"Kung Fu" Pilot (TV Episode 1972) Poster

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A towering moment in American TV history
Big Neil-217 August 2002
A watershed moment in the history of American television. All who fondly remember the TV series should make a point of seeing the pilot, which is a beautifully crafted, lovingly executed piece of work.

It marks, also, the first of Kwai Chang Caine's many adventures in the Wild West; Caine takes up a job laying railroad tracks as part of a gang of cruelly mistreated Chinese immigrant workers. Extensive flashbacks tell the story of Caine's childhood in China, joining the Shao Lin temple after being orphaned, and partaking of a rigorous program of intellectual and physical development.

Thus the pilot combines a fairly conventional Western narrative with a dazzlingly innovative Eastern sequence, which is very much the heart of this movie. The producers did their homework, took infinite pains, and the results speak for themselves. Magical sets, moody photography, and meticulous research create an unforgettable impression; to give but one example, observe the moment when the two Kung Fu masters demonstrate their long choreographed sequences of moves on the temple grounds. Most heartwarming of all are the performances (as Masters Kan and Po) by Philip Ahn and Keye Luke, superb actors who had slogged through two lifetimes of unrewarding ethnic parts in cinema and on TV until each at last achieved the role of a lifetime.

Good work in the American half of the story by Hollywood pros Albert Salmi and Barry Sullivan, plus a stalwart Asian-American cast who went on to lend distinction to the regular episodes in the 3 seasons of KF that followed (Benson Fong, James Hong, many others). And spare a thought for David Carradine, who combined a mix of decorousness and stubbornness and turned this into one of the most unusual characterizations in the history of television.
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A movie that defines the Martial Arts genre
oto977220 April 2004
This movie was beautifully written in a style that was less about the fact that the main character could have taken every man in the film, but the fact that he didn't have to. This movie used no special effects and is still better than most of the martial arts movies that are more recent, because it focuses on character developement and the coming of age. The first movie to ever use light refraction from the sun, displaying revolutionary photographical techniques. The movie that introduced the Eastern way of life to America, Kung Fu is a must have movie for your DVD collection. In fact Bruce Lee was actually supposed to star but the movie's producers didn't think that Americans were ready for an Asain movie star. But David Carridine still delivers beautifully as a half Asain half white. The movie's defining line is, "Run away rather than hurt, hurt rather than mame, mame rather than kill"
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Unique Western flick, the pilot for the series
Wuchak8 June 2014
This 1972 made-for-TV Western was the pilot for the "Kung Fu" TV series. At a mere 74 minutes, it's short and sweet, kinda the way I wish more movies would be! It's definitely a Western, as it takes place out West in the late 19th century, but it's unique for this genre in that it incorporates Eastern wisdom and martial arts -- sorry, no quick-draw shootouts here.

A great scene appears near the beginning where Caine walks into a saloon after walking across a desert (!!) to get some water. Naturally some bigot wants to start a fight with him 'cause he's one of them "slant-eyes." Three times the guy attempts to attack Caine and three times Caine swiftly and decisively repels the attacks. The guy wisely decides not to attack again as Caine finishes his water and humbly walks out of the saloon leaving the patrons in astonishment.

There's more martial arts action toward the end, but, it should be noted, this is by no means a standard martial arts flick. The movie teaches humility and respect for elders & all fellow human beings. Despite the fact that they have very little dialogue, Caine develops a father/son relationship with blind Master Po.

Some scenes have such a reverent and touching quality to them that they actually brought tears to my eyes.

In Brian Garfield's "Western Films" guide he criticized this movie pilot as "Juvenile tripe." With all due respect to the brilliant Mr. Garfield, this film is neither juvenile nor tripe! As far as Westerns go, it's quite mature and original. Good Eastern-style music too.

Although this pilot movie is included with the First Season and Complete Series DVD sets, it's also available as a stand-alone movie on both DVD and VHS, which is good because it's definitely worth having in your Western library, even if you're not interested in owning the whole series.

The film was shot at Burbank Studios and Vasquez Rocks, California.

