‘Kung Fu’ Rights the Wrongs of Its Ancestor
Nearly 50 years after David Carradine rose to fame as an enigmatic, half-Chinese Shaolin monk in the Wild West, “Kung Fu” is returning to network television in a new iteration on the CW.
将近50年前，以有一半华裔血统的神秘少林僧人形象出现在蛮荒西部的戴维·卡拉丹(David Carradine)一举成名，如今，CW将把一个新版《功夫》(Kung Fu)送上电视荧幕。
But this time, the gender-flipped reboot, which will be the first network drama to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast when it premieres Wednesday, is attempting to right some of the wrongs of the original series.
In 1971, not long before starring in the high-octane films that made him internationally famous, Bruce Lee shopped around an eight-page treatment for a new television show called “The Warrior” about a Chinese martial artist who journeys across America’s Old West. Studio executives at Warner Bros. decided to pass on Lee’s pitch, which Lee said was because they thought American audiences wouldn’t watch a show with an Asian lead. A year later, Warner Bros. debuted a similar show on ABC called “Kung Fu,” with Carradine, a white actor with no prior knowledge of martial arts, in the lead role.
The original show’s creator, Ed Spielman, has said that his idea was based on 10 years of personal research, which included Chinese language studies at Brooklyn College; Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, has argued that “Kung Fu” is a retooled version of “The Warrior.” (Shannon Lee, the actor’s daughter, later partnered with the director Justin Lin to produce “Warrior,” which premiered on Cinemax in 2019.)
原版的剧创埃德·斯皮尔曼(Ed Spielman)说，他是根据自己历时十年的研究得出这个构思的，其中包括在布鲁克林学院(Brooklyn College)学习中文；李小龙的遗孀琳达·李·凯德威尔(Linda Lee Cadwell)则指出，《功夫》是将《战士》改头换面而成的。（李小龙之女李香凝后来与导演林诣彬合作制作了《战士》，2019年在Cinemax首播。）
“Kung Fu” ran for three seasons from 1972 to 1975 and remained a fixture in syndication, introducing many Western audiences to the cross-cultural power of martial arts.
When Warner Bros. asked Christina M. Kim, a television writer and producer best known for her work on “Lost” and “Blindspot,” to spearhead a reboot, she agreed. Then, she created a show that is a dramatic departure from the original, starting with the protagonist.
华纳兄弟向凭借《迷失》(Lost)和《盲点》(Blindspot)成名的电视编剧和制片人克里斯蒂娜·M·金(Christina M. Kim)提出，由她负责《功夫》重拍版，她同意了。接下来她创作了一部与原版天差地别的剧集，首先主角就大不相同。
“I really, really wanted a kick-ass, strong female Asian lead,” she said in a video interview last month.
The modern-day adaptation follows Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang), a young Chinese-American woman who drops out of college and travels to a monastery in China, where she undergoes intensive martial-arts training. When she returns to find San Francisco overrun with crime and corruption and her own parents, Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan), at the mercy of a powerful organized crime group originating in China, Nicky uses her fighting skills to protect her hometown — all while reconnecting with her estranged family and friends and searching for the ruthless assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor (Vanessa Kai).
现代重拍版讲述的是妮基·沈（Nicky Shen，梁安平饰演）的故事，她是一位年轻的华裔美国女性，从大学辍学后前往中国的一间寺院，在那里接受了高强度的武术训练。回国后，她发现旧金山充斥着犯罪与腐败，她的父母金（Jin，马泰饰演）和梅莉（Mei-Li，陈琼华饰演）饱受一个源自中国的强大有组织犯罪集团的摆布，妮基用自己的武艺来保护她的家园——同时又和她已经疏远的家人恢复关系，寻找杀死她的少林师傅（瓦妮莎·凯[Vanessa Kai]饰演）的无情凶手。
In the works since 2019, “Kung Fu” arrives amid an alarming spike in anti-Asian racism, giving its focus on Asian-American people who are victimized and fight back an additional, if unplanned and unwelcome, weight. “Certainly, our show is not the solution, but I hope that we are a part of the solution,” Kim said during a press event, the morning after eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, were shot to death in Atlanta. “Having a show like ours on the air makes us part of the narrative.”
When she began writing the pilot episode in late 2019, Kim wanted to highlight the unique dynamics that exist within an intergenerational Chinese-American family. She knew that she needed two key ingredients: a charming, athletic actress who could handle the emotional and physical demands of the lead role, and a revered Asian-American actor to lend credibility and gravity as the patriarch.
