Recap: Chinatown Is Shaken in ‘Kung Fu’ Season 1, Episode 5 “Sanctuary”

15 Min Read
The CW

Note: This episode of Kung Fu includes depictions of police violence, racially motivated attacks, and their effects on the wider community.

In the most impactful episode of Kung Fu yet, the show takes on Black Lives Matter and the Stop Asian Hate movement as protests over the police shooting of an unarmed Black teenager arrive in Chinatown. The Shens are all drawn in as Ryan supports Joe and Nicky feels compelled to use her voice to support the protesters. Mei-Li struggles with her fear of what protest means as the unrest resurfaces painful memories. From the heart-stopping performances to the brilliant directing, “Sanctuary” is a powerful episode of television that shows the impact police violence and racially motivated hate have on individual lives.

At the start of the episode, Henry and Nicky spar, with Henry urging Nicky to beat him. She obliges, and when she has him on the ground, they kiss … in front of two girls showing up for their class. They head to the library and build a board of all their research so far, and Nicky is upset they still don’t know what the scabbard represents. They start looking for a time all the weapons were together, and Nicky finds a legend with the weapons that mentions they glow green. Nicky knows this is true because of what she saw when she fought Zhilan. Nicky also remembers that when she lived at the monastery, she saw a mysterious glowing green figure in the garden late at night that she was drawn to. Pei-Ling interrupted her and claimed it was likely a pull towards the energy of the monastery’s former inhabitants. Back in the present, Nicky picks up the scabbard, which glows green like the sword. The magic is real.

Nicky realizes that the obsidian the sword is made from will link all the weapons together, and Henry adds this will make them easier to find. He texts Randall to keep an eye out for more obsidian weapons. Nicky is all for diving into the research, but Henry has another idea. He asks Nicky to dinner for a date, and she accepts.

Mei-Li and Jin walk down the street, complaining about rising grocery prices. The conversation turns to an incident outside Bamboo Market where a friend, Eileen, was attacked. Jin angrily notes this racially motivated attacks have been increasing lately. Mei-Li remarks that 20 years later, nothing has changed as they keep walking.

Althea is scrolling through the news, seeing that her old boss’ firm had incredible earnings this quarter. Dennis is showering, and when he comes out she says she has something to tell him. He smiles and says he has something to tell her too, and losing her nerve she insists he go first. He excitedly tells her that two years ago, he put their names on a waitlist to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos Islands, and two spots just opened up. She fakes enthusiasm, genuinely excited but now knowing she can’t tell him what happened with her boss yet. He calls Althea his “dream girl” and gives her a hug as he asks what she wanted to tell him. She brushes it off, and he leaves. Ryan gets a call from Joe, who wants to meet for lunch the next day since they’ve been too busy to see each other.

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Nicky and Henry are looking for a place to eat as a skateboarder whizzes by, nearly running them over as Henry jokes Nicky’s city reflexes are rusty. At the bar, Nicky is so obsessed with the case that Henry has to remind her they’re on a date. They hear sirens go by, and Henry remarks that Chinatown is busy. Nicky still can’t focus on their date, wanting to focus on the search. Henry relents. They leave, and Nicky vents about how she feels like she’s just waiting on Randall and not doing anything. Henry tells her he’s just proud to be a part of it, but then they stop. A crime scene is in front of them with a small crowd gathered. A bystander explains that the skateboarder from earlier, a Black teenager, was skateboarding in the alley when the police thought he was trying to break into a nearby store. They shot him, and Nicky and Henry stare as he’s taken away in an ambulance.

The next morning, Nicky turns on the TV to see the news about Andre, the teenager. The coverage frames it as a robbery in progress, which angers Nicky. Mei-Li sympathizes with Mr. Wong, the owner of the jewelry store, and Nicky is incredulous that her mother isn’t more upset about Andre. Mei-Li says she hopes he recovers, but that she’s known Mr. Wong for years and feels badly that he’s caught up in this incident. Jin says nothing, but looks at his wife pointedly while patting Nicky on the shoulder.

Althea is looking at flower samples when Nicky arrives. Nicky asks if she’s talked to Dennis yet, and Althea assures her she is fine. They discuss Mei-Li’s reaction to the shooting, with both noting crime and the police are topics that are usually off-limits with her. Althea gently teases Nicky about Henry before Nicky leaves. At the clinic, Ryan prepares for his lunch date as Joe arrives, looking exhausted. Ryan hasn’t heard the news about Andre yet, and Joe says he can’t make their lunch because he and his activist group are staging a protest. Ryan reassures him that he understands as Joe leaves.

