Kung Fu (TV series)

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This article is specifically about the original TV series (1972–1975) Kung Fu. For other uses, see Kung fu (disambiguation).
Kung Fu
David carradine sondra locke kung fu 1974.JPG
David Carradine and guest star Sondra Locke, 1974
Genre Action/Adventure
Western
Drama
Created by Ed Spielman
Jerry Thorpe
Herman Miller
Starring David Carradine[1]
Keye Luke
Philip Ahn
Radames Pera
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 63 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Jerry Thorpe
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 44 mins.
Distributor Warner Bros. Television
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Audio format Monaural
Original run October 14, 1972 (1972-10-14) – April 16, 1975 (1975-04-16)
Chronology
Followed by Kung Fu: The Movie
Kung Fu: The Next Generation
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues

Kung Fu is an American action-adventure western drama television series starring David Carradine. The series aired on ABC from October 1972, to April 1975 for a total of 63 episodes. Kung Fu was preceded by a full-length feature television pilot, an ABC Movie of the Week, which was broadcast on February 22, 1972.

Kung Fu was created by Ed Spielman, directed and produced by Jerry Thorpe, and developed by Herman Miller, who was also a writer for, and co-producer of, the series.

The series follows the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine (portrayed by David Carradine as an adult, Keith Carradine as a teenager, and Radames Pera as a young boy), a Shaolin monk who travels through the American Old West armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts, as he seeks Danny Caine, his half-brother.[2]

Keye Luke (as the blind Master Po) and Philip Ahn (as Master Kan) were also members of the regular cast. David Chow, who was also a guest star in the series, acted as the technical and kung fu advisor, a role later undertaken by Kam Yuen.

Overview[edit]

Carradine as Caine

Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is the orphaned son of an American man, Thomas Henry Caine, and a Chinese woman, Kwai Lin, in mid-19th century China.[3] After his maternal grandfather's death he is accepted for training at a Shaolin Monastery, where he grows up to become a Shaolin priest and martial arts expert.

In the pilot episode Caine's beloved mentor and elder, Master Po, is murdered by the Emperor's nephew; outraged, Caine retaliates by killing the nephew. With a price on his head, Caine flees China to the western United States, where he seeks to find his family roots and, ultimately, his half-brother, Danny Caine.

Although it is his intention to avoid notice, Caine's training and sense of social responsibility repeatedly force him out into the open, to fight for justice or protect the underdog. After each such encounter he must move on, both to avoid capture and prevent harm from coming to those he has helped. Searching for his family, he meets a preacher (played by real-life father John Carradine) and his mute sidekick Sunny Jim (played by brother Robert Carradine), then his grandfather (played by Dean Jagger).

Flashbacks are often used to recall specific lessons from Caine's childhood training in the monastery from his teachers, the blind Master Po (Keye Luke) and Master Kan (Philip Ahn). Part of the appeal of the series was undoubtedly the emphasis laid, via the flashbacks, on the mental and spiritual power that Caine had gained from his rigorous training. In these flashbacks, Master Po calls his young student "Grasshopper" in reference to a scene in the pilot episode:

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Caine: No.
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?[4]

During four episodes of the third and final season ("Barbary House", "Flight to Orion", "The Brothers Caine", and "Full Circle"), Caine finds his brother Danny, nephew Zeke and two cousins, Joseph and Ezekial.

Production[edit]

The Shaolin Monastery which appeared in flashbacks was originally a set used for the 1967 film Camelot. It was inexpensively and effectively converted for the setting in China.

The series used slow-motion effects for the action sequences, which Warner Brothers had previously utilised in the 1969 Sam Peckinpah film The Wild Bunch.

Bruce Lee's involvement[edit]

In her memoirs, Bruce Lee's widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, asserts that Lee created the concept for the series, which was then stolen by Warner Bros.[5] There is circumstantial evidence for this in a December 8, 1971 television interview that Bruce Lee gave on The Pierre Berton Show. In the interview, Lee stated that he had developed a concept for a television series called The Warrior, meant to star himself, about a martial artist in the American Old West (the same concept as Kung Fu, which aired the following year), but that he was having trouble pitching it to Warner Brothers and Paramount.

In the interview, Pierre Berton comments, "There's a pretty good chance that you'll get a TV series in the States called 'The Warrior', in it, where you use what, the Martial Arts in Western setting?"

