Kung Fu (1972 TV series)

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Kung Fu
Kung Fu (1972 TV series logo).png
Genre
Created by
Starring
Theme music composerJim Helms
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes62 + Pilot (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producerJerry Thorpe
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time50 minutes
Production companyWarner Bros. Television
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original networkABC
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseOctober 14, 1972 (1972-10-14)[2] –
April 26, 1975 (1975-04-26)[3]
Chronology
Followed byKung Fu: The Movie
Kung Fu: The Next Generation
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
Kung Fu (2021 TV series)

Kung Fu is an American action-adventure martial arts Western drama television series starring David Carradine. The series follows the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine, 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.[4][5]

Many of the aphorisms used in the series are adapted from or derived directly from the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Taoist philosophy attributed to the sage Lao-tzu.[6][7][8]

Plot[edit]

David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine
Phillip Ahn as Master Kan
Keye Luke as Master Po
Radames Pera as Young Caine

Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is the orphaned son of an American man, Thomas Henry Caine (Bill Fletcher), and a Chinese woman, Kwai Lin, in mid-19th-century China.[9] 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. A recent tombstone in a season 3 episode dated 1874 places the story approximately between 1871 and 1875.[10]

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 real-life 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 Chen Ming Kan (Philip Ahn). In those flashbacks, Master Po calls his young student "Grasshopper," given from a playful lesson he taught to Caine as a child about being aware of the world around him, including the grasshopper that happened to be at his feet at that moment.

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 (Tim McIntire) and his nephew Zeke (John Blyth Barrymore).

Cast[edit]

Carradine and guest star Sondra Locke, 1974

Main cast[edit]

Guest cast[edit]

This list comprises a selection of actors billed in the opening credits, and some actors whose characters were decisive in the episode plot's development or who later became widely recognized for other productions. Among them there are nominees and winners of Academy Awards, Emmy, Golden Globe, Tony, and other film and theater awards. At the minute 6:39 of the Kung Fu DVD documentary The Tao of Caine: Production and Beyond, Herbie J. Pilato says: “One of the great things about Kung Fu is that it had this incredible A-list of guest stars. You know, there were stars then, and they became stars later (...) So, it was a breeding ground for A-1 talent and it was also just surrounded by A-1 talent, I mean, in front of and behind the scenes. They didn’t settle for less.” Jerry Thorpe adds: “People wanted to do the show because it was unique, it’s as simple as that. Yes, it was fairly easy to cast people that normally wouldn’t do a series television.”[11]

This list does not reflect the full extent of Asian American actors’ participation, since most of them were billed in the series’ closing credits. It can be noticed that a group of Asian actors appeared repeatedly in the series. According to John Furia Jr. in a May 1973 interview, this happened because “one of the problems we’re faced with is that Oriental actors did not have much opportunity to act in TV or movies before, and so there is no great pool to draw from. So far, availability of martial artists for the training and fighting scenes has been good.”[12] Asian actors who returned often to the series were mostly members of the East West Players, brought to the series by Guy Lee, who would take charge of Bessie Loo’s Talent Agency when she retired.[5]: 43–44 

The Carradine Family.


The Caine Family


Actors appearing in three or more episodes

  • James Hong (Pilot, s2e5, s2e20, s3e3, s3e4, s3e9, s3e22) as various characters and bit parts in others
  • Richard Loo (Pilot, s2e7, s2e20, s3e8, s3e11) as various characters
  • Victor Sen Yung (Pilot, s1e11, s2e5, s2e15, s3e12) as various characters
  • Benson Fong (Pilot, s1e3, s2e4, s3e13) as various characters
  • Clyde Kusatsu (s2e20, s3e1-2, s3e15) as various characters
  • Leslie Nielsen (s3e18-21) as Vincent Corbino
  • Khigh Dhiegh (s1e10) as Shang Tzu, (s3e10-11) as Sing Lu Chan
  • Robert Ito (Pilot) as Fong, (s2e2) as Blacksmith/Ninja, (s2e15) as Captain Tim Lee
  • Albert Salmi (Pilot) as Raif, (s1e7) as Shawn Mulhare, (s3e7) as Reuben Branch
  • Soon-Tek Oh (s1e8) as Kwan Chen, (s2e19) as Chen Yi, (s3e8) as Yi Lien
  • John Vernon (s3e6) as Forbes, (s3e20-21) as General Cantrell