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Introducing Kwai Chang Caine
kevin olzak16 June 2010
The movie pilot for the original series starring David Carradine, "Kung Fu" (1972) is set approximately 100 years before, the American West during the 1870s, and a Shaolin priest trying to atone for the sin of killing a man, the nephew of the Emperor of China's Royal House, in an unfortunate provocation defending his beloved Shaolin Master Po (Keye Luke). An elderly blind man, Po simply defends himself against one of the royal guards, and is callously shot dead by the heartless nephew, with an angrily grieving Caine throwing a spear toward the murderer, which fatally finds its target. The dying Po grants his favorite pupil forgiveness ("sometimes one must cut off a finger to save a hand"), and advises Caine to leave the country. The pilot begins with Caine walking through the Mojave desert, apparently in America only a short time, finding work with a railroad company headed by Dillon (Barry Sullivan). In preventing an accident, Caine's arms bear the signs of the tiger and the dragon, revealing him as a Shaolin priest, treated with much reverence by the all-Chinese laborers. The railway's path is fraught with danger however, and many deaths result from both greed and cowardice. During the course of Caine's Western adventures, we are introduced to flashbacks to his days as a student and disciple at the Shaolin temple in Northern China. Radames Pera was excellent as the student Caine, and an unbilled Keith Carradine appeared as the Middle Caine, a role which he would go on to play just once more in the first season episode "Chains." Roy Jenson plays Fuller, the first opponent to discover how skillful Caine can be when provoked (he would go on to do one first season episode "Superstition," plus the 1986 TV movie sequel, also titled "Kung Fu"). Barry Sullivan returned for the second season episode "Crossties" (another railroad villain), while Albert Salmi appeared in "Nine Lives" the first year, and "Cry of the Night Beast" the third. Among the Asian cast were many veterans of the Charlie Chan movie series spanning 1931-1949: as the blind Master Po, teaching Caine to hear the sound of his own heartbeat, Keye Luke proved most durable (he had played Lee Chan, #1 son, in 8 Chan films opposite Warner Oland, 2 Chans opposite Roland Winters, and one Mr. Moto film opposite Peter Lorre). Doing 6 episodes during all three seasons, Victor Sen Yung had replaced Luke as Jimmy Chan, #2 son, when Sidney Toler took over the role of Chan, doing 13 opposite Toler, and another 5 with Roland Winters. Benson Fong appeared in 3 episodes, one per season, and played Tommy Chan, #3 son, opposite Sidney Toler in 6 Chan features. Philip Ahn, as head Master Chen Ming Kan, was a veteran of two Chans and two Motos, while Richard Loo, who worked with both Karloff and Lugosi during the 1930s, here plays Master Sun, a role he would play again in "Blood Brother" and "Besieged: Cannon at the Gates," doing different characters in 3 others. Robert Ito, later best remembered for his co-starring role opposite Jack Klugman on QUINCY, returned in the second season for "The Assassin" and "The Way of Violence Has No Mind," but the champion guest star from this pilot was James Hong, who played different characters in all 8 of his return episodes, from "The Tide" to "The Thief of Chendo." David Chow, as the monk who does battle with Caine in the climax, served as technical adviser on the subsequent series, and appeared in "The Tong" and "The Soldier." This successful pilot from Feb 1972 was followed by the actual series 7 months later.
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A fine television series.
Blueghost4 February 2007
Warner Brothers shows that in the 70's you didn't need a hospital, courtroom nor police station set to create great drama. And compared to the so-called "reality" drek that's pervaded the airwaves over the last several years, one almost wishes it was the 1970s all over again.

How do "Survivor", "American Idol", "Big Brother", "The Simple Life" and even the somewhat more high-budgeted "Law & Order" franchise compete with shows like "Kung Fu"? Watching the stories unfold with high production values one becomes puzzled how the "reality" genre ever got a toehold.

David Carradine, the well seasoned actor, gives us a monastic Shao Lin outcast in search of refuge and family. The best performances come from all, but I found myself liking Master Po the best, played by the late great Keye Luke. Nitpicking; I would've shot it somewhat differently, and I'm not sure I would've cast Carradine in the role, but, given the character that needed to be portrayed I'm at a loss of who else could've done the job. Carradine is a capable actor who brings us a character (to paraphrase Kwai-Chan) seeks not answers, but only to "understand the questions." If only all humankind had such wisdom.