Lee responds, "That was the original idea, ...both of them [Warner and Paramount], I think, they want me to be in a modernized type of a thing, and they think that the Western type of thing is out. Whereas I want to do the Western. Because, you see, how else can you justify all of the punching and kicking and violence, except in the period of the West?"

Later in the interview, Berton asks Lee about "the problems that you face as a Chinese hero in an American series. Have people come up in the industry and said 'well, we don't know how the audience are going to take a non-American'?"

Lee responds "Well, such question has been raised, in fact, it is being discussed. That is why The Warrior is probably not going to be on." Lee adds, "They think that business-wise it is a risk. I don't blame them. If the situation were reversed, and an American star were to come to Hong Kong, and I was the man with the money, I would have my own concerns as to whether the acceptance would be there."[6]

Whether or not Kung Fu was based on a concept by Lee, he was undoubtedly considered for the starring role. Herbie Pilato, in his 1993 book The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western, commented on the casting decision:

Before the filming of the Kung Fu TV movie began, there was some discussion as to whether or not an Asian actor should play Kwai Chang Caine. Bruce Lee was considered for the role. In 1971, Bruce Lee wasn't the cult film hero he later became for his roles in The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). At that point he was best known as Kato on TV's Green Hornet (1966–1967) (Kung Fu guest actor Robert Ito reports that Lee hated the role of Kato because he "thought it was so subservient"). "In my eyes and in the eyes of Jerry Thorpe," says Harvey Frand, "David Carradine was always our first choice to play Caine. But there was some disagreement because the network was interested in a more muscular actor and the studio was interested in getting Bruce Lee." Frand says Lee wouldn't have really been appropriate for the series — despite the fact that he went on to considerable success in the martial arts film world. The Kung Fu show needed a serene person, and Carradine was more appropriate for the role. Ed Spielman agrees: "I liked David in the part. One of Japan's foremost Karate champions used to say that the only qualification that was needed to be trained in the martial arts was that you had to know how to dance. And on top of being an accomplished athlete and actor, David could dance." Nonetheless, grumbling from the Asian community would have made sense, given the fact that major roles for Asian actors were almost nonexistent. James Hong, an actor on the show and ex-president of the Association of Asian/Pacific American Artists (AAPAA) says that at the time Asian actors felt that "if they were going to do a so-called Asian hero on Kung Fu, then why don't they hire an Asian actor to play the lead? But then the show went on, we realized that it was a great source of employment for the Asian acting community." In fact, Hong says, Carradine had a good relationship with the Asian community. (pages 32–33)

Ed Spielman's commentary[edit]

According to Herbie J Pilato, author of The "Kung Fu" Book of Caine and The "Kung Fu" Book of Wisdom:

Ed Spielman is the creator of the 'Kung Fu' series. Any claims to the contrary are incorrect, and an injustice. As a teenager, Mr. Spielman worked as a Page at ABC-TV in New York. He discovered the secret arts of kung-fu in the early 1960s, and he studied Mandarin Chinese in College at night. He spent years doing his research in New York's Chinatown and elsewhere unearthing this heretofore secret knowledge. At that time, kung-fu was not known in the Western world and was denied to non-Chinese. It was taught by master/student relationships and within families. It was never revealed to non-Chinese. But, Spielman pressed on.

By the mid-1960s, Ed had acquired a depth of information, and wrote a forty-four-page treatment for film, TV and publishing titled, 'Kung Fu: The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon.' He spent the next few years trying to move it forward to film or television. In 1969, he was introduced to young agent Peter Lampack at the William Morris Agency in New York. Lampack liked the material and made a deal with Warner's executive Bennett Sims in New York.

In February of 1970, Lampack bartered a deal for Spielman and his friend and collaborator, Howard Friedlander, to write a theatrical motion picture screenplay from Spielman's original story. All of this occurred in New York.

At the end of this development, Warner Bros. chose not to make the theatrical film. But, studio executive Harvey Frand had faith in the project, and took it to ABC, which by that time, had introduced a pioneering 'Movie of The Week' format.

The Spielman/Friedlander script was pared down for budget, produced and shown on ABC, February 22, 1972. It was an immediate hit. The iconic 'Kung Fu' monthly-then-weekly series followed...

Undoubtedly, Bruce Lee had his own ideas and aspirations, but that has nothing to do with Ed Spielman's ground-breaking and original work. The Writers Guild of America West awarded sole credit to Ed Spielman as the creator of 'Kung Fu'... And no allegation of Bruce Lee's having to do with the creation of 'Kung Fu' appeared in public until 'The Bruce Lee Story' (1993) in which the allegation was made.