Actors appearing in two episodes


Actors appearing in one episode

David Chow,[26] acted as the technical and kung fu advisor, and guest-starred in the Pilot as the Little Monk, Caine's enemy at the climactic fight scene.[27] His technical role was later undertaken by Kam Yuen, who guest-starred as Lin Wu in the s1e3 episode "Blood Brother" and as Wong Ti in the s3e1-2 episodes "Blood of the Dragon."[28] Part of Chow’s job was to add or eliminate fight scenes from the script, “settle differences of opinion” regarding their technical aspects among the martial artists participating in them, and make the scenes believable.[29]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

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.[30][31][32] (For the series concept’s history, see Bruce Lee's involvement)

It started as a full-length (90 minutes, with commercial breaks) feature, which was broadcast on February 22, 1972, and rerun the following Summer, to great acclaim: “(...) ABC and Warner Brothers were deluged with letters, telephone calls and telegrams, all praising the show.”[12] ABC ordered just three more segments and placed them in what was called the “death row,” the Saturday night slot opposite All in the Family. After a very positive reception, in November 1972 the network contracted for 12 more episodes, dropped Alias Smith and Jones and placed Kung Fu in the Thursday night slot at 9 PM. The resultant good ratings led to the series’ renovation for a second season.[33]

The series’ story editor was John Furia Jr. At the time a freelance writer for TV and movies who also worked in production, he had declined offers as story editor before until Jerry Thorpe approached him with Kung Fu. He had seen the pilot and was fascinated by it, so he accepted.

Among his responsibilities, it was also “to maintain and preserve historical accuracy in each script. To complicate matters, there is no single historical source on kung-fu upon which he can rely. He must make extensive research into various sources before he can render a story to be within the realms of truth. Furthermore, because the story involves an ethnic group, and the tempers of our time do not tolerate ignorance and bigotry, he must not only make sure that the historical information regarding the group is accurate, but that these people are presented with dignity and respect.”

Questioned about whether having a half-Caucasian as a student at the Shaolin Temple (which did not accept foreigners) was historically accurate, John Furia Jr. declared: “There is, of course, a certain amount of dramatic license involved in producing a show of this nature. As for David Carradine playing the part of a half-American half-Chinese, I can honestly say that we haven’t found anyone, before or since the series began, who can play the part better. One of the reasons for the success of the series is Carradine’s portrayal of Caine.” As for the hiring of Asian actors for the secondary roles, he said: “It not only adds authenticity, it’s only proper that it should be so. Our series, I believe, hires more Orientals than any series on TV.”[12]

Broadcast[edit]

The series aired on ABC from October 1972 to April 1975 for a total of 63 episodes. The series became one of the most popular television programs of the early 1970s, receiving widespread critical acclaim and commercial success upon its release.[34][12]

On the week ending May 6, 1973, Kung Fu became the number one show on US television, drawing a regular audience of 28 million viewers. Around the same time, Bruce Lee's Hollywood debut Enter the Dragon was being completed.[35] It was part of what became known as the "chopsocky" or "kung fu craze" after Hong Kong martial arts films such as Five Fingers of Death (King Boxer) and Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury (The Big Boss) topped the US box office in early 1973.[36]

In its first season, 1972-1973, Kung Fu’s pilot was first aired as an ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week, which placed it in the range of the top 20 programs of the season, as determined by Nielsen Media Research. After the pilot’s rerun in the Summer, during the Fall season, three more episodes were aired once a month on Saturday nights alternating with Alias Smith and Jones, against All in the Family and Bridget Loves Bernie, which were among the top 10 programs of that season. The other 12 episodes ran on Thursday nights, when they ranked among the 30 first-rated shows and tied in ratings with The ABC Monday Night Movie and The F.B.I. during the Winter season, losing in ratings to Ironside, which was at the same time slot during the Fall and Summer seasons.[33]

In its second season, 1973-1974, it ran on Thursday nights, when it remained among the 30 first rated shows, together with CBS Thursday Night Movie, which was at the same time slot, and tied in ratings with The Carol Burnett Show, which ran on Saturday nights.

