Nerds and Beyond recently got the opportunity to sit down with Ludi Lin, who plays Kerwin Tan on Kung Fu, and chat about Kerwin’s role in season 2 of the show. Check out the interview below!
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds and Beyond: Starting off on a light note, when Kerwin wakes up from his coma, we see you sporting a bit of scruff. How long did it take you to grow out your hair for season 2?
Ludi Lin: [Laughs] I would like to say it took three decades [laughs]. That’s pretty much the extent of what I could do. It actually took the entire break. As soon as I found out that I was going to come back, I started doing it. The results aren’t too impressive, but it’s the best I can do.
Nerds and Beyond: In this week’s episode, “The Bell”, Kerwin gets a lot more concentrated screen time, meaning that viewers get to dig that much deeper into his character. And we see now more than ever that he’s a man of complex motivations. How would you describe the internal struggle that Kerwin’s going through in this current arc in the wake of the events from last season?
Ludi Lin: I think I can I can sum up Kerwin’s motivations pretty simply, in seven words: Kerwin hates for the sake of love. Going off of that, it’s pretty natural that we would gain insight — and I’m really happy that we get a deeper insight into Kerwin’s complex character. Because we actually get to explore the Tan family a lot more in season two. I myself think it’s really hard to understand a person without understanding their family, their childhood, their attachments, how they’ve grown up. And I think Kerwin, how he’s grown up, he’s got a very skewed view of love, and how he attaches to a person, to the people that are closely related to him. So that ultimately culminates in what Kerwin’s journey is.
Nerds and Beyond: In the fight sequence in Russell’s office, there’s still palpable tension between Kerwin and Zhilan, some of it obviously due to Zhilan’s betrayal, but some of it not. Do you think that Kerwin still has feelings for Zhilan, and if so (or if not), how do you believe that internal emotional turmoil has affected him?
Ludi Lin: [Laughs] Yeah, I think what you said about betrayal, there was that little issue of getting his throat slit before he passed out and fell into a coma. But I think we always say that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. So, I think there’s a very fine line between love and hate. And I think Kerwin is walking that fine line, and if feelings means passion, there’s definitely passion there. Because I think love and hate, they’re two sides of the same coin, depending on what perspective and what kind of understanding you take to it. So, I think there’s no question that there are still feelings between them. It’s just how those feelings will manifest. That is the million-dollar question.
Nerds and Beyond: Tying back into what you were saying earlier, Kerwin referenced Russell a lot in season 1, but with the Tan family becoming this season’s main antagonist, we finally get to learn more about their family dynamic — especially with the introduction of Juliette. What do you think is the biggest insight we get into Kerwin’s character by introducing viewers to this family dynamic on screen?
Ludi Lin: The biggest insight is why Kerwin behaves the way he does. Why does he always go full tilt, and he’s not able to mitigate his responses or his feelings. Why does he feel so deeply and go all-in on everything. For example, as soon as he meets Zhilan and they go on this, you know [laughs], they go on this romp to the bedroom followed by murderous adventure ending in his own attempted murder.
But I think the Tan family is such a dog eat dog hierarchy of domination that the closest… even the closest people that he should be able to trust, that he should be able to rely on — his sources of love –, he can’t because they can turn on him at any point. His father being domineering and always pitting his children against each other, that type of dynamic is sink or swim.
Nerds and Beyond: After betraying his dad by helping Nicky, Henry, and Ryan destroy the bell and setting Zhilan’s sights on destroying what Russell desires most, Kerwin seems to have managed to free himself from under his father’s thumb. Do you think getting his revenge and running away will start him on a different path? Because while we saw him do the right thing in this situation (though his motives weren’t exactly pure), he hasn’t always done so in the past.
Ludi Lin: I think it doesn’t guarantee that he will “walk the path of light”, but it certainly sets up the freedom and the possibility. And I think in the third episode, that’s ultimately what he gains. I think he’s freed of his hate for Zhilan in the betrayal that she committed on him. And in that, he also found the freedom to free himself from the horrible legacy that his childhood and family have impressed upon him.
Nerds and Beyond: And on the topic of running away, while we saw Kerwin leave, it doesn’t feel like that’s the last we’ve seen of him. Without giving too much away of course, do you think Kerwin will manage to stay away from his family for good this time or will he get pulled back under their influence?
Ludi Lin: I think that’s the thing with family. Yeah, I think it’s pre-determined that you are born into your family. And then it’s very, very difficult to untie yourself from them. Because you’re inextricably linked by your blood, your DNA, and a whole history that probably stems from before you’re even born.
