Kung Fu, The CW’s newest series, is an action-packed family drama that is an original and refreshing take on the martial arts genre. Created by Christina M. Kim (Lost) and Robert Berens (Supernatural), the series features a perfect lead in Olivia Liang, who anchors the show with a mixture of heart and stubbornness that is endearing. The supporting cast is just as strong, with legendary actor Tzi Ma as her father Jin and Eddie Liu as new flame Henry among the highlights. The pilot features great character moments and action sequences that promise an exciting first season for a groundbreaking show.
The episode opens with Nicky introducing herself to the audience in a fight montage. She explains that for three years, she has been in a monastery in China, hiding from the matchmaking trip her mother sent her on. She stopped talking to her family when she realized the “culture trip” was just an excuse to pair her off, and after running she’s rescued by Pei-Ling, who runs the all-female warrior team training at the monastery.
Pei-Ling mentors Nicky, teaching her everything she needs to know about fighting. But eventually she urges Nicky to make peace with her family and return home. She explains that she too had a difficult family life and that she doesn’t want Nicky to make the mistakes she did. That night, the monastery is lit on fire as raiders come after the warriors. In a brilliant action sequence, the women fight them off as Nicky desperately tries to get to Pei-Ling. As the fight rages, Pei-Ling faces Zhilan, the leader of the raiders and someone she seems to recognize. Zhilan incapacitates Pei-Ling and steals a mysterious sword. As Nicky finally reaches Pei-Ling, Zhilan stabs Pei-Ling and vanishes. As Nicky sobs, Pei-Ling begs her to retrieve the sword and dies. Nicky pursues Zhilan, and the two fight. Nicky briefly holds the sword, and it makes a noise in her hand before Zhilan takes it back. As Nicky finds herself on the edge of a cliff, Zhilan shoves her off. Nicky holds on, and we flash to the title card.
Nicky narrates that she tried to find Zhilan, but couldn’t. In the end, she goes back to her home in San Francisco, following her mentor’s last advice. At her home, her father Jin opens the door. He instantly folds her into a hug, crying as he says he missed her. He has a black eye, which he blames on a fall. He informs her that her sister Althea is getting married. Althea arrives and is also thrilled to see Nicky. Turns out Althea is marrying Dennis, the “mathlete from high school,” who looks a lot different than Nicky remembers. Ryan, their brother, seems more suspect of Nicky’s return than the others. Their mother Mei-Li enters, and upon seeing Nicky, she says, “My daughter died three years ago,” before exiting. Althea quips, “Well, that went better than I thought it would.” Mei-Li tells Nicky she sacrificed everything for Nicky and wants to know why she wouldn’t have said something if she was so miserable. Nicky angrily says it was a mistake to come home before leaving the room. Jin tells Nicky he will talk to Mei-Li and that she should meet them at the family restaurant later.
Nicky goes to see Evan, her ex-boyfriend who she left behind three years before. She says she needed space from her family and their expectations. Evan asks her if she’s okay, getting over his initial anger. She tells him everything about Pei-Ling, including that she mentioned “Biange” being involved. Nicky thinks it’s part of a Triad gang and mentions that Evan could use his connections as an assistant district attorney to help find the killer. Evan is upset she’s trying use his connections, but she reassures him she’s not just there for that reason. She says she shouldn’t have let her mother pull them apart as another woman enters. Sabine is Evan’s new girlfriend, a fact that seems to surprise Nicky.
Nicky walks along the waterfront that night. Pei-Ling’s ghost talks to her, telling her it was right for her to come home. Nicky disagrees, saying her mission is to find Zhilan and the sword. Pei-Ling tells her that healing the rift with her family is the way to find the answers she’s seeking. In the alley outside her father’s restaurant, she sees two thieves beat her father. She goes to him, yelling for help as they get away.
At the hospital, the doctor tells the family that Jin is doing well but resting. Nicky asks Althea and Ryan what’s really going on. Ryan tells her that she can’t just decide to care after being gone for three years and leaves, with Althea brushing it off as everyone being tired. Althea firmly tells Nicky she’s staying with her. Nicky goes to the Chinese Community Center to find Ryan the next day, telling him they need to talk. As they go to chat, they run into Henry, a friend of Ryan’s who instantly catches Nicky’s eye. An old woman from Henry’s Tai Chi class instantly assumes Henry and Nicky are a couple, which embarrasses them both. Henry says he wants to know more about Nicky’s time in China since he’s doing his master’s in Chinese art history, but Ryan attempts to shut down this friendship immediately by saying, “Well, she probably won’t be here for very long.” Nicky assures Henry she’s very interested in chatting before following Ryan.