In its third and final season, 1974-1975, Kung Fu’s time slot changed three times, and it lost its place among the 30 first-rated shows. In the Fall, it was moved to Saturdays night at 9 PM, against CBS’ The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show, sitcoms rated in the top 20 of the season. Between the Fall and Winter seasons, it ran on Fridays at 8 PM, which placed it against NBC’s sitcoms Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man, both rated in the top 10 of the season. Then in Winter, Kung Fu’s time slot changed to Saturdays at 8 PM, which placed it against CBS’s All in the Family, The Jeffersons (sitcoms rated in the season’s top 10), and NBC’s Emergency!, a series rated in the top 30 of that season, all of which were at the same time slot.

Contrary to some misconceptions, Kung Fu was not canceled. The series ended due to a combination of factors, among which the documentary The Tao of Caine cites the lead actor’s burnout, changes in the writing and shooting that altered some of the most appreciated characteristics of the show, and above all the changes in the time slot, which led to the audience’s decline.[11]: min.13:03  However, the most important factor was David Carradine’s decision to leave.[31]: 400–401

It has been said that Carradine left the show after sustaining several injuries that made it impossible for him to continue.[37][38][39] While injuries were a feature of his career,[40] Carradine’s decision to quit Kung Fu was influenced by the bad publicity that a drug-related incident attracted on him that affected the ratings of the series, what Radames Pera described as sabotage,[41] and that Carradine himself acknowledged that it had been detrimental to audience ratings.[31]: 393

From a broader point of view, Carradine's decision stemmed from the fact that he, from the beginning, hadn't wanted to commit long-term to a series[30]: min.8:18 or stay in it for an extended period,[11]: min.13:10 due to his foremost interest in pursuing a career in filmmaking,[33]: 19[42] which he said led him to avoid signing a regular contract that would have bound him for five years.[31]: 363 At any rate, Carradine’s warning to the production team that the third season was going to be his last one allowed the writers to plan the final episodes so that all of the remaining story arcs regarding Caine and his brother could be brought to a satisfying end. In his commentary to the episode Full Circle, Carradine regretted his decision to leave in regards to how that had affected the series' crew.[32]: min.23:58

Kung Fu started to broadcast in syndication on September 1, 1979, on 23 local channels.[43]

The series was later broadcast on cable television by the TNT channel, on weeknights at 7 PM, ET.[44][45]

International broadcast[edit]

This series was internationally broadcast in its original run, later distributed in DVD format, has been re-broadcast in cable channels specialized on vintage TV shows like TCM Latin America,[46] and it is also available for streaming.[47]

Sets[edit]

The series was filmed at the Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank (Laramie Street, the Backlot, and several stages), Old Tucson Studios, and on locations like Vasquez Rocks, the 20th Century Fox Ranch (Malibu Creek State Park), and the sand dunes in the Yuma Desert for the opening and closing credits.[50]

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, by the Academy Award nominee Eugène Lourié as art director;[48] the set decorator was the Academy Award nominee Ralph S. Hurst.[51]

Even if Camelot won an Academy Award for its art direction and set decoration, the expensive castle (made with wooden beams, wooden frame structures, and building timber covered with faux stone siding)[52] was criticized for its unspecific style placed in a landscape evidently Californian, which resulted in that castle being the last attempt for a studio to construct a large scale set that represented a foreign location. By November 1971, when Jerry Thorpe asked Eugène Lourié to design the art for Kung Fu, the castle was derelict to the point that Lourié believed that it still stood only because the cost of demolishing it would be prohibitive.

Working with the reduced budget of a TV production was a challenge, but Lourié had learned in France how to work with little money for sets. He was both interested and intrigued by the story, as the action moved back and forth between the Wild West’s present and the memories of the Shaolin temple; Lourié decided to emphasize that contrast visually. The practical need for making the project monetarily viable meant style compromises. With that in mind, the castle’s nonspecific architectural style was perfect to give it a Chinese look for Western eyes, by adding characteristic roofs, a front wall with a massive wood-carved door, and brick walls with ceramic-grilled windows, while its terraces and stairs were fit for the stagings of the kung fu training sequences. As for the temple’s interiors, Lourié opted for showing only a portion of the set and let the viewers complete it in their minds. So, he decided on a church-like appearance, with a Buddhist mural on the back wall, multileveled wooden candleholders and burning candles between columns, a constant haze, and the projection of strong rays of light as if coming through high church windows. That visual conception made it unnecessary to build long and high stone walls for those sets, especially because the studio offered Kung Fu a large stage on which there was a standing set of the big hall from Camelot. That presented the advantage of ready-made stone walls if the side wings of the temple were to appear in a take. The scenes among the flickering candles would become a signature of the series. For other Chinese sets, he used carved wooden partitions to enhance plain walls, or giant sculptured lions to give simple gardens an aura of grandeur.