She auditioned more than 150 young actresses before finding Liang, best known as Alyssa Chang on the “Vampire Diaries” spinoff “Legacies.” But for the father, Kim had one name in mind from the beginning: Tzi Ma.
她试镜了150多个年轻女演员，最终找到梁安平，她最知名的角色是《吸血鬼日记》(Vampire Diaries)衍生剧集《吸血鬼后裔》(Legacies)中的艾莉莎·张(Alyssa Chang)。而对于父亲这一角色，克里斯蒂娜·金从一开始就想到一个名字：马泰。
With a career spanning four decades and more than 140 credits across film, theater and television, Ma has developed the reputation of being “Hollywood’s go-to Asian dad.” Despite not having any children of his own, Ma, now 58, has played the father figure for a bevy of Hollywood talent — including Awkwafina in “The Farewell,” Sandra Oh in “Meditation Park” and most recently, Liu Yifei in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Mulan.”
马泰的职业生涯长达40年，在电影、戏剧和电视领域演过140多个角色，他已经演出“好莱坞的首选亚洲爸爸”的声誉。尽管他自己没有孩子，现年58岁的马泰为很多好莱坞演员——包括《别告诉她》(The Farewell)中的奥卡菲娜(Awkwafina)、《冥想公园》(Meditation Park)中的吴卓珊，以及迪士尼真人版《花木兰》(Mulan)里的刘亦菲——扮演父亲角色。
Born in Hong Kong and raised on Staten Island, Ma discovered musical theater in junior high, where he sought acceptance after getting into regular fights with fellow students over his race. He began his career on the New York experimental theater scene in the late 1970s, where he studied and worked with the Oscar and Tony-nominated godfather of Asian-American theater Mako Iwamatsu and the Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang.
马泰出生于香港，在纽约史坦顿岛长大，在初中时迷上了音乐剧，并从中寻求认可，那个时候他因他的种族经常和同学打架。他的职业生涯始于1970年代后期的纽约实验剧院舞台，在那里他与获奥斯卡和托尼奖提名的亚裔美国人戏剧教父岩松信(Mako Iwamatsu)和托尼奖获奖剧作家黄哲伦(David Henry Hwang)一起学习并合作。
Following his successful collaborations with Hwang, Ma traveled to Orange County, Calif., during the 1988 writers’ strike to star in the playwright Eric Overmyer’s “In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe.” He was discovered by producers during the play’s successful four-week run, which ultimately kicked off his television and film career on the West Coast.
在与黄哲伦成功合作之后，马泰在1988年作家罢工期间前往加利福尼亚的奥兰治县，出演剧作家埃里克·奥弗麦耶(Eric Overmyer)的《在整个宇宙永存》(In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe)。在连续四周的成功演出中，他被制片人发现，最终拉开了他在西海岸的电视和电影事业的序幕。
“I realized that these two media are much more powerful than the theater because of the sheer number that we can reach in such a short period of time,” he said. “I said: ‘You know what? It’s important to get into the living rooms and into the [movie] theaters in the world, to really give us the opportunity to change perceptions of how people see us.’”
Throughout his prolific career, the versatile actor has been a leading advocate for Asian-American representation in Hollywood, refusing to take any roles that he considered demeaning or stereotypical.
“Mako gave me that attitude,” he said. “I don’t have to accept the jobs that I don’t want to do, and I don’t want to put myself in a position where I have to do it, so I keep my needs very minimal.”
“I don’t feel typecast at all, because I always believed that nobody twists your arm to do it,” he added. “You don’t have to do it; you can always say no. Nobody forced me to do anything.”
After a mutual friend introduced him to Christina M. Kim at a Lunar New Year gathering hosted by the actor Daniel Dae Kim, Ma was interested to hear that a woman of color would be leading the reboot of “Kung Fu,” a series that he had watched when it was first on the air. “I’ve never worked with a woman showrunner, no less a woman of color that looks like me,” Ma recalled. “I said: ‘I’m ready, let’s go. If you want me, I’m there.’”
当一个共同的朋友在演员金大贤(Daniel Dae Kim)举办的农历新年聚会上向克里斯蒂娜·金介绍他之后，马泰得知一位有色人种女性将负责《功夫》的重拍，因此非常感兴趣。在原版《功夫》首次播出的时候他就看过。“我从来没有和一位女制片人合作过，尤其是和我一样黄皮肤黑眼睛的有色女性，”马泰回忆道。“我说：‘我已就绪，开始吧。如果你需要我，我就来。’”
“Having Tzi Ma come on to the show,” Christina M. Kim said, “he is so well-respected in the community that it just opened so many doors for the casting.”
