SPOILER ALERT: The post below contains details about the Kung Fu season one finale, “Transformation.”
For Kung Fu season one, all roads lead back to the Shaolin monastery. Written by showrunners Christina M. Kim and Robert Berens, the season ender brings Nicky (Olivia Liang) and Zhilan (Yvonne Chapman) back to the battle grounds of their first encounter to access the ancient forge of bian ge, the all-encompassing force that powers the ancient Warrior weapons.
Upon learning that her foe has stationed armed forces outside her family’s home in San Francisco, where the Shen’s prepare for Althea’s (Shannon Dang) and Dennis’ (Tony Chung) matrimonial tea ceremony, Nicky helps Zhilan unlock the puzzle-laden door to the forge. The adversaries notice that the forge lacks the coveted energy and learns that a sorcerer took the source of bian ge to a secret hideaway once mentioned by sifu Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai).
The tea ceremony is just about to begin when Nicky calls Ryan (Jon Prasida), requesting Althea’s computer savvy to locate the sanctuary and the sorcerer. Dennis’ sister Chloe (Chelsea Clark) teams with Ryan to provide a welcome distraction that allows Althea to briefly escape the ceremony.
Immediately after Nicky, Zhilan and Henry (Eddie Liu) figure out the sorcerer’s location, Russell Tan’s forces ambush and the monastery, stealing the mythical weapons. Unsure about how a potential showdown may end, Nicky calls her family and encourages them not to worry and not to ruin Althea’s special day.
Russell arrives first to the secret sanctuary, killing the sorcerer, hoping the bian ge will return into the weapons. Instead, the energy possesses Nicky and Zhilan, who both find themselves in an alternate universe where bian ge never existed. In this bizarre world, Nicky never went to the monastery and Zhilan is reunited with Kerwin (Ludi Lin). The two see and follow a hooded sorcerer to the monastery, who reveals herself as Pei-Ling. After their encounters with the Kung Fu master’s spirit, Zhilan commits to her choice to control bian ge, and Nicky rethinks her decision to destroy it.
They awaken back in the real world and engage in a dramatic, aerial battle. Nicky knocks bian ge out of Zhilan, each measured hit after another, returning it “back out in the world where it belongs.”
While the season finale seems to bid farewell to the mythical stories of the forge, bian ge and even Xifu, it introduces new threads and threats worth exploring for Season 2. The final scenes provide a glimpse into Russell Tan’s control over San Francisco and an unknown “progeny” who may have more in common with Nicky than she knows.
Kim and Berens chatted with Deadline to reflect on Nicky’s growth throughout the season, the continued impact of bian ge, Season 2 foes and more. Read the conversation, which as been edited for length and clarity, below.
DEADLINE: What was the process of putting that jam-packed season one finale together and bringing it back to the monastery?
ROBERT BERENS: I think, it’s interesting to go back and look at what we had planned for the finale. Ultimately, we ended up taking a different path to get to the place we wanted to get. The intention was always to have a jam-packed blast of a finale. It was always really important to us that we found a poignant way for Nicky to have to leave her family behind and return to where it all started. Once that was clear, it became almost a two hander with Zhilan and Nicky, like we really wanted to bring them head-to-head in a rich way that opened up of both of their characters and sent them to a new place.
CHRISTINA M. KIM: It felt right to have a full circle thing that Nicky would return to the monastery. It was really fun to figure out how that would come about and how that would all culminate in the finale.
She’d obviously gone through a huge transformation. She’d found out a lot about herself and her family history, and she’s returning with her love interest. So, she’s going back as a different person.
DEADLINE: How will we continue to see bian ge affect Nicky and her legacy in the future, now that it has been returned to the Earth?
BERENS: The change we’re excited about, without giving too much away, is the myth is now relocating to San Francisco. Without getting into spoilers about what that will look like or what that means, it does set us up for a season where everyone is kind of in the mix of the mythology a little bit more than they were in the first season. It’s not just Nicky’s journey. Everyone’s kind of in the mix, and I think with the Tan family and opening up their story and those characters, including Mr. Tan, I think we have the opportunity to integrate the family story and the mythology moving forward, which I think we are all really excited about.
I think it’s going to be an exciting reboot with the same characters and the same concept. As for the mythology of the warriors and guardians, We are going to see that play out with the character of Nicky’s cousin who she didn’t know about – who we teased at the end of the finale. Her aunt’s daughter, as Mr. Tan said, is the progeny of a warrior and a guardian. What does that mean? That there is someone who has basically fused these two mystical bloodlines. So, I think we’re setting up a very interesting foil for Nicky in season two.
KIM: We’ve been blessed with the most phenomenal cast, and so, we’re excited that this dynamic is going to allow all of our cast members to interact even more. I think the stories and episodes really come alive when the family is together. We’re excited to have the family even more in the mix than they were in season one.
DEADLINE: The finale sets up Russell Tan to be a much more ubiquitous villain for Season 2. How will the institutional control he seems to have over San Francisco play out in future episodes?
BERENS: It’s exciting to tell a story about Nicky against more of a family, especially one that is kind of a foil to our core family, our protagonist family. This is something that really sung to the writer’s room that we got all excited about at the end of last season. I think we touch on issues of like institutional power and wealth and corruption in season one in an episodic way. We started to build up San Francisco a little bit in season one, but we now have the chance to really dig into but our show’s version of San Francisco, and to dig into San Francisco’s history. I think having this antagonist who has roots in the city and is exercising power in an institutional way is exciting to us and opens up new kinds of stories.
DEADLINE: Kung Fu has tackled a number of relevant social issues such as Anti-Asian hate, racism, police brutality and sexual harassment. How do you plan to carry over that social awareness to Season 2?
BERENS: I think the extent that social issues are baked into the world of the show, we will definitely be keeping that alive. It’s not the last you’ve seen of Althea’s story, and I think the more we dig into San Francisco as a character on the show in season two, I think we will be very much keeping those subjects and those real life issues alive.
KIM: All these stories kind of came out organically as we were breaking the season arc for the characters. We never set out to do a workplace assault story. It really was about Althea’s story, her arc, and the writers opening up about different ideas and experiences from their work environments. We’re excited to get into the room and see what sort of bubbles up, and what’s on people’s minds, and perhaps, there’ll be more topical issues or not, but something tells me that there will be things like that that will come up.
DEADLINE: What are some of the rewarding aspects of bringing Asian talent and the AAPI community back into the spotlight of Kung Fu and adding your own spin to the original series?
KIM: I mean, creating this show, having this show be on air, and having it received, as well as it has been received, has just been a gift because nothing makes me happier than to hear that people are watching this with their families. That people are relating to it. Parents are watching it with their kids, and it’s opening up conversations. That makes me so happy, and I think we’re very fortunate that, unlike other shows, we have an entire cast of Asian-American actors who have fully fleshed out storylines, who have character arcs that we’ve worked on.
I guess creative freedom – that’s really fun for me and for all of our writers, and I think Bob and I just got to show off. There’s a freedom that comes with that so I feel very fortunate. I’m so grateful, and it’s been a wonderful season, and we’re so excited about taking it into season two.