For the railroad camp location, a place close to Hollywood was needed, so the well-known Vasquez Rocks were chosen. As for the Western scenes, the old western streets on the Warners lot were easily adaptable to the series’ multiple requirements. Lourié's solution of the temple and the other sets both in budgetary and visual terms was key in getting the go-ahead for the movie pilot from the production department, and for the subsequent series.[53][54]

In his memoir, Eugène Lourié praises Jerry Thorpe’s vision, courage and inventiveness to undertake the Kung Fu project with a reduced TV budget. At the minute 4:32 of the documentary The Tao of Caine, Jerry Thorpe says about him: “The art director, Eugène Lourié, his talents were unending. He converted a medieval castle that had been built for Camelot on the backlot into an AD 2nd to 3rd century Shaolin monastery, for a buck and a quarter. He cannibalized every scene dock in the industry. It was amazing to watch.”[11]

The Camelot Castle, already converted into a Shaolin temple and with some additions, became a main set for the 1973 musical Lost Horizon during its 1972 April to June shooting period.[55]

From late 1972 to early 1975, it became again a Shaolin temple while the Kung Fu episodes were in production, with the Emmy Award winner Antony Mondello[56] and John Lamphear[57] as set decorators.

When visiting the backlot in 1980, Lourié was sorry to find out that a large part of the western streets had been bulldozed. As for the imposing castle/temple/lamasery, it lasted for a few more years until it was torn down and substituted by a parking lot and the Bridge offices building (1994).[58][59][60]

Special effects[edit]

The series used slow-motion effects for the action sequences, which Warner Brothers had previously utilized in the 1969 Sam Peckinpah film The Wild Bunch and were also subsequently utilized for the action sequences in the science-fiction series The Six Million Dollar Man.

Soundtrack[edit]

Dharma Bells (from Emil Richards Collection)

The music for the opening and closing titles, as well as the incidental music, was composed by Jim Helms.[61]

The series associate producer (later producer) Alex Beaton selected him after listening to several composer demos when the pilot was in development. Helms, a guitarist and arranger, scored the pilot with a team of only eleven musicians. The result was mostly atmospheric instead of melodic, with a koto as the predominant instrument. This score did not include "Caine’s Theme," which was added when the series began airing in 1972, in the opening and closing titles. That signature theme had two unusual characteristics: through the first season it was revised and re-recorded several times, and the sound palette comprised about 19 musicians per session only. Even if half of them were string players, woodwinds, keyboard, and percussion were always more prominent.

The flute themes were performed by Sheridon Stokes[62] on alto recorder, since the type of bamboo flute featured in the series wasn’t chromatic and was deemed impractical for scoring purposes. The constant presence of a harpsichord played by Mike Lang helped to set the series in the 19th century. The percussion instruments included a waterphone, Chinese tom-toms, Chinese opera bells, woodblocks, and antique Chinese "Dharma bells" (Asian nested bells). The percussionist Emil Richards collected over 90 of them and used them often for microtonal glisses.[63] Everything resulted in an Eastern-Western combination that was unique in American television. Variety referred to Helms’ work as "especially interesting… sensitive… a decided asset."

Given the success of Kung Fu’s first season, Warner Bros. Records released internationally in December 1973 a "concept album" of dialogue and music from the show, based on the pilot and the first nine episodes; "Caine’s Theme" was also released as a single.[64] The record used an expanded 45-piece orchestra for the musical selections and a group of eight musicians for the incidental music underscoring dialogue taken from the Shaolin temple sequences. The LP was re-released in CD format in 2010, accompanied by the Man in the Wilderness movie soundtrack.[65][66][67]

"Caine’s Theme" (with different arrangements) was included in the TV and film music compilations by Jack Hawkins his Orchestra and Singers (UK, 1974),[68] Jack Parnell and his Orchestra (UK, 1975),[69] and The Film Studio Orchestra (Japan, 1976).[70]

