Kung Fu 1×05 Review: “Sanctuary”

Sanctuary Kung Fu
Pictured (L-R): Kheng Hua Tan as Mei-Li and Tzi Ma as Jin — Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

“Sanctuary” takes a small break from tracking down the mythical weapons (although don’t worry, there’s still plenty of that) and the usual “case of the week” where Nicky helps someone in distress and instead highlights two very prominent issues in our country today: the Black Lives Matter movement and the increase in anti-Asian violence in the wake of the pandemic.

It was only a matter of time before Kung Fu had an episode that talked about anti-Asian violence in America, which has been on the rise since the pandemic. I didn’t expect it to tie into the matters of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement as well, but “Sanctuary” weaved those together quite nicely.

When the episode opens, Jin and Mei-Li are complaining about rising prices in the neighborhood, but the conversation quickly segues into safety concerns. Someone they know was attacked recently and told to “go back to China”, and so they will go to the nearby market, even though it’s more expensive, because it’s close enough that they can walk there together. Considering that beginning, I assumed the rest of the episode would focus on anti-Asian violence. (And also perhaps gentrification – don’t think I didn’t catch the whole thing about chain stores coming in and pushing out small, local businesses, which is definitely an issue in major cities.)

Instead, “Sanctuary” took an alternate path, with everyone becoming involved in an officer-involved shooting in Chinatown. A young, unarmed Black man is shot and killed allegedly because police believed he was breaking into one of the shops. Nicky gets very emotionally invested because she and Henry ran into the young man, Andre, before he was killed, and she is horrified that he was shot when he’d done nothing wrong. Ryan gets invested because Joe is leading the protests, and the rest of the family gets involved because they do.

This was a bit of a sadder episode. People have died on Kung Fu, but the people Nicky helps have all had happy endings. In this case, Andre dies at the hospital, and the help comes in a different form. I liked that this was a situation where Nicky could not beat the problem into submission. The villain in this case is systemic racism, which is sadly something that cannot be fought with kung fu. But I appreciate that it emphasized the small things regular people can do to be an ally.

Sanctuary Kung Fu
Pictured: Bradley Gibson as Joe– Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

“Sanctuary” did not dive too deeply into the issues, but I think they touched on enough aspects of the current situation. Henry expresses displeasure that the media focused on Andre’s “criminal” past – shoplifting as a teenager – instead of the fact that he was working his way through college. The family watches in horror as police use tear gas and pepper spray to break up what had been a peaceful protest. Later, they do everything they can to prevent the police from arresting Joe for “inciting a riot”. These are all things that are very real, even if the ending felt a little too good to be true.

I really liked the dichotomy of attitudes in this episode. The younger generation – Nicky, Ryan, Henry – are all appalled by what happened and eager to help. Ryan intends to go to the protest and assist as a medic, while Nicky convinces Jin to help her hand out water bottles to the protesters. They let people take shelter in the restaurant when the cops break up the protest and enforce a curfew. But Mei-Li seems to not care at all about what happened, focusing instead on the fact that someone vandalized the restaurant and worrying about the shop owner and not the victim.

But there are moments when you can tell that Mei-Li is not as unaffected as she seems. Though early in “Sanctuary” she chastises Nicky for watching the news in the morning (since it’s only ever bad), later she is riveted while watching an interview with Andre’s mother. And she stands with the others when they come to arrest Joe. At the end of the episode, she reveals to the children that they were once the victims of a hate crime, and Andre’s death and the resulting protests reminded her of that.

In a way, I think that Mei-Li’s response to the protests was meant to mirror Althea throwing herself into wedding planning. Althea tries to tell Dennis about what happened with her boss but is unable to do so. In order to distract herself, she focuses on finding the perfect wedding flowers and her pre-wedding juice cleanse. She confesses to Nicky that she is concentrating on those because they are aspects of her life she can control.

I really like how they brought this up. This is something I do as well, and I think a lot of us have done after the mess that was 2020. When other aspects of your life are outside of your control, you tend to hyperfocus on things you have some measure of control over. Mei-Li does this as well, by worrying about the restaurant. She can’t control what will happen in general, but she can control what happens to the restaurant. It comes across as aloof, but I had tears in my eyes when she visited the memorial and locked eyes with Andre’s mother. Mei-Li is not demonstrative with her emotions, but she cares.

There was so much that I loved about this episode. I’m so happy that Joe is back again, and it looks as though not only will he be sticking around, but his and Ryan’s relationship will feature pretty prominently. I was really hoping that this would be the episode that finally introduced Joe to the rest of the family as Ryan’s boyfriend (so far only Nicky knows – and by extension Henry), but that didn’t happen. However, because of the way the entire family banded together to help Joe escape arrest on a trumped-up charge, I suspect that when the inevitable introduction does happen, it will go relatively favorably.

Henry and Ryan had a great interaction in “Sanctuary”, and I’m kind of surprised we don’t see them together more often, considering they work in the same place. I liked how they both teased each other about their relationships. I hope we get to see more of them.

Sanctuary Kung Fu
Pictured (L-R): Eddie Liu as Henry and Olivia Liang as Nicky — Photo: The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

I loved the Nicky and Henry scenes, especially how they went from being super flirty to being super awkward around each other. These two are just too much; they are so adorable together I can’t even stand it. When Henry oh-so-casually grabbed her hand after their attempt at a date I squealed, but I had to fan myself after their sparring session. The contrast is insane!

I worry about her obsession with the weapons. Luckily, Henry is just as obsessed with finding them. I still have concerns that this will affect her relationship with her family, but now I suspect it may also affect her relationship with Henry. Right now, this is pulling them together, but it may not always be the case. Of course, Henry is such a huge history nerd that I doubt he’ll be able to give up the search until they’re found.

And lastly, we learned something about the weapons! I thought it was a little coincidental that Nicky suddenly remembered the hooded woman who visited the monastery, but I love the introduction of the glowing obsidian and the belief that the weapons might actually be magical. Until Nicky pointed out that the pommel of the sword was smooth, it didn’t occur to me to wonder where the burn pattern on her hand came from. But it makes sense that they would attempt to incorporate some xianxia/wuxia elements into the story.

They’ve managed to track down another weapon. Are they finally one step ahead of Zhilan?

What did you think of “Sanctuary”?

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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