Russell will be an even more dangerous foe than Zhilan. It even has Evan (Gavin Stenhouse) jaded by his job after finding out how much influence the Tan family has over the city, including his department. It didn’t make sense for Evan to target paralegal Nadia (Marissa Cuevas) for answers after she had been trying to help him with the case in the last episode. I’m not sure what makes Evan think Nadia knows so much just because she helped him with the files. I do have a theory that Nadia is a Tan child or mole sent by the Tan family to keep an eye out at the District Attorney's office.

In the end, the family is all back together, which was fantastic to see a happy ending for the Shen gang. But, because we know there will be a second season, the writers added a little bit of drama hinted for next season. Mei-Xui had a daughter, who we learned buried her mother in front of the secluded cabin. She is both a warrior and Guardian by destiny and it seems like the tapes that Mei-Xui recorded were for her, not Nicky. This was such an unexpected and exciting twist. I can’t wait for the Shen family to find out about their long-lost family member but, for now, our characters and cast deserve a much needed break.

Laura Sirikul

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.