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It's a shame that the martial arts craze that this show created (in
conjunction with the ascendant popularity of Bruce Lee in the early 1970s),
in conjunction with the somewhat cheesy '90s spinoff, has served to somewhat
obscure what a gem it truly was.
It's heartbreaking to think that a lot of people who haven't seen the show lump it in as old, campy action television, like "The A-Team" or "Charlie's Angels" or something like that. The fact is, any given hour-long episode of "Kung Fu" probably contained about 45 to 60 seconds of actual action--if not less. The fact is, David Carradine was as good a leading man as any TV drama has ever had.
And the fact is, far from being a cheap exploitation of martial arts and Eastern philosophy, "Kung Fu" was created and written in true reverance to those concepts. Meticulous research was conducted, and the lessons that Masters Kan and Po (wonderfully rendered by Philip Ahn and Keye Luke, respectively) teach Caine, and that Caine in turn teaches those he encounters, are routed in authentic Shaolin philosophy.
Nor was the show cheesily made. It involved lush cinematography by televisual standards and innovative use of devices such as forced perspective and slow motion (this was the first show or movie to use different gradations of speed within a single take--the shot would move at normal speed until Caine made contact with an elbow or a fist, and then suddenly switch to delicate, poetic slow motion).
Caine was a true archetype of television--a complete reversal of basically every American screen hero that went before. Not just peaceful--but passive and serene. As Caine described it--"Kung Fu" was an "anti-revenge television show"--an amazing concept when you think about it.
Remember, the American public was not even acquainted with the phrase "kung fu" before this show. Zen Buddhism was gaining popularity in the late '60s and early '70s, but no one had ever heard of Shaolin monks. The creators of this show took a big risk on an untested concept and came up with TV gold.
I hope that the DVD release will serve to remind us all what a special show this was, and of the lessons it has to teach us.
Martial arts movies are full of great action and well choreographed
fights, from the days of Bruce Lee to the stunning visuals we have with
todays wire work and cgi. But Kung Fu is not a martial arts
Kung Fu is about a shaolin monk; Kwai Chang Caine. He travels around the wild west, seeking to help others and avoiding bounty hunters. The amazing thing about kung fu is that the flashbacks show Caine's past, we see that he has been trained to use kung fu, but he is a monk and would not harm a fly if it wasn't necessary. Caine chooses not to fight but when he has no other choice he proves that he can take anyone. The character is really brought to life by David Carradine, it would have been great to use Bruce Lee (Another of my idols) but I don't think the energetic Bruce would have been able to pull of the calmness of Caine.
I was expecting to see a martial arts series in the wild west but kung fu is its own genre. The teachings of Masters Po and Khan are wonderful and make you think about life. Apparently after seeing the series people seeked more information because they wanted to raise their children under the same morals.
It doesn't matter if you don't like martial arts or westerns, you need to see this. It has changed my life and the way I think about life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The concept of the series is of a quiet humble man who avoids action at
almost any cost
Caine (David Carradine) was taught a good soldier is
not violent, a fighter is not angry, and a victor is not vengeful
Caine runs a long way with a price on his head for murder He comes to the American West where he travels the countryside facing many pillars of violence He effectively inspires the character with infrequently found qualities for an action hero: grace and self-control, suppleness and rhythmic endurance, speed and patience, tenacity and power
For several years in the Shaolin Temple, Caine learns to exercise and develop his inner strength He learns to make powerful the force of his body Yet he was taught to reverence all against whom he may use such force He comes to know how weakness prevails over strength, how gentleness conquers, how he seeks victory in contention
With an emphasis on Buddhist philosophy, "Kung Fu" is a morality play, a magic show, combining the Western genre with martial arts
I saw this series exactly 20 years after it was released, but its excellence
made the viewing experience timeless.
