Kung Fu’s Eddie Liu spoke with Subjectify about Henry’s feelings about Olivia Liang’s Nicky and, of course, the unexpected magical path that season 3 is setting Henry on, including a few teases about how he might handle this newfound power.
In Kung Fu season 1, viewers were immediately charmed by Eddie Liu’s Henry Yan — a martial arts teacher with a good grounding in mythology and folklore from his degree in Chinese Art History. When Nicky returns from China and needs help understanding the mystical energy surrounding, Henry’s personal passion for the subject matter becomes invaluable in her journey, and he’s thrilled to discover that magic is actually real. The pair formed a strong relationship, one unsaddled by the baggage of Nicky’s past family drama, and they fell in love while fighting side by side.
But it’s Henry’s family baggage that disrupts their relationship. In Kung Fu season 2, the return of Henry’s father Daniel, who Henry had believed to be an itinerant flake, brings to light new truths about Henry’s past — Daniel was in fact a loving father, but also a member of the Wan Zai, a secret society tasked with protecting the world from the power of certain magical objects, or, in turn protecting the objects from those who would use them for power. Henry’s family legacy had been attached to the secret of magic in our world, just as Nicky’s was, and he had no idea.
This information all comes to the forefront rather quickly for Henry, but he’s able to reconnect with Danny and even work with him on some Wan Zai missions. “At the very core of it all, he knows his father is, in fact, an honorable and a good guy. He’s an honorable man. He’s a good guy,” Eddie Liu told us at the end of last season, explaining Henry’s willingness to dig deeper past his years of anger and resentment towards his father in order to understand this new context.” He’s serving a greater purpose, and the crazy irony, after years of resenting his father, is that Henry is so much more like Danny than anyone could have ever expected.”
But when Danny dies protecting Henry and leaves him with an apology for never telling him “who he is,” Henry’s more shaken than ever by yet another reveal about his world and his past. He quickly decides to go on traveling, chasing the leads in Danny’s notebooks and files to discover the apparent mystery of his identity, connected to something called si nan — a kind of compass. At the end of season 2, fans didn’t know when we’d see Henry again, whether he’d be off screen for a while, or what weight might be given to his individual story, but as Kung Fu season 3 began to unfold, we caught up with Henry’s journey almost immediately as he finally draws close to the object his father was looking for.
When stealing and handling the artifact, it lights up, seeming to choose Henry, and this week’s Kung Fu episode, titled “The Compass,” reveals all. When Nicky reunites with Henry in Thailand to protect him from both the FBI and a villain called Zarco, they learn that the compass works when paired with another device, the lodestone, an item that Daniel once found and brought home. Years ago, the lodestone chose a young Henry as its vessel, an event he barely remembers. Danny’s search for si nan was an effort to find the compass and destroy it, so that no power-hungry people could use Henry as a pawn, a tool in detecting powerful magic, but that’s exactly what happens. Forced by Zarco to initiate “genesis,” Henry’s power as “the compass” becomes active, leaving him unconscious on the floor of a ruined temple as Kung Fu’s new major magical force.
We caught up with Eddie Liu to talk about this surprising new twist for Henry, as well as why he made the decision to cut Nicky out and tackle this journey completely alone.
When you were filming the finale of Kung Fu season 2 and you’d learned that Henry was going to be splitting up with Nicky and going off on his own, did you know at the time what that was going to look like? Did you know what was coming for Henry when Henry left San Francisco?
I didn’t really know any specifics as to what Henry would be up to, I just knew that Henry was going to venture off on his own somewhere far away, that Henry’s huge, very personal, very needed journey was going to tie into things later on in the in the grander scheme of the Kung Fu universe.
So you knew that you were going to be having this separate plot off on your own on the other side of the world. What was it like to go off on that individual thread and to be kind of the protagonist of your own journey, and not really be filming with the rest of the cast?
I really loved it. As an actor I had such a great time going through quite a bit of a change-up at work. I wasn’t with my castmates, I wasn’t with Olivia, who, you know, we lovingly call each other work-husband and work-wife because we just spend so much time together and especially as this on-screen couple and now, the fact that I have to be separated from everyone, as far as my castmates and all my friends, I think it really added to that feeling of isolation and personal growth for me as an actor playing this character. I definitely enjoyed the change-up and I very much appreciated the work that I was doing on my own and I was learning in the process.
