Kung Fu season 2, episode 1 review: Year of the Tiger

Kung Fu -- "Year of the Tiger: Part 1" -- Image Number: KF201a_0005r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Vanessa Yao as Mia and Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen -- Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW -- (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
Kung Fu -- "Year of the Tiger: Part 1" -- Image Number: KF201a_0005r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Vanessa Yao as Mia and Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen -- Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW -- (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved /

Kung Fu was one of The CW‘s biggest success stories of 2021. Following in the footsteps of the network’s other major new shows of the season, Walker and Superman and Lois, the pilot episode drew big numbers and the show managed to maintain impressive viewership throughout its debut season.

A reboot of the ’70s series in name only, Kung Fu bore more of resemblance to The CW’s own Arrow (and its various spinoffs) than its predecessor, with its first season focusing on Nicky Shen’s return home to San Francisco after spending three years in a monastery in China (and becoming a badass martial artist in the process). Her mission: To cleanse her hometown of crime and avenge the death of her Shaolin mentor in the process.

The first season had a slightly shaky start but it was ultimately a resounding success, with Nicky’s quest leading her to a thrilling battle with her archenemy Zhilan in the season finale, and setting the stage for a second adventure that promised to explore more of her family’s origins and introduce a bigger threat.

It’s been a bit of a wait, but that second season has finally premiered on The CW. But does “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” kick things off on a high?

Kung Fu season 2 quickly reminds us what worked in season 1

The Kung Fu season 2 premiere is all about the idea of moving on and embracing what’s next, making New Year’s Eve an appropriate setting for it. Nicky, Henry, Evan and the rest of the gang have moved on from the events of last season and the showdown with Zhilan but they are remaining vigilant and staying prepared for what’s coming. In fact, they’ve been prepared for some time now, trying to learn as much as they can about Russell Tan’s next moves before he makes a potentially devastating one.

But it soon becomes clear that moving on for the Kung Fu characters won’t involve letting go of the past, as the few loose ends from season 1 quickly manifest themselves through the arrival of Nicky’s cousin Mia (Vanessa Yao). Yes, Auntie Mei-Xue’s daughter, who is on the run from Tan and his organization.

The first season of Kung Fu had many highlights and almost all of them revolved around the Shen family. For that reason, it’s reassuring to know that the emphasis on family will continue into season 2. It’s already paying off, in fact, with Mia’s introduction to Nicky’s mother Mei-Li pulling on the heartstrings in the episode’s closing moments (and serving as a reminder of just how formidable a performer the great Tan Kheng Hua is).

As for Mia? Well she’s already proving to be quite the intriguing addition to the show. She’s in need of shelter and support in a world that has been cruel to her since she made her way into it, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to remain off Russell Tan’s radar. Luckily for her she’s landed on her feet finding Nicky and the Shens, who will do whatever it takes to protect her.

The CW - Kung Fu season 2
Kung Fu — “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” — Image Number: KF201c_0168r.jpg — Pictured: Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen — Photo: Michael Courtney/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved /

Speaking of Nicky, she’s becoming a bit of a local celebrity, as we learn in the premiere’s opening moments that her reputation as a do-gooder precedes her. That makes way for a fun sequence in which she apprehends some thieves and gets the chance to show off those trademark fighting skills, with the show quickly reminding us just how impressive the fight choreography is.

That’s not the only showdown in the episode, as Nicky and Mia get off on the wrong foot after the latter breaks into the Shen house early on, leading to a truly spectacular confrontation between the two cousins. The fun doesn’t stop there, however, as Evan’s cabin in the woods sees the premiere’s meatiest fight scene unfold, with Nicky, Henry, and Evan battling Tan’s men in a desperate bid to protect Mia from harm.

Kung Fu‘s fight choreography is one of its greatest attributes and that certainly doesn’t look set to change as we head into season 2. All three of the aforementioned showdowns were equally as impressive and it’s always fun to see Nicky show off what she can do. And Olivia Liang is, as always, incredibly convincing in the role.

There are more sides to the story this season

Kung Fu season 2
Kung Fu — “Year of the Tiger: Part 1” — Image Number: KF201a_0005r.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Vanessa Yao as Mia and Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen — Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — (C) 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved /

Perspectives is also a big thing in “Year of the Tiger: Part 1”. While Kung Fu season 2 is obviously primarily telling Nicky’s story, we also hear about Mia’s life from her perspective as she conveys how isolated she felt when she was younger when her mother kept her away from the world out of fear she would be hurt. It made for a compelling contrast to Nicky, who had the opposite kind of sheltering in her life through a normal childhood completely shielded from the truth about who she – and her family – was.

Perhaps the most intriguing story choice in terms of perspectives though comes from the decision to keep season 1 villain Zhilan around and show us how she’s coping in prison. And, well, it’s not good, as she finds herself at the mercy of the prison’s food chain as a group of prisoners don’t take too kindly to her having her own cell.

It’s not entirely clear where the writers are going with this, as Zhilan would be more than capable of taking them all on, but given that she clearly regrets what she did to lover Kerwin Tan, the fact that Kerwin is actually still alive, and that Russell Tan is likely this season’s big bad, it seems like we’re in the beginning stages of a redemption arc for the character. Given how great Zhilan was last season and Yvonne Chapman’s imposing performance throughout, I can understand their desire to want to keep the character around.

There are a lot of interesting pieces in the puzzle that is Kung Fu season 2 thus far, but the premiere has done a great job of highlighting the urgency of the show’s new chapter already. Russell Tan wasn’t all that interesting last season and even though he himself hasn’t done anything to change that, the characters around him have worked overtime to make sure that everyone knows he should not be taken lightly. Moreover, the unexpected dynamics created through Mia’s arrival and Zhilan’s on-screen imprisonment are refreshing and promise to take the story in some new directions to ultimately set season 2 apart from its predecessor.

All in all, Kung Fu‘s season 2 premiere actually exceeds its series opener simply because it has all the charm of one of the first season’s later installments, reminding us that when Kung Fu figured itself out midway through season 1, the show was full of brilliance. And, thankfully, that brilliance looks destined to once again make its presence felt in season 2.

Kung Fu season 2 airs on The CW on Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET.

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