Ryan tells Nicky that everything fell apart after she left. Their perfect family image was shattered, and their mother in particular took it hard. Ryan says without her, he lost his ally. She asks if they know he’s gay, and Ryan says he came out to them a year ago. He says their mom pretends it never happened while their dad never talks about it. Nicky apologizes for letting him down, and they hug. Nicky goes to see Henry, and she explains what happened in China.
She tells Henry that the sword is the source of female shaolin (according to Pei-Ling), and an ancient power lives within it. Henry has heard of it: it’s the Sword of Liang Daiyu. He’s shocked it still survived. Liang Daiyu was an ancient warrior who trained female raiders to fight in a war. Nicky says the sword burned her when she touched it, but not Zhilan, and she needs to know where Zhilan is now. Henry looks at the burn on Nicky’s hand, which is in the shape of ancient characters. Henry says he’ll look into what the symbols mean, and he also agrees to keep it a secret.
Back at the hospital, Nicky goes to see Jin. She asks him to tell her what’s really happening, and Mei-Li enters. She says that the rents went up and so did expenses, so she took a loan from Tony Kang without telling Jin. Tony was their best customer, but he was more dangerous than they thought. Two months prior, Jin confronted him as the debt hit $100,000. Jin says they have 72 hours to pay, or Tony and his cronies will kill him and repossess the restaurant.
Althea and Ryan are incredulous when Nicky tells them she wants to try to broker a deal with Tony or go to Evan. Althea points out other people in Chinatown must be experiencing the same thing, and Nicky tells them they need to go to the others and build a case themselves. She knows their community will trust them more than Evan, which causes Althea to sarcastically note that “this is one of the few times not being white is an advantage.” The siblings, along with Henry, walk around Chinatown interviewing witnesses. Everyone is reluctant to talk, and Pei-Ling appears to Nicky to urge her not to give up.
Henry tells Nicky he found out that the sword is one of eight weapons given ancient powers and that it will work for its rightful owner. Nicky hates to think that Zhilan is its rightful owner, and Althea interrupts. She says that the owner of a local dollar store never reported a recent break in to the police after asking her friends and family for loans. Nicky goes to talk to her as the others wait. She tells the owner that they need to fight back, but the owner is too afraid. Outside, a hired goon pulls a knife on Ryan, and Nicky sees. Her training kicking in, she easily dispatches one of the men as Henry expertly fights the other, showing he has skills of his own. The neighborhood watches as Nicky and Henry defeat their opponents.
Ryan and Althea are excited about Nicky’s skills as Nicky asks them not to tell their parents. Mei-Li is angry that Nicky put them in danger by asking around, but Nicky yells that it was her insistence on secrets that put them in danger, not Nicky. Mei-Li tells Nicky her own relationship with her parents was strained, but she never would have run away and betrayed them. Nicky scoffs that she was raised to go to Harvard and be who Mei-Li wanted her to be, and Mei-Li never thought about what that kind of pressure would do to Nicky. Before Mei-Li can answer, Althea tells her Cindy, the store owner, is downstairs. She wants to help after seeing Nicky take down Tony’s men.
Cindy and Nicky go to Evan with their evidence. Evan says they still need more to go after someone so powerful. He says they do have classified documents that could be enough, but they are all in Chinese, and their one translator is swamped. Nicky says her family could translate them, and Evan notes that the documents are evidence. Their case could be thrown out, and Evan could lose his job. But he relents, telling her she needs to guard them with her life.
At the house, Althea, Ryan, Evan, and Nicky look for evidence. Althea hacks into Tony’s bank account as Ryan laughs at Evan’s reaction, noting that Althea is “more than just a pretty face.” They realize something big is going down at the docks, and Evan wants to call in an anonymous tip and get the police involved. Ryan argues Tony paid off the police, and they can’t trust them. The family visits Jin, who is being released that night. Ryan is missing, and when Althea tracks Ryan, they realize he took matters into his own hands and went to the docks.
Nicky goes after him, and they both hide. After snapping a few photos, Tony spots them, and his men start shooting. Nicky fights them all off while Ryan chases Tony, who starts shooting at Ryan. Nicky tells Ryan to stay back, and she fights Tony solo. Tony hits Nicky, and she remembers losing Pei-Ling. In that moment, she stands up and fights, taking Tony down as Ryan watches in shock at Nicky’s nearly supernatural abilities.
At Althea and Dennis’ banquet, Jin and Mei-Li tell Nicky she should stay with them. The family mends their fight, and the karaoke starts as Nicky goes to find Henry. He tells her he knows why Zhilan stole the sword. If someone collects all eight weapons, they’d be unstoppable. Henry says she must be looking for the other weapons, which are prophesied to cause destruction in the wrong hands. Nicky realizes this was what she was meant to do as the credits roll.
Kung Fu airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.