That being said, the reunion scene with Nicky in episode 3 is quite a dramatic moment and really instantly feels very alive. Henry describes a certain feeling about that moment of “this is how it’s supposed to be” and I think there was some of that for the viewer too. What was the first scene back you actually filmed with Olivia? An action scene, or was it one of the quieter scenes?
I believe for my first scenes back with Olivia was in fact one of the quieter, more intense dramatic scenes and that didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary because it just kind of felt like Olivia and I were picking up where we left off, because we already have this chemistry and this connection with each other as as teammates, working on the show. So while the story is dramatic, it did kind of feel a little bit like business as usual for Olivia and I.
From a character perspective, obviously Nicky has gone one way with the future of the relationship and Henry’s gone another. Nicky has felt abandoned and moved on, whereas Henry, we learn, is trying in a way to earn a place with this woman who he feels is so powerfully self-possessed, a quality he doesn’t have. What did Henry expect that Nicky would be doing with her time after he left? Basically — what was he thinking about how he went about this separation from her?
I don’t know if Henry really thought too much about the risks of not communicating with your ex who you still love and miss terribly while you’re playing poker with some unsavory characters out in the Mediterranean. Also, Henry has spent a lot of time on his own in some sticky situations. He’s seen some shit at this point on his own, he’s had to grow as an individual and he’s been hardened, you know. If you’re thinking about the timeline of things, Henry had merely hours — after watching his father get killed right before his eyes trying to save him — before he decides that he needs to take on this mission. So Henry’s head isn’t quite screwed on straight, as far being in an emotionally neutral and rational place. He’s just making truly what he believes to be the best decision for him.
Is there another way that he could have gone about it? Is there a better way regarding his relationship with Nicky? Sure, but he’s working from this traumatized, emotionally devastated place, where he’s still coming off of the whiplash of finally reconnecting with his estranged father who he felt a certain way about through much of his adult life, only to find out the bittersweet truth about his father, about how much his father did love him and was trying to protect him. in the end. I think that would take anyone for a bit of a loop, right? And I think Henry also feels that he has built a strong enough connection with Nicky that he feels that he can hold on to this level of hope, that she’ll be around at some point. It may not be right now, but he believes that all of this [his mission] is too big for him to turn his back from, that he just has to do this, especially if he knows that he and Nicky are meant to be together in the long haul.
Presumably at some point, Henry will be crossing paths with Bo, with Ben Levin. Is there anything you can tease about how they might react to each other down the line?
I think that, for the fans who have been following along, I think you can expect Henry to react the way you think he will.
That’s interesting because even in Kung Fu season 1 we always really liked the dynamic with Henry and Evan, that it wasn’t as typically nasty as that kind of love triangle can get, so it is something we’re keen to see — how Henry and Beau react to each other. But let’s talk about the big thing, the mythological reveal that Henry has his own destined magical purpose. This is what Danny was trying to protect, he knew that his son had been drawn into this mystical destiny and he didn’t want Henry to have to deal with that, and become, like we saw in this episode, this tool for people who want him to detect the magic. How did you feel when you found out that Henry was going to have this magical link? Because Nicky has her destiny as a Warrior and all of that, but this season, the mythology arc is really with Henry and his fated destiny. What is it like to be at the center of that?
I loved it. I’m so grateful that Christina and Bob wanted to give Henry the space and the room to develop as a character and truly stand out as his own unique person, let alone give him this magic ability. Looking back on it now, the way we’ve been handling mysticism and magic and mythology in our show, I think from the onset, if you’re coming to the show as a viewer, you might think that it could have been a very obvious thing for Henry to do that, but it’s very much been about Nicky and the Warriors and the Guardians and and that’s all been great, and Henry just has this absolute — Henry has like, comic book nerd level excitement and passion for all this stuff and I think he would have been completely happy just being a regular human while following along on these adventures with Nicky and and the Shooby Gang.
But now that he finds out that he has to do it? Me, Eddie as the actor is super grateful. Henry is not going to quite have as much fun. He’s going to have to learn some things the hard way and face some some really tough challenges along the way as he learns how to navigate this, which is just more exciting for me to play and I think, for the fans to watch. I think it’s also gonna be really exciting to see how this compass ability and storyline comes into the fold in the grander scheme of the Kung Fu universe.
Well, that’s the question. We don’t really see what Henry can do, we close on — he’s sort of been activated and him and Nicky are just left on the forest floor. What comes next for Henry and si nan? What can you tell us about what that connection actually is or what he might be able to do?