Carradine plays the immigrant drifter Caine, who walks through the Wild West encountering different situations, people, etc, there was a different plot for each episode. This was more a "Drama" than a "Western" but the interesting sparring moves and Caine's relaxed personality made it a decent alternative to the more violent and rowdy martial arts movies that released around that time.
Whenever this series is brought back to your TV station or one episode happens to be on, it would be an excellent show to tape and watch again and again - if not already released, I'm sure they'll have the show reissued on an official DVD/VHS set.
David Carridine plays the shoalin monk, philosopher, priest, drifter,
defender, dreamer, ......as he simply says, "I am Caine."
The music of Jim Helms is eerie and completely apt.
Performances are good, especially that of Keye Luke as the venerable Master Po.
People often ask, "why don't they make shows like this anymore?" Some answer, "because no one wants to watch them".
Truth is, the art of writing a decent screenplay for television has gone the way of the Dodo bird. They're all mediocre, untalented, overpaid, underworked hacks!
This is one of the first TV drams I've seen. In 1980, TV was a new luxury in
Sri Lanka. One of the first came on TV was Kung fu.
Though I am a Buddhist the philosophical aspect of it never did hit me till I see this. But this did help me to look in to my own religion in a different way. As a kid I always watched Kung-Fu to see him kicking off people. But the story of the grasshopper was always in my mind...
It's a lovely story. With well narrated script and well controlled action. The best part of this is that it never took more action than needed in the show. After all he is "Kung-fu" master it will be childish to have a full scale fight with any one doesn't know any fighting other than grumbling over a Whiskey...
I wonder whether this is available on DVD. Something I'd buy..
This will always be one of the more original series to come out of the 1970's. Imagine a Western where the main character is half Chinese and half Caucasian and doesn't use a gun. Now think of how this series wound up as one of the great cult classics of its era. Even though this series originally was the idea of Bruce Lee and would have featured him as the star, David Carradine still pulls off the job and comes off as very believable as Caine. You also can see that he tries not to play to stereotype, but he does make this show very mystical, which can be seen as a positive and as a negative. Also wonderful were Keye Luke as master Po, Phllip Ahn as master Kahn and, of course, Radames Pera as the young Caine. This show will always be a cult classic of its era.
Kung Fu is chinese for Teacher. I realize that a lot of viewers tuned in for the kicks. But I was more interested in the lessons on how to live your life in balance. Each week Caine would be given a new problem to deal with, and through flash-backs to his shaolin masters he would be reminded of how to deal with each situation with the use of Taoism. When one reads the Tao te Ching it is hard to relate much of it to contemporary life, but Kung Fu was like a sunday school lession for Taoists. I loved it and never missed one. I also have the pilot movie and the entire series on tape. One more thing, I also enjoyed it when he kicked the crap out of the bad guys.
Just finished watching disc 1. This show still holds up today. OK more
modern technology would make the shots appear better but the story,
acting, editing...all awesome. I loved this series it was a major
influence in my life as a child. I can't wait to finish the rest of
Season 1. The "Extras" on the disc are sort of lame. I guess if you
never saw the show or aren't really a fan then they serve a purpose but
I know all this stuff already. I'd love to have a version with running
commentary from David Carradine underneath. Carradine has allegedly
been requesting more interesting "extras" for the season 2 disc like a
taped dinner party of some key participants and others speaking to how
the series influenced their lives, like Tarintino and his Kill Bill
films. I adore David Carradine as an actor I'd listen to him talk about
just about anything.
So when is Season 2 released?
What an inspirational show. Kwai Chang Kaine was certainly one of few role models I remember from TV in my younger years, and although I haven't seen it since it first played, like others I remember the stories and message (as well as the haunting theme music) from so many of the episodes. Kaine was rejected by many and accepted by only few or even one in each town he visited on his journey, but he always made a difference in the lives of those he met. It's true TV was just as much a wasteland in the '70s as it is in the '90s, but I wish we could see something as good as this again. Either that or a re-release of this one.
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