Question of 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.: “Even before this [Longstreet], Warner Brothers had suddenly caught on to the fact that kung fu itself had captured the public’s imagination and decided to launch a TV series,” she writes. “Bruce himself had been working on the idea of a Shaolin priest, a master of kung fu, who would roam America and find himself involved in various exploits. The studio contacted him and he was soon deeply involved. He gave them numerous ideas, many of which were eventually incorporated in the resulting TV success, Kung Fu, starring actor David Carradine.” (Linda Lee, The Man Only I Knew, pp. 130– 31.).[71] 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 commented, "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 responded, "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 asked 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 replied, "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."[72]

However, Bruce Lee was undoubtedly considered for the starring role,[5]: 32–33  and David Carradine himself in a 1989 interview mentions that Bruce Lee was passed over for the role. It is alleged that an unnamed ABC executive said "You can't make a star out of a five-foot-six Chinese actor."[73]

According to biographer Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee did not invent the Kung Fu TV series.[74] Ed Spielman created the character of Kwai Chang Caine, and the movie treatment Spielman wrote with Howard Friedlander in 1969 was the origin of the pilot and subsequent series.

Spielman first wrote a treatment about a samurai who travels to China and learns kung fu. Around 1967, he gave it to his partner Howard Friedlander, who suggested turning it into a Western; Spielman then decided to make the leading character into a half-American, half-Chinese Shaolin monk. In 1969 the William Morris agent Peter Lampack put the treatment into the knowledge of Fred Weintraub, at the time an executive at Warner Brothers and later the producer of Enter the Dragon: "As a New York-based production executive at Warner Bros. Pictures, it was my job to develop projects to appeal to the youth market. From the mountain of potential projects sent to me weekly, I unearthed a treatment for a feature length film by a couple of writers named Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander called The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon. It was an intriguing East-meets-Western tale of a young Shaolin monk from China roaming the American West of the 1800s, righting wrongs with pacifist, Eastern philosophy. And if that failed, kicking serious cowboy butt with nothing but his hands and feet. I liked the idea and gave the boys something like $3,800 to write a screenplay. At about that time, Warner Bros. made the decision to change their base of operations and moved me from New York to Hollywood."[75][76] He received the finished script on April 30, 1970. Later through his friend Sy Weintraub (no relation), Weintraub met Bruce Lee and considering him ideal for the part tried to put the script into development with him as leading actor, but was rejected because “the public would not be willing to accept a Chinese hero.”[74]

While Bruce Lee was in Thailand filming The Big Boss, Weintraub brought the script to Tom Kuhn, head of the Warner Bros. TV division, who liked it. Warner Bros. and ABC announced their TV deal for Kung Fu on July 22, 1971, and started pre-production (including casting). The air date was scheduled for February 22, 1972, with production starting on December 15, 1971. Bruce Lee, having arrived back from Thailand, auditioned for the part of Caine, but the studio was reluctant to hire a Chinese actor, having concerns with his accent, his intense personality, considered not suitable to portray a quiet, serene character, and also because he was "too authentic."[77]

In early October 1971, a month before Warner Brothers officially designated David Carradine for the role of Caine, Warner Brothers executive Ted Ashley, who saw Bruce Lee’s potential and didn’t want to lose him to Paramount, offered him an exclusive development deal to create his own TV program, which included an advance of "$25,000 (or $152,000 in 2017 dollars) - enough money to pay off most of his mortgage." Bruce Lee presented a treatment describing a show called Ah Sahm, which he later retitled The Warrior. Bruce Lee did not sign Ashley's deal, preferring to see how The Big Boss performed in theaters. When the movie was a smashing success, he abandoned his plans to be a TV star and instead focused on the big screen.[78][71]

Casting controversy[edit]

Kung Fu has been called an example of yellowface and a prominent case of whitewashing.[79]

Most of the controversy lies in the notion that the series’ idea was “stolen” from Bruce Lee, but also in the fact that he wasn’t cast for the leading role, and that decision had racial connotations. The “steal” conspiracy theory has become widespread, both in academia[80][81] as in the media, even internationally.[82][83]

The casting for the leading role when the project was still a feature film had considered (among others) James Coburn, who was preferred by Ed Spielman. When the script became an ABC Movie of the Week, the casting process considered (among others) Bruce Lee, Mako, and George Takei. After having “sought every Asian in Hollywood, because you didn’t have to be super bright to know what was coming,” and found none that could carry the series, they turned to the American side of the character and began auditioning white actors, including William Smith[84] and John Saxon.[85] Just two weeks before the pilot’s filming started, David Carradine obtained the role at his second audition.[71]

