Kung Fu's Olivia Liang on Reclaiming the Martial-Arts Stereotype

Image Source: Shane McCauley

Olivia Liang had never dreamed of securing a lead role. In fact, she entered the industry expecting to play the main character’s stereotypical quirky best friend, and she would have been “more than happy” to do so. But after portraying recurring character Alyssa Chang on Legacies, all of that changed as the 28-year-old landed the role of heroine Nicky Shen on The CW’s Kung Fu, a gender-swapped reimagining of the ’70s series and the first-ever network drama with a predominantly Asian American cast. After an overwhelming initial response, the show was quickly renewed for a second season only four episodes into its first.

“Is this my dream role? Yes and no,” she told POPSUGAR. “Yes, because, now that I’m in it, it’s so amazing and I just never thought it was possible. But no, because I just never pictured a lead role for myself because I just didn’t dream that it was possible. Stepping into this character and being able to infuse my culture and tell a fun story, but also an impactful one, is a dream come true.”

I imagine many other Asian Americans might have felt the same way I did when I heard there was a kung fu series in the works. I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrows, anticipating yet another project perpetuating Asian stereotypes. And Liang gets that. She admittedly used to have an aversion to martial arts, so much so that prior to Kung Fu, driving her sister to taekwondo lessons was the most training she’d done related to the art. (She now does 65 percent of the stunts on the show.) “We would come on screen, with no character name, no backstory, nothing,” Liang said, speaking to the East Asian trope we often see on screen. “We would just go, ‘Hi-yah,’ throw a couple of kicks and punches, and then bounce. We didn’t know anything about that person.”

Image Source: The CW

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