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Mei-Li and Jin watch the news, which is covering the Black Lives Matter protest Joe is a part of. Mei-Li is worried about customers being scared off while Jin says they have a right to protest for justice. But Jin is scared when he sees graffiti on their front window saying “Justice for Andre” as the protests arrive outside. Mei-Li says, “This isn’t justice, this is vandalism,” with Jin simply moving to clean it off.

At the community center, Henry is getting a solo workout in when Nicky arrives. She says he wasn’t in the library, and he says he needed to escape from the news. He heard that Andre also served time when he was 15, and like Henry, it was a minor charge. As he defends Andre and talks about how he was going to school for an engineering degree, his phone pings. Andre is dead.

Mei-Li and Jin close down the restaurant, with Mei-Li ranting about looters and vandalism. Nicky wants them to do something in support of the protesters, but Mei-Li says she can’t condone their actions. When she leaves, Jin moves to comfort Nicky, but she tells him Pei-Ling told her that when she feels fear, she needs to reach out to those who are hurting. Ryan prepares to go the protest as a medic, with Henry helping him get ready. Henry teases him about Joe, but Ryan says he wants to show support to Joe and potentially help clarify their relationship status. Ryan asks how things are going with Nicky, and Henry says they also haven’t had much time to define their relationship either.

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Outside the restaurant, Nicky has convinced Jin to set up a water bottle station for the protest. Althea arrives as Jin proudly smiles at her, happy to help the protesters. That night, Joe leads a speech to the crowd as Ryan makes his way to the square. The police announce that curfew begins in 10 minutes. Ryan finds Joe, and Joe is happy to see him there. At the restaurant, Mei-Li watches Andre’s mother talk about him on the news, and Mei-Li is heartbroken. Henry arrives with supplies as curfew begins. We watch from behind the window as police tear gas the protesters, with many falling to the ground. The gas obscures the view, a visual choice that makes the scene that much more horrifying as we mostly hear what’s happening. Ryan gets to the restaurant and pulls as many people inside as he can. He and Joe ask for milk as several of those inside the restaurant have pepper spray injuries. Mei-Li is horrified that the protesters are inside, but Althea, Nicky, and Jin spring into action. Nicky opens the door as Jin ushers protesters in. Everyone stares as the heavily armed police patrol outside.

Mei-Li yells at Nicky and Ryan for helping, her fear of angering the police coming through. Nicky goes to Althea, who is stressed. Althea confesses her obsession with choosing the flowers and planning the wedding is her way of keeping in control of her life. Nicky hugs her as Althea asks how she can be so brave.

They hear a knock at the back door, and it’s Evan. He tells Nicky the police want to search the restaurant to find Joe — they’re accusing him of inciting a riot. Evan says it’s not his case, but he wanted her to know so she could prepare. They tell Joe what’s going on, and he notes this charge could mean serious jail time. Joe says he wants to give himself up so the police won’t have an excuse to search the restaurant. Ryan asks what he can do, and Joe asks him for a minute to think. He texts his mother and says he won’t be home tonight. Evan calls Nicky to tell her he can’t stall the police any longer. Althea and Henry offer to mobilize social media, and Joe says he’d appreciate that after he turns himself in.

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Joe goes to stand up, but Nicky stands instead. She says to arrest her, and one by one everyone in the restaurant stands, including Jin and even Mei-Li. Althea walks up with a video showing Joe specifically calling for a peaceful protest. The police stand down after a tense moment. After the police leave, Mei-Li shares that years ago, when Nicky was a little girl, someone threw a brick through their window with a hateful slur on it. Mei-Li says she was so afraid she wanted to close the restaurant, but Jin told her they needed to put down roots and show they wouldn’t back down. It also reveals the origin of the story the two told to keep their children from being afraid: a dragon came from China and broke the front window with its tail. Mei-Li says the shooting and the graffiti brought her back to that day, and she was afraid.

The next day, “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R. plays as Mei-Li leaves flowers at Andre’s memorial. Mei-Li locks eyes with Andre’s mother as she walks away, wiping away a tear. At the clinic, Joe goes to see Ryan. Joe says he knows they haven’t had the talk that Ryan wants to have about their future, and Ryan tells him he completely gets it. He tells Joe he’s there to support him, and Joe kisses him as Ryan is surprised. Joe tells him this is what he needs, and they kiss again. In the library, Nicky and Henry are trying to research as Nicky finds herself distracted by Andre’s death and the protests.

Henry tells her that the activists fight every day, and that sometimes the fight takes time. But they show up every day anyway, and that’s what they need to do. Henry gets a video file from Randall that shows an archaeological discovery in South America that appears to be one of the weapons.

Kung Fu airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

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By Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.
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