Chinese Indonesian actor Jon Prasida is reprising his role as Ryan Shen in the second season of the hit show Kung Fu, which comes out on March 9. Based on the 1970s programme of the same name, the reboot is one of the few American network series to have a predominantly Asian cast.
The Sydney-based actor’s character Ryan is a medical student and only son who recently came out to his parents and is still trying to navigate life as an openly queer Asian. Ryan is also one of the few openly gaw Asian American characters on screen.
Kung Fu is one of few shows to have a predominantly Asian American cast. How does it feel to be part of that?
It’s an absolute honour to be part of this series. It brings me a certain amount of joy and satisfaction knowing that people can watch our show and see themselves on screen; and for those who might not see themselves specifically represented to be able to empathise and enjoy the company that is the Shen family.
Asian Americans have long been typecast and stereotyped into roles involving martial arts. How does Kung Fu break the mould?
Stereotyping is viewing the world without glasses when you need them. It doesn’t provide a clear and overall picture of what’s going on so I don’t think we necessarily “break” the stereotype, but in fact, lean into it. The problem with stereotypes is not that they’re true or untrue but that they place us into a box as seen from another person’s perspective, and in doing so, dehumanise our experiences. The characters in Kung Fu are Asian. There are Asian sons becoming doctors to appease parents; Asian parents are running a restaurant; Asian people can be good with technology and math. All of these exist in Kung Fu.
But the problem occurs when it just ends there. If my character Ryan Shen was a guest in another show, you wouldn’t know that he’s studying medicine to help the community he loves so dearly. If [Ryan’s sister] Althea Shen (Shannon Dang) was on another show, you wouldn’t know the sacrifices she’s made to hide the abuse from her previous employer, something that can resonate with a lot of women regardless of race. If [Ryan’s parents] Jin (Tzi Ma) and Mei-Li (Tan Kheng Hua) were running your local [Chinese] restaurant, you probably wouldn’t know the adversity they overcame and the racism they faced when they opened up.
Stereotypes don’t provide the full story. They only give you some idea, and you fill in the rest of the blanks which may or may not be true. By telling the story the way we want to, we won’t just be seen as a by product of our culture. Our show provides the corrective lenses that you need so you can humanise us and not generalise us.