At the time, George Takei and the Association of Asian Pacific American Artists (AAPAA) filed a formal complaint for unfair hiring practices. They wanted an Asian actor in the leading role and a Chinese historical advisor; only the second demand was conceded. The Asian acting community was displeased, but with so few opportunities for Asian actors it was better to have a show that would be a source of work for them in secondary roles than not having it at all. James Hong (who was the AAPAA’s president), said: “As the show went on, we realized it was a great source of employment for the Asian acting community.”[78]

Representation of women and ethnic groups[edit]

The series has been considered a commentary on race relations in the 70s, both for its casting as for the depiction of discrimination against minorities.[86] It is noteworthy that race issues also affected the casting of secondary characters whereas gender inequality showed in their stories.

France Nuyen and Nancy Kwan, both Eurasian, played Chinese characters, the first one accepting being given in marriage as payment for service her husband was hired to perform (s3e3), the other one preferring to be a concubine to the Emperor rather than the wife of the warlord who had raped her, who was played by Stefan Gierasch, wearing prosthetic makeup (s2e22-23). Barbara Hershey appeared as a Eurasian woman who flees forced marriage to a warlord played by Khigh Dhiegh (born Kenneth Dickerson), and is denied admission to the Shaolin temple as a student because “You are female - You are also of mixed blood” (s3e10-11). On the other hand, American women are sometimes portrayed as dependant or even unable to survive without men (s1e14, s2e16, s3e4), but also as independent individuals, like entrepreneurs (s3e23), landowners (s2e14, s3e1-2), ranchers (s2e12, s3e3) or craftswomen (s1e3), according to the feminist currents of the time. Notably, Asian women are portrayed that way on occasion (s1e5, s1e8), and not just in stereotypical or subservient roles.

Given that the series' action happens mostly in the 19th century California, Blacks appear as important characters in just a few episodes (s1e13, s2e1, s2e16, s3e18, s3e24), as at the time they were a small portion of the state’s population, yet all of the episodes have to do with them facing discrimination. Interestingly, when the consequences of the American Civil War are mentioned, they are in the context of defeat and vengeance (s1e4, s2e3, s3e24), not of the abolition of slavery.

Regarding Native Americans, as it was usual at the time, they are mostly portrayed by non-Native actors, usually from the Hispanic community and also by Whites (s2e6), whereas the Hispanics themselves appear mostly when Caine visits towns in New Mexico or Mexico (s2e3, s2e4, s3e14), even if at the time there was an important Hispanic presence in the state. The portrayal of Native Americans varies from the stereotypical faceless villains (s1e1, s1e2), to objects of persecution and discrimination (s2e5, s3e5) to a co-leading character in the s1e15 episode “The Ancient Warrior,” the only one with a Native actor billed in the opening credits, which precisely deals with the extermination of a whole tribe. The absence of Native actors and the cultural misrepresentation issue wasn’t unique to this series nor to its time; it has led the National Congress of American Indians to pass a resolution on the subject as recently as 2017.[87]

Representation of Asians[edit]

East Asian, or rather Chinese portrayal in the series remains a problematic subject. Academic studies tend to mention the show in the context of discrimination against Asians in American society and entertainment.

Professor Jun Xing (Chun Hsing in Library of Congress’ cataloging)[88] states that segregating actors by roles seems reasonable when ethnic characters are cast, but there is a double standard in which Asians cannot play roles designated as White, whereas Caucasian actors cross into ones representing every other race, showing that in movies American people is not every color, but Black and White. Also, as there is an East/West dichotomy, Asians are not seen as Americans. With that in mind, to maintain the double standard, “Eurasian characters have become Hollywood’s favorite creations. These mixed-race characters obviously allow white actors and actresses, with minimum makeup, to steal major roles from Asians.” And puts Kung Fu as the “best example” of that, noting Bruce Lee’s involvement.[89]

