US TV series 'Kung Fu' aims to break stereotypes about Asians but misses the mark when it comes to real Asian people and culture
Published: Apr 20, 2021 10:23 PM
Photo: Screenshot of Douban

Photo: Screenshot of Douban

A new US TV series Kung Fu, which places Asian people front and center and features Chinese culture, including martial arts, has been getting some compliments in the US, but reviews from where this culture originated are the true test for the series. Chinese netizens said that the show has not lived up to expectations and overlooks what real Asian culture is like.

A young Chinese-American woman, Nicky Chen, drops out of college and heads to an isolated temple in China to learn martial arts after facing a personal crisis. When she returns, she discovers her hometown overrun with crime and corruption, so she decides to use her martial arts skills to protect her community and bring criminals to justice.

The series was directed and written by people of Asian descent and the main cast is made up of Asian faces. Debuting on The CW on April 7, the first episode became the most-watched Wednesday series on the TV network, reflecting the warm reaction in the US to the series.

But popularity is not always a good thing, especially when a series conveys wrong contents about Asian people and culture.

In the show, Chen's master is a female nun with long hair, but in real life nuns in China must shave their heads. 

It is just one of a number of mistakes in the series. Additionally, the distorted plots about Chinese culture have made Chinese netizens uncomfortable. The series has only got a 3.5/10 out of more than 220 reviews on Chinese media review platform Douban as of Tuesday.

Following a string of Asian led productions coming out of Hollywood in recent years, many Chinese netizens have called on filmmakers and TV shows producers in Western countries to be more sincere and do more research on Chinese and Asian culture before they decide to film a related work, as mistakes may strengthen the one-sided impressions of Asian people among Western audiences.

This is not the first time that such controversies have occurred. The contrast between reviews of Crazy Rich Asians and Mulan in the US and China shows that Hollywood's understanding and use of Asian elements is still stuck in the mindset of political correctness and cultural appropriation.

With an increase in anti-Asian hate and attacks in the US, the series is currently under the protection of political correctness and critics have had to bite the bullet when it comes to reviews.

While it is understandable that the show is conforming to a vision of the East that is prevalent in mainstream Western society to give Asians a chance to take the stage, but this type of depiction may only strengthen harmful stereotypes about Asian culture. 

"The story of Mulan is far too imaginary. Hollywood added their own understanding of Chinese culture to the movie but that did not please Chinese audiences. Why not get more creative talents from China involved in Hollywood? That would be a good way to capture the hearts of audiences," Shi Chuan, deputy chairman of the Shanghai Film Association, suggested.