Shannon Dang on ‘Kung Fu’ Season 2 and Asian-American Illustration

Shannon Dang was at all times destined to be a performer. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Dang grew up watching the likes of Brenda Track on the Disney Channel and commenced dancing when she was simply three years previous. After making her skilled debut with the Los Angeles Sparks’ youngsters dance crew at age 13, she danced three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers and three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, which included performing at Super Bowl LIII, earlier than calling time on her profession in 2019. However whereas she had already accomplished her undergraduate diploma in enterprise administration on the College of California, Riverside, Dang realized that a part of herself nonetheless longed to be in entrance of the digital camera as an actor.

“It was my final season with the Rams, and I hadn’t had a gentle performing profession to date,” Dang tells W over Zoom. “I bear in mind simply being terrified, after which proper once I give up, two months later throughout pilot season is once I booked Kung Fu. I used to be like, ‘Wow, the universe has a bizarre means of closing some doorways and opening new ones for you.’”

The gender-flipped reimagining of Kung Fu, which returns for its second season this Wednesday on The CW, stars Olivia Liang as Nicky Shen, a younger Chinese language-American lady who makes use of her martial arts expertise to guard her hometown of San Francisco after spending three years at an remoted Chinese language monastery. The present, which is the primary community drama to characteristic a predominantly Asian solid, is a watershed second for a group that has fought for better onscreen visibility in recent times—and it was a useful alternative that Dang immediately acknowledged when she landed the position of Althea, Nicky’s larger-than-life sister.

“I bear in mind studying the breakdown they usually have been searching for all of those Asian characters, and I used to be like, ‘Wait, what? You don’t need only one—you need a complete solid stuffed with Asians?!’” Dang remembers. “I bear in mind [the description for Althea] simply mentioned ‘tech-savvy older sister who’s planning her dream marriage ceremony.’ I didn’t actually know what that appeared like, however I used to be like, I’m simply going to do a model of myself, perhaps instances three, as a result of that’s enjoyable.”

“I’ll always remember Shannon’s audition for Althea as a result of she got here in [wearing] this scorching pink jumpsuit,” says Christina M. Kim, the creator and co-showrunner of Kung Fu. “She walked within the door, and he or she had this bubbly, pleased vitality, and he or she simply nailed the character. Everybody within the room simply knew it. She walked out of the audition and everybody was like, ‘That’s Althea.’ Her comedian timing is really genius; I don’t suppose she realizes how gifted she is half the time.”

Dang has a serendipitous connection to each iterations of Kung Fu: Along with reuniting with Tzi Ma, who performs her father within the new sequence and was her co-star within the 2007 movie Child, she found her grandfather had appeared in the original series in the 1970s, at a time when Hollywood would supply Asian store homeowners to be actors of their productions.

“I used to be like, ‘Wait, Grandpa. You by no means instructed me you have been a part of this!’” she remembers with a glowing smile. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t suppose it was that massive of a deal. We’re simply so proud that it’s coming again with an all-Asian solid and that you just get to be in it.’ He was over the moon, and he watched it each Wednesday.”

Since signing on to the mission almost two years in the past, Dang says she has leaned into her preliminary interpretation of Althea—a younger lady in tech with a eager eye for vogue—and labored with the costume designer, Angus Strathie, to convey that character to life. “I stay vicariously by way of Althea’s wardrobe,” she says. “I believe the followers adore it as a result of it’s completely different from the opposite costumes on the present.”

“From the very starting, I needed to make her wardrobe match her essence. Althea could be very enjoyable, mild, youthful, flirty, bubbly, and somewhat bit spastic, so I needed the garments to replicate that,” Dang explains. “I by no means have her carrying black. Similar to her persona, she takes up house. I positively take much more danger with Althea’s costumes than I do in actual life.”

However within the present’s freshman season, audiences rapidly found that Althea’s perky, happy-go-lucky façade masked the trauma of an unreported sexual assault that she had suffered by the hands of her former boss. Dang was unaware of Althea’s backstory when she first auditioned for the position, however when producers sat down together with her to debate her character’s emotional journey, she says she instantly felt a variety of “strain and accountability to get it proper.” She spoke at size with Kathryn Borel, the author of the episode by which Althea confides in Nicky about her painful experience, and performed her personal analysis in regards to the #MeToo motion and different victims of sexual assault.

“I don’t personally have firsthand expertise with this, however I took the strain off by simply reminding myself that, so long as I used to be sincere and susceptible as attainable and didn’t power something, then I believe I might do it justice,” Dang says. “There have been a variety of followers and viewers who commented that this story made them really feel seen and heard. [They] felt uplifted that somebody might come out the opposite aspect of it as robust as Althea did. That was actually rewarding for me, as a result of if one individual was affected by her story and her journey, then I really feel like I’ve performed my job.”

Kung Fu debuted final April amid an alarming spike in anti-Asian racism and violence, giving the present’s themes of social justice a further, if unwelcome, resonance. The present delivered the highest total viewership numbers for a Wednesday debut on The CW in more than seven years and led to a renewal lower than a month later, permitting the solid and artistic crew to reunite for one more 13-episode season (which is wrapping up manufacturing this week in Vancouver). “We had a variety of expectations round season 1, however now we simply get to have a fantastic present,” Dang remarks, including that each one parts of the present—together with the intricate battle scenes, the interwoven storylines, and the acute consideration to cultural particulars—have been “elevated.”

“Our first two episodes [of season 2] happen throughout Lunar New 12 months festivities in San Francisco, and also you get to see Chinatown mild up, the parades, the dragon dances, the meals, the purple envelopes, and the way vital household is throughout this time,” Dang says. “I believe a variety of Asian People are going to have a way of satisfaction and delight watching these episodes, and non-Asian People are going to simply see it as actually cool.”

After discovering her voice and getting married to Dennis (Tony Chung) on the finish of final season, Althea will now be making an attempt to reenter the office, Dang previews. “She jumps again into the tech world, and he or she’ll rapidly begin to query whether or not she made the proper determination after becoming a member of a brand new start-up whose objectives don’t match hers,” she says. “Althea is good, she works exhausting, she has a giant coronary heart and needs to assist individuals, and also you’ll see that she’s scuffling with that. Is that this actually the place it ends, and is that this actually what she desires to do?”

With the Shen household now within the learn about Nicky’s extracurricular crime-fighting, everybody may even grow to be embroiled within the effort to take down the sinister billionaire Russell Tan (Kee Chan)—and the siblings’ long-lost cousin, Mia (Vanessa Yao), might be the deciding issue. “Althea is certainly much more on the entrance traces this season,” Dang says. “Everybody coming collectively to assist Nicky—we prefer to name it the Scooby gang. The Scooby gang is getting greater.”

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