Thankfully Kwai Chan's exploits and insights, and those of his teachers, have been forever preserved on three DVD sets :-) Carradine's character wanders the countrysides of Cathay and and a century old United States in a Western-leaning genre of drama and action.
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Probably the best TV movie ever
Dire_Straits7 June 2005
This TV movie, which played as a pilot for the series, Kung Fu, is the best TV movie I've ever seen. "Brian's Song" would be a close second.

The movie - and the series - is as innovative (using flashbacks, slow-motion, focusing fade-ins, and a lot of Eastern quotes that make a great deal of sense) as any you will find.

And this was a Western! There was nothing like it before and there's been nothing like it since. KUNG FU is one of a kind.

The TV series was excellent as well. The various directors all used the same interesting techniques as the pilot film to achieve almost a dream-like effect of the West during the early part of the 20th century.
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The best tv movie ever!
39310 October 2003
Everything seems to click right for this eastern western philosophical movie. The sound track is a bonus and the directorship is outstanding. The movie also introduced me to Taoism and I practice this metaphysical philosophy on a daily basis. I remember seeing the movie for the first time and I taped it and watched it over and over again until I had most of the lines by heart. David Carradine's role as Caine is moody and full of enlightenment. Every actor performs outstandingly well. Well worth the price to own or rent. -Paul
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changed the nature of writing for TV....
A_Different_Drummer30 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Pop quiz! What do this pilot and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have in common? Answer? Both changed the nature of primetime TV. Twenty years later, Joss "Long Arc" Whedon would develop a sense of TV narrative that went further than even the infamous daytime soap operas had ever gone -- and changed the nature of TV scripts permanently. Here in the 70s of all places Ed Spielman and Jerry Thorpe did something no one had ever done before -- combing real time action and flashback in a ratio something like 4:1, that is 4 parts real time, 1 part flashback. This technique on top of the "wicked clever" story based on a real sect of monks in China (I reviewed the show in another IMDb review) and a standout performance by Carradine produced one of the most satisfying TV movie pilots ever. The finale is brilliant -- in other reviews I have explained over and over the importance of "step laddering" the fight scenes so that each is more challenging and more complex. The finale here, against another Shaolin trained monk, is wonderful! Trust me on this (unless you were there) it was as good as anything in a theatre at the time. And the device stuck. (Although as I have noted in my review of Arrow, it can become over-used. I wonder if the writers of Arrow were, as children, were locked in the closet with a DVD looping Kung Fu? The ratio of real-time to flashback they use is crazy, beyond the point of reasonable, and that remains the only failing of that specific show).
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A Classic Martial Arts Film That I Enjoyed Very Much
callanvass12 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a classic martial arts film that i enjoyed very much!. It's very engrossing, and all the performances were fantastic, plus i loved the flashbacks!. The film moves along very nicely, and there is an awesome fight near the end, plus David Carradine is amazing in this!. I loved the scenes with Caine, and The Old blind man, they were engrossing and very interesting, plus it's smart,and intelligent. If your looking for all fight scenes, stay away, but if you want a smart intelligent martial arts film, that moves along nicely with a couple cool fight scenes, good character development and great performances, definitely rent this right away!.The Direction is great!. Jerry Thorpe does a great job here, with good camera work, creating a nice style, and keeping the film at a very fast pace!. The Acting is brilliant!. David Carradine is AMAZING as always, and gives an amazing performance here, he is very likable, great at martial arts as always,was mysterious,had awesome chemistry with Keye Luke and was just brilliant all around! (David Rules!). Barry Sullivan, is decent here and does what he has to do adequately.Keye Luke is great as the old man, i loved him!. Philip Ahn is good here as one of the teachers i liked him. James Hong is great, in his screen time.Radames Pera is very good as a young Caine. Rest of the cast are great. Overall a must see!, i can't wait to buy the Kung TV series!. **** out of 5
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a story of a past,a present, and an uforseeable future
MisterWhiplash12 July 2009
Kung Fu can be watched as a series, but this pilot-movie, at a length that is perfectly agreeable as a self-contained project and only contains the vaguest of to-be-cont'd endings. It was unlike any other show in America at the time, and introduced many to kung-fu who hadn't possibly seen any of the underground movies of the Shaw brothers or just before Bruce Lee really became huge. And, sadly, Bruce Lee was turned down from this show. Maybe it was the right decision not because of the ethnicity barrier (I think a show could have at least been attempted with an Asian lead), but because its focus is rather unique: it's a 'white man' as it were who is a Shaolin monk, Caine, who in a moment of unintentional fury killed a nobleman and had to flee from China to America, where he is often mistaken in the 19th century "old-west" as a "Chinaman".