Professor Hye Seung Chung[90] exemplifies Asian representation in American film and television, and the roles Asian actors were allowed to play, with the case of Philip Ahn, who, being the son of a Korean national hero, spent his career playing minor and secondary characters, usually Japanese and Chinese. On page 31, she compares a letter from an admirer of Ahn’s work as Master Kan with playwright Frank Chin’s attack on the series in a 1974 The New York Times article, when he states that apes' roles in movies had evolved better than Chinese images in media. Even if Professor Chung states on page 177 that “Kung Fu was a groundbreaking series produced by Warner Bros. that intermixed the martial arts genre with Wild West iconography, expanding the syntax of the television western to accommodate “foreign” elements at the scenographic and narrative levels,” her analysis decries the way the Kan character is depicted as “emasculated,” stereotyped in various ways, and she mentions that Bruce Lee was not cast in the leading role.[91]

Also, the series itself lacks historical and cultural accuracy in this matter. Through the episodes, the writers made mistakes regarding the order of Chinese names, and about who was the Emperor in China at the series’ time period. When Japanese elements appear, they are unlikely to be known or happen at the said time: in s3e12, the boy Caine watches a Noh performance in a mandarin’s mansion, when Japan was still an isolationist country. In s2e2, among three Japanese characters, there is a woman who has been married to an Englishman for over 15 years, when British subjects had been allowed to reside in Japan only since 1862-1863; also Caine knows well what a ninja is, just ten years after Japan’s opening to international relations. Most importantly, the series’ Shaolin priests teach Taoist and Confucian philosophy, whereas the actual Shaolin monks are Buddhist. However, the inexistence of allusions to Joseon Korea is correct, as immigrants from that kingdom arrived in America after 1884.

Another issue that has come under the scrutiny of academia and the media, which is not exclusive to this series, is the fact that Asian actors of several nationalities and ethnicities appeared in the Kung Fu main or guest cast playing Chinese characters, “interchangeably.” Professor Chung on page 16-17 exemplifies this situation that Asian actors in the American entertainment industry face with the careers of two Kung Fu cast members, Philip Ahn (Korean) and Richard Loo (Hawaii-born Chinese American) who so often played Japanese villains in war movies that international magazine articles about them confused their pictures: “This confusion speaks to the interchangeability of Asian actors, regardless of nationality and ethnicity, which was fostered by an industry insensitive to the diversities and differences within the same racial group.” In an early article about the series, both actors are referred to and they call their characters “Orientals.”[29] Professors Kent. A Ono and Vincent N. Pham call that perceived interchangeability “implicit yellowface.”[92] It is a problem that, together with whitewashing has continued into present times and is noticed internationally. [93][94][95] Regarding this “interchangeability” issue, given the historic period in which Kung Fu is set, Koreans couldn’t have appeared, and Japanese perhaps shouldn’t have, as in the 1870s’ America there were just 55 Japanese immigrants registered. Yet in the episode s2e2 it is established through dialogue, costume, and cultural details that the Japanese are not the same as Chinese, and they are played by actors of Japanese ancestry.

Recapitulation[edit]

In this controversial issue, the production team cites artistic reasons which are accepted neither by academia nor the media, Bruce Lee being the touchstone for everyone.

“‘That guy is me,’ Spielman says. ‘That Caine character is me in a way, just like Siegel and Shuster did Superman. He was always Eurasian; he always didn’t fit in.’” So, according to its creator, it was not a maneuver that would make it fit for a White actor, even if his first choice for the role had been James Coburn. Regarding the casting process, the production team says they did try to cast an Asian actor but none was adequate for the role, including Bruce Lee. John Furia Jr. asserted that “the concept of the series was a man who was not involved, a man who avoided action at almost any cost, a very quiet, seemingly passive man.” Tom Kuhn, besides claiming that Lee’s speech was hard to understand, said: “It did occur to me that this part was rather cerebral, a guy who only fights when he’s absolutely cornered.” Even Fred Weintraub, who had lobbied for Lee since the beginning, noted that they needed an actor “to portray the sense of quiet serenity that Caine possessed, a quality that driven and intense Bruce was not known for.” Still, both Kuhn and Weintraub admitted that “the powers that be” were unwilling to hire an Asian actor per se.[71]

Academic studies about Asian representation in American entertainment claim that the casting of the leading role and even the portrayal of the Chinese characters by Asian actors followed generalized discriminatory patterns. Put in a historical context in which White actors were free to play Asian, Eurasian and other ethnicities’ roles, whereas Asian, Eurasian and mixed-race actors played the stereotypical Asian roles left but never White roles, anti-miscegenation laws had been repealed just in 1967, the Hays Code finally abandoned in 1968, and whitewashing has continued into the 21st century, their authors simply can’t believe that the casting of a White actor for a Eurasian role in 1971 could have had any other cause than inveterate racism, much less when Bruce Lee was involved.[92][96][97]

The media continues to list this show as racist, not for its contents but because future star Bruce Lee wasn’t cast in a role that perhaps wasn’t suited for him, as an actor, in November–December 1971, and because of the rooted belief that the idea for the series was “stolen” from him.[98][99][100]

In consequence, the new show takes the name of the original one while completely separating itself from it,[101][102][103] instead of continuing its story or attempting to build upon its legacy, claiming with good reason that their aim is improving Asian community's representation and visibility.[104][105][106]

Interestingly, in the s1e3 episode “Blood Brother,” Kwai Chang Caine pleads for his compatriots to do that, as a matter of life and death.

(Caine has uncovered a hate crime against an old condisciple. An inquest ensues, which could lead to a possible, but unlikely indictment. Caine urges a Chinese man who has been assaulted by the murderers to present himself at the proceeding.)

"Have you learned nothing?"
"You are new to this country. You must understand. No jury will indict a white man for what has been done to one of our people."
"Yet you must appear... If you stay away, it will be an acceptance of things as they are. If you appear at the inquest your very presence will be a demand for justice. The presence of your son, your wife, and your daughter, will be worth even more."
"You ask me to subject my family to shame? To hurt? For what reason?"
"How can they find safety in a fortress whose walls will burn; whose windows cannot stop a bullet; whose doors will yield to anyone with the strength to force them? How can you hide, when the more you remain unseen, the more they will feel free to seek you out?"

Placed in a turning point of the history of American society and television, being the last show in American television with a leading character in yellowface, obscures what the show did accomplish. In a time when Asian actors were largely ignored, and usually played minor and openly stereotypical roles, ‘’Kung Fu’’ was exceptional for consistently presenting them as not stereotypical characters and for being a steady job source for Asian actors, which was acknowledged by members of the cast[29] and the AAPAA’s president James Hong. The episodes s3e8, s3e10-11, s3e15 and s3e22, set in China, had a mostly Asian American cast. Also, the show was clear in denouncing anti-Chinese racism, including hate crimes (s1e3), and pointed at historical events ignored in popular culture, like the Page Act of 1875 that basically forbade the immigration of East Asian women (s1e8), or the harsh labor conditions of the Chinese immigrants who built the Transcontinental railroad (Pilot, s3e9). Despite its historical inaccuracies, the series’ dialogue was greatly based on Chinese philosophy, which gave viewers an introduction to its spiritual values, and its dramatic appeal made it the recipient of international accolades.

Still, the series’ qualities remain overshadowed by the original imperfection of its lead actor’s casting, as it is bound to happen when an entertainment product, no matter what good intentions it might have had, collides with harsh reality.[29][107][98][citation needed]

Episodes[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

In their pages, Rotten Tomatoes calls the series “influential,”[108] and Metacritic in describing it says “A man of peace, though trained to defend himself, Caine always made an attempt to address situations in a way that was morally acceptable to his beliefs, and to resolve them through [the] least violent means possible. His journey is not only one across the frontier of America but one through the light and dark areas of the soul as well.”[109]

In a May 1973 Black Belt magazine interview with John Furia Jr., the author Jon Shirota speaks about the critical response in these terms: “Even the TV critics, customarily very reserved and cautious with their appraisals, acclaimed the show [the first segment] as one of the year’s best. (...) One critic wrote that the success of Kung-Fu may be attributed to the very thing the producers were afraid of: the public’s not knowing what the series was about. ‘Actually,’ said the critic, ‘it adds a certain amount of unpredictability and suspense to the plot. It is unlike most of the western heroes whose faces are like the book you’ve already read.’ Another critic said that a story like Kung-Fu could never have been made into a movie 10 years ago because no one would have cared about a bunch of coolies. ‘It is only now,’ he quipped, ‘that we are giving true credit to history.”[12]

Accolades[edit]

Year Nominated work Category Award Result Notes Ref.
1972 Frank Westmore, for ABC Movie of the Week (Pilot) Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic) Primetime Emmy Award Won [110]
1973 Kung Fu: Pilot Television Movie Best Television Film Golden Globe Awards Nominated [111]
1973 Jerry Thorpe, episode "An Eye for an Eye". Best Director - Drama