Ed Spielman told me specifically: 'In 1993, I was preparing a major law suit against Universal, DeLaurentis Productions and all of those who were responsible for the false allegations in 'The Bruce Lee Story' to deprive me of the authorship of my work and defame me. But, Bruce Lee died in 1973 and his son Brandon also tragically died in 1993. A lawsuit by me would have fallen on Bruce Lee's widow, Linda. She had lost enough. I didn't think she would have survived those years in court. I thought about it...then told the lawyers to forget about it. The documents speak for themselves for anyone who cares to look...I was greatly disappointed that Bruce Lee did not appear as a principal in the 'Kung Fu' series. But he had nothing to do with its creation. My work and the 'Kung Fu' project was on the East Coast; his was on the West Coast. My work predated his by years. The complete story and characters were registered in the mid-1960s. The documents and contracts prove that.

Episodes[edit]

Sequels and new series[edit]

Kung Fu: The Movie[edit]

Main article: Kung Fu: The Movie

In Kung Fu: The Movie (1986) Caine (played by Carradine) is forced to fight his hitherto unknown son, Chung Wang (played by Brandon Lee). Herbie Pilato in The Kung Fu Book of Caine, also comments that Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, was involved in sequels related to the series:

The late Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, played Caine's son, Chung Wang. Toward the end of the film, Chung Wang asks Caine if he is his father. The question seems somewhat ironic since — in real life — Brandon's father was a contender for the role of Caine in the series. After Bruce Lee lost the part to Carradine, he went back to China, where he made The Big Boss, the film that began his legendary career in martial arts movies. (page 157)

Kung Fu: The Next Generation[edit]

In Kung Fu: The Next Generation (1987), the story moves to the present day and centers on the story of Johnny Caine (Brandon Lee), who is the great-grandson of Kwai Chang Caine. It explains the original Caine had married and become a town's medicine man. One night he died of heart failure. He appears as a ghost to his grandson and great-grandson, who later destroy a narcotics operation.

Kung Fu: The Legend Continues[edit]

Two decades after the first series ended, a second, related series running in syndication follows the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine's grandson, also named Kwai Chang Caine.[7] Entitled Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, it again starred Carradine, this time as the grandson of the original Caine, and introduced Chris Potter as his son.[8] The second series ran for four years, from 1993–1997. The first season was released in Germany on DVD, in 2009.

Feature film plans[edit]

In June 2006, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander announced that a feature film (which will serve as a prequel to the original Kung Fu series and take place in China) is in development. In September 2007, it was announced that Max Makowski would direct the movie and that he planned to make the film edgier than the original television series. Actor-director Bill Paxton is in talks to direct the adaptation of the TV series.[9] On April 11, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter has reported that Baz Luhrmann is in talks to direct the film and if the deal is made, Luhrmann will rewrite the film's script.[10]

International Broadcasters[edit]

DVD releases[edit]

Warner Home Video has released the entire series on DVD in Region 1.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 16 March 16, 2004
The Complete Second Season 23 January 18, 2005
The Complete Third Season 24 August 23, 2005

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Martial Arts Myths". Inside Kung Fu. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  2. ^ Weber, Bruce (June 5, 2009). "David Carradine, Actor, Is Dead at 72". The New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2010. 
  3. ^ Pilot episode shows a telegram (59 min. in) dated November 1873, placing the character's birth squarely in the mid-19th century, 1840–1850.
  4. ^ "Memorable quotes for Kung Fu (1972) (TV)". Retrieved March 5, 2009. 
  5. ^ Caldwell, L. Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew.
  6. ^ "From The Pierre Berton Show December 8, 1971 (comments near end of part 2 & early in part 3)
  7. ^ John Stanley (January 24, 1993). "New Fu: David Carradine revives successful '70s series in 'Kung Fu: The Legend Continues'". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  8. ^ Jonathan Storm (January 27, 1993). "Still Alive and Kickin' David Carradine Is Back in "Kung Fu" – 150 Years Older and a Little Wiser". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  9. ^ "Bill Paxton In Talks To Direct 'Kung Fu'". Deadline Hollywood. October 31, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  10. ^ "Baz Luhrmann in Talks to Direct 'Kung Fu' for Legendary (Exclusive)". IGN. April 11, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  11. ^ Pesselnick, Jill (May 11, 1999). "Herman Miller". Variety. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]