It works, too, that David Carradine has a certain Asian aura about him. This isn't offensive him playing this character (it certainly isn't derided like, say, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's). The producers and writers of the show actually pay more respect and adherence to the ways of martial arts and its teachings and real professing of non-violence more than other kung-fu movies from China at the time. In fact, one could almost argue it's too respectful, that there's a lack of fun. But, as this pilot shows, which goes between the origin story of Caine in the Shaolin temple and his first real encounter with collective horror and stupidity in man working on a railroad, there's lots of excitement and even philosophizing to be had in the series. And when there is a battle, watch out! It's not bloody, sure, but it is for its time well choreographed and shot for maximum (TV) effect.

And what else can be said about David Carradine? The man was just *on* all the time. There's scenes and moments he looks like he's staring off into space, and one isn't sure if it's the character just observing or if Carradine is in some kind of trance. But it's sincere, dedication and craft with a character that makes it count. He's like Eastwood's Man-with-no-name character who says little and makes it count when he does. You simply don't f*** around with the guy, but many do, and it's that archetype that Carradine taps into and mines for all it can be worth for him. It's not the most original story ever, but its got a great twist to it, with (in this case of direction) creative storytelling not unlike techniques started in Point Blank of cutting back and forth in time. Plus a superb lead, and a dependable supporting cast of Chinese-American players.
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This movie is a classic
I liked the way this movie had flashbacks of the main character's life as he was growing up and learning the things in the temple. It was amazing how he could walk in the rice paper. His fighting skills were amazing on how he helped those other Chinese people when those railroad people were being hard on them. This movie is what I have heard is the pilot to the Kung Fu TV series. I have never seen someone fight like that before. This is one movie I think many people should watch. I really liked how he outsmarted the railroad men who were forcing the Chinese to dig the tunnels in those hills that had pockets of natural gas. I like how he also had to fight that bounty hunter that came after him. This is one movie I think was a great pilot for a TV series. I think since the TV series is on DVD this movie should be put on DVD for a new generation to enjoy.
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Kung Fu
danielsachster15 September 2008
I watched the Kung Fu series regularly when it first aired and then I watched it again when I was much older and appreciated the philosophical statements, comments and guidance offered to the young Kwai Chang Caine from his Shao Lin masters. It led me to read the Tao De Ching for myself and my life was changed because of it. It is rare when a TV show changes someone's life. One of the quotes I have remembered almost verbatim for over thirty years is the following. Kwai Chang Caine asks Master Po, "Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?" to which Master Po answers, "If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past." Is that quote just made up by the writers or is that a direct quote from the Tao De Ching by Lao Tse? Perhaps it was a quote from Confucius. Whatever the source of the quote, whether it is really from a Chinese philosophical origin or just a very creative Teleplay writer, could you let me know. I would be very interested to know where I could find the quote.

I read about Bruce Lee being cut out of the project that he proposed originally and for which he would have been perfect, though I understand the bigotry and market research that colored TV of the 1970s.