In tangent about that, what’s funny is in the original script, Kerwin was supposed to drive off and look beside him to a bottle of champagne that he’s stolen — the best bottle that he’s stolen from his sister’s collection. And I think we — for good reason [laughs] — we decided to kibosh that because drunk driving probably would have resulted in the ultimate end of Kerwin. So don’t do that kids. Don’t drink and drive.
Nerds and Beyond: Good advice [laughs]. So switching gears, if I have my information correct, you studied Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, and Olympic-style wrestling in the past, right?
Ludi Lin: Yeah, I definitely studied Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu — and really the wrestling was to go along with Jiu-Jitsu and some of the stuff I learned from Power Rangers because that’s kind of like the style I wanted to bring out. It didn’t eventually make it, but I took that away with me.
Nerds and Beyond: So this question actually relates to your work on Power Rangers and combining your martial arts experience with that experience of coordinating and performing fight sequences on-screen! What would you say is the best part about having that practical experience to fall back on when working with a stunt team?
Ludi Lin: I think the best thing that I took away from actual martial arts training is just the ability to be tough and take hits when accidents happen. But I think on-screen fighting is much more about rhythm and collaborative effort.
And in that, actually Muay Thai sometimes really helps. Because oftentimes in traditional Muay Thai, you’re not trying to kill each other. All you’re doing is you’re trying to exchange emotion and knowledge in the form of motion and action in the ring or on stage. So that kind of helps, that sense of peace and collaboration. It’s definitely something that’s needed in on-screen fighting. I think it’s more like a dance than a real fight.
Nerds and Beyond: The cast of Kung Fu seems to have built a really familial atmosphere on set. What was your experience coming into that family as a guest star?
Ludi Lin: It was really great! Everyone’s very inviting. I’ve been very fortunate having, in almost every single project I’ve worked on, I’ve worked with really collegial castmates and crew. And that’s not to say there is no drama; I think there’s always some drama. And that’s true of our cast and crew as well. But the important thing is we can always talk it through and work it through and still bond and work as a family.
Nerds and Beyond: What has been your favorite part about working on Kung Fu?
Ludi Lin: My favorite part and I’ll be a little bit selfish in saying this, but for me personally, it’s the length of time you can work on a TV show and gain more knowledge into what goes on behind the camera. Because often, you only see at most six people on camera on the screen at once, but there’s about two, three hundred people behind the screen. They’re always busy, always setting things up to make what you see — the presentation, the art itself — to make that materialize. So on this season, I gained a huge perspective into what that entails. And I even got an opportunity to shadow one of the directors from beginning to end in seeing what the directorial process is for TV shows. Personally, that’s what I took away. That was great.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have any interest in branching more into the production side of things in the future?
Ludi Lin: Yeah, I think it’s really inevitable, because to me, although we hear this a lot, like we’ve made a lot of progress in diversity and representation. I just don’t think it’s enough. And it’s not going to change dramatically without us creating our own stories and taking things into our own hands. So I think directing and production, that’s just an inevitable step in that direction.
Nerds and Beyond: That actually leads me to the last question I have for you today.
Ludi Lin: [Laughs] Wow, you’re so good at going from question to question.
Nerds and Beyond: [Laughs] You’re providing me with the perfect segues! So, I posed this same question to Olivia when I spoke with her, and I wanted to ask you as well. Kung Fu is the first network drama to feature a predominantly AAPI cast. For you personally, what has been the most rewarding part about being able to help bring that level of representation on screen?
Ludi Lin: The most rewarding part is the challenge of it. The most rewarding part is to put my all into it and make sure that people from the AAPI community — and even the wider community — can relate to it. And it’s really challenging because sometimes we don’t feel like we’re supported enough. And you say that it’s the first show, and for me, it’s still the only show that comes to mind that represents that community, our community in its wholeness.
But it’s also rewarding to see the other stories told in that vein. Like last night, I just saw Turning Red. And that was such an endearing story. There’s so many things in there that I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. And that’s because it’s not often we get to see that, but that’s also because it’s really interesting and it’s really good. So, yeah, building something that we can relate to, that we can share with other cultures, that everyone can relate to, that is one of the most rewarding aspects.
And also, let me add selfishly — sorry about this, this is a long answer [laughs]. Also, like many people, I love Bruce Lee, and Kung Fu is a part of his legacy. So that’s also a very, very proud aspect of it for me.
You can catch Kung Fu on Wednesday nights in its new time slot at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on The CW. As always, make sure to stay up to date with all of our coverage here, and stay tuned for more updates!