Well, we know that Henry is as book smart as he is street smart and he’s going to be very proactive. He’s going to hit the books, he’s going to research and try to learn as much as he can, except he’s gonna have some trouble with that. His orientation, his training, let’s just say his “onboarding” for his magic ability is going to hit him in ways that he doesn’t expect and he isn’t prepared for.
During Kung Fu season 1 and season 2, you were playing Henry as someone who’s pretty grounded and sure of himself. Like you said, he was kind of happy with his position in the world and he was also very supportive of Nicky and her taking the lead. Season 2 had a bit of friction about him coming to terms with not feeling that comfortable in a few situations, starting to get a bit of that lost kind of feeling or a lack of autonomy. But now he’s on this full quest, like we said, he doesn’t know who he is, he wants a sense of meaning and purpose to himself and to be more present for himself. Learning that Henry feels this way, this kind of insecure or searching way — has that re-contextualized anything about how you played Henry in Kung Fu season 1 or 2, or did you always feel like that was a part of him?
I think it was sort of a natural finding, in playing the character. I think Henry felt very fulfilled in that in that role to Nicky and so that’s why when I first learned about the first big fight that he and Nicky were going to have, I as the actor knew I had to put a little extra work in, in trying to flesh out, as best I could, the reason why he had to say this at the time that he did.
I remember you talking about this, yeah.
I think on my best day I personally would have done that differently but no, it had to be now in that moment and it’s my job as a performer to root why that is. So that part, to me, came later on in exploring that aspect, that dynamic of their relationship, which, you know, I think in any relationship, both people just want to know that they’re being heard at the end of it. That’s kind of what I led with in that regard.
And then going into season 3, I feel like it’s easy for me to fixate on the fact that hey, you have this woman who you love and loves you back and of course would have been more than happy to come along with you and I think that, like I said regarding what Henry is feeling mentally and emotionally after all of the events of the end of season 2, especially having his father’s his dying father’s last words be specifically about Henry’s true identity, it’s so much more intensified, wanting to know who he is. Especially in relation to Nicky, because one of the amazing things about her, she’s so steadfast in who she is and all of her principles and all of her decisions come from knowing who the hell she is and when the person you love has all of that and you don’t? I think it’s human to know at your core that you have to fulfill this course, this missing piece of yourself. Especially if you know that you want to be with a person who you know has all these things that you don’t, and that you know you need to find for yourself.
Outside of Henry’s individual arc there’s a lot of twists and turns this season and new characters in new places. We’ve got Mike Bow back as Simon Lau hanging out with Zhilan. We have Kim Rhodes involved with Harmony Dumplings. We’ve got Pei-Ling back in the waking world and we’ve got different little plot lines for all the characters. What’s been your favorite new element of Kung Fu season 3 that isn’t to do with Henry? What are you kind of loving the most for the rest of the cast?
Kind of everything you just said, really. I remember one day I was just hanging out with Vanessa and talking to her about just how cool it is that two years ago, we didn’t know if we were gonna even be on the air once the pandemic hit, and then we fast forward a little bit to season 1 and Vanessa’s there but her character is dead so none of us can work with her. And then fast forward to now and now, it’s like, “Oh wow, the winds have changed.” It makes me appreciate the fantasy, magical aspect of the show so much more, because it just opens up these opportunities for people to work with each other who haven’t before. I love that Vanessa has been shifu to Nicky and we’ve seen how great that is but now we see how she can do that for the other members of the family. The moment Zhilan impaled Pei-Ling with a sword who knew that two seasons later Pei-Ling would be giving Ryan dating advice about his boyfriend Sebastian? What a time to be alive. As a fan of this show that I work on, I’m here for it, I’m on board.
That’s really interesting as well because she gets to be a character, she gets to have fears and insecurities whereas she was sort of a perfect advice ghost before, so it is really cool and I hope we see a few more interesting mix-ups of who gets to hang out with each other as the season goes on.
I can tease that there’s gonna be a profound moment where Henry gets some advice and it’s gonna be a big moment when Henry is going to get some advice that he didn’t know he needed to hear.
I look forward to that. Hopefully we’ll catch up soon and see how this all plays out for Henry and how soon he might come home.
If he ever does, we’ll see!
Congratulations on becoming the magical center of the show!
The compass! Yeah, it was kind of wild processing the fact that — because they update the logo in the opening credits, in the opening scroll in front of every episodes — realizing “Oh wait, that’s literally me now!”