As they began to round out the cast, Kim and her production team — which included the executive producers Martin Gero, Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter — auditioned actors from all over the world to play Nicky. No one felt right until they saw Liang, who almost missed the screen test because of her shooting schedule for “Legacies.”
当他们开始完善演员阵容时，克里斯蒂娜·金和她的制作团队——包括执行制片人马丁·盖罗(Martin Gero)，格雷格·贝兰蒂(Greg Berlanti)和莎拉·谢赫特(Sarah Schechter)——对来自世界各地的演员进行试镜，寻找妮基的饰演者。他们一直找不到合适的，直到见到梁安平，她因《吸血鬼后裔》的拍摄计划而差点错过了试镜。
“It was just truly a breath of fresh air to see an email that says: ‘Kung Fu. Nicky Shen. Lead. Chinese-American woman,’” Liang said. “I was just like: ‘Whoa, what’s happening right now? Lead?’”
Liang’s favorite part of the casting process came on the final day, as a room full of Asian actors prepared to audition for network executives, “which doesn’t happen a lot,” she said.
“We were all like, ‘If it’s not me, thank goodness it’s going to be one of us,’” she said. “That energy and camaraderie was really amazing to be a part of.”
Liang had not previously had any martial-arts training. But Kim, who oversees “Kung Fu” with Robert Berens, the other showrunner, said that the actor’s combination of charisma and athleticism was “perfect for the character.”
“I needed to find somebody who was super relatable but who was also mentally and physically capable to take down the bad guys every week,” Kim said. “Olivia is just charming, down-to-earth, funny and kind of goofy. She also has this dance background, so she picked up the kung fu really fast.”
The Covid-19 pandemic shut down production on the pilot episode in March 2020, but Kim was able to put together a sizzle reel compelling enough to convince CW executives to greenlight a 13-episode first season. Since resuming production last October, the cast and crew have been shooting the show under strict coronavirus protocols in Vancouver, British Columbia.
While “Fresh Off the Boat” was the rare sitcom to focus on an Asian family, and Asian-led series like “Never Have I Ever” and “Wu Assassins” are available on streaming platforms, there has never been a broadcast drama with a predominantly Asian-American cast. “Kung Fu” will become part of the slight but steady advances that Hollywood has recently seen in Asian representation onscreen, especially after the international success of films like “Parasite,” “Minari” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
虽然《初来乍到》(Fresh Off the Boat)是罕见的针对亚洲家庭的情景喜剧，流媒体平台上也有亚裔主演的电视节目，如《好想做一次》(Never Have I Ever)和《五行刺客》(Wu Assassins)，但从来没有播放过几乎全是亚裔美国人出演的电视连续剧。特别是在电影《寄生虫》(Parasite)、《米纳里》(Minari)和《寻龙传说》(Raya and the Last Dragon)在国际上获得成功之后，《功夫》将成为近几年好莱坞银幕上亚裔形象微小而稳定的进步的一部分。
“We talk about it all the time — we talk about the historic nature of what we’re doing, and we also try not to think about it too much because of how much pressure it brings on,” Liang said. “We just want to make our community proud.”
The cast is also well aware of the significance of this multigenerational show during a time of increasing attacks on people of Asian descent, seemingly spurred by the pandemic. While they are careful not to frame a TV drama as any kind of solution to racist violence, they do note that the relative lack of Asian actors in mainstream entertainment has led to a kind of cultural invisibility.
“Representation, as much as it is about us being able to see ourselves onscreen, is more about being seen by other groups of people who are not Asian,” Liang said.
“The lack of representation 100 percent contributed to the horrifying things that are going on right now against Asians because we’re not a part of a lot of people’s narrative,” she continued. “They don’t see us in their communities; they don’t see us on TV. They forget that we are part of the world.”
Ma said that for all the martial-arts fireworks, the most potent aspect of “Kung Fu” is that it presents “a realistic portrayal of who we are.”
“We face the same problems, and some other problems that you may not know about,” he said. “We also want to bring in our cultural element of who we are so that this understanding of who we are gets deeper and deeper.”
While the show might be told through an Asian lens, Liang said she believed that the story, at its core, is universal.
“To be able to do this project that was so close to Bruce Lee’s heart is truly an honor — it shows how far we’ve come as an industry that there’s an appetite for this kind of diverse and authentic storytelling,” she said. “It’s exciting that we get to reclaim it and to say, ‘Hopefully, we’re doing it justice, the way it should have always been done.’”