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The East meets the West in this exceptional pilot episode.
alexanderdavies-993822 October 2017
This was the feature length pilot episode for what would become the popular television show, "Kung Fu." 83 episodes would be broadcast from 1972 to 1975 and the overall quality was maintained effectively. A few changes were made before this pilot went before the cameras. Future Hong Kong star Bruce Lee was the one who created the outline for the show's premise and central character. However, "Warner Bros." didn't take Bruce Lee seriously in wanting to cast him in the central role of a wandering monk from a Shaolin temple who is a fugitive from justice. In hindsight, it was the right decision as Bruce Lee's brand of Martial Arts was too violent for television audiences and would have greatly diluted his impact. As student and actor James Coburn correctly stated: "Bruce was too big for television." Also, the series was going to be called "The Warrior" which would have been a good title in itself. Casting David Carradine was nothing short of inspired - even though he was no martial artist and had never heard of the style of Kung Fu when he began filming the pilot. He made the character of Caine his own for all time. To begin with, Caine doesn't speak very often in that his sentences are short but to the point. He has been on the run for quite some time at this juncture but has managed to leave Asia and to find himself in the Old West in America. Giving "Kung Fu" a period setting was the best thing that could have happened as we bear witness to two completely different cultures and that that is how a lot of the dramatic tension results. After securing work as part of a work force that is building a new railway line, Caine is soon discovered as being a fugitive and is held prisoner. As with the regular series, he harks back to his days at the Shaolin temple and all that he has learnt from his Masters. The acting and the dialogue are amongst the best I have seen and heard. There is genuine intelligence and insight in the teleplay and this elevates the pilot episode to being a masterpiece. The violence that occurs is fairly tame by today's standards and Caine never uses it unless there is no alternative. Highly recommended and one of the definitive television shows that successfully introduced Kung Fu martial arts to Western television viewers before Bruce Lee would do the same in cinema.
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binkzz1 February 2003
'KUNG FU was a martial arts show about an asian drifter who was part american the irony was BRUCE LEE was originally slated to star but was deemed not asian enough'

It was actually because Bruce Lee was asian that he wasn't chosen to perform. They dressed up an American to look as Asian as possible and hired asian martial artists to perform the kicks and moves.
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East meets Old West...
poe42611 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
KUNG FU was a revelation back when it first aired. This American-made telemovie has turned out to be one of the defining moments in martial arts movie history. While precious few of the hundreds of kung fu movies I've seen have ever bothered to espouse a philosophy of any kind, this made-for-TV movie delved deeply into the raison d'etre for the martial arts. (Ironically, the one shortcoming- a noticeable one for those of us who had already familiarized ourselves at least to some degree with martial arts- was the lack of genuine gung fu skill evinced by the star of the show. David Carradine, by his own admission "a dancer," was able to fake it well enough, but, looking back on the series now, his Dung Fu is almost laughable.) It'd be great to see some real-life martial artists in a weekly series (as long as it didn't degenerate into another MARTIAL LAW or WALKER), but maybe martial arts is still considered "unbankable" by the Hollywood powers that be.
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'Sometimes it is better to cut off a finger to save a hand'
Simon10 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Well firstly I have to say I'm a complete fan of this show and the pilot episode is a great addition to the first series DVD collection. I've been a fan since the early 70's when on a Friday evening I would sit in full lotus and absorb Caine's journey and the teachings of Master Sun and Master Po. The Toaist philosophy expounded by these fine actors sparked my own interest in pursuing the Tao, following the path of least resistance and eventually letting it all settle, knowing that the only way to know the Tao is to let go of self. Master Po has an ambition, something he is obviously not proud of (he is not a proud man, he is a Master). When he confides this ambition to Caine, he sets up a series of events that create the whole back story for the series. Caine goes to celebrate his Masters ambition, Master Po defends himself from the Royal Guards and is shot by the Royal Nephew. Caine goes on to defend his Master and kill the Royal Nephew. When Caine feels remorse, Master Po sayes, 'Sometimes it is better to cut off a finger to save a hand', this is a very unusual thing for Master Po to say. For the most part although sometimes obscure in his answers, Master Po always gives 'Grasshopper' good advice, in keeping with the Tao. Whilst Master Po is well versed in Traditional Chinease Medicine and the advice is good, the sub-text suggests that he 'set up' the whole thing, giving his student over to a life of an outcast. Whilst I can see that Master Po may indeed have wanted to remove the finger himself, the effect is the same. Perhaps Master Po realised that he would fail whilst 'Grasshopper', his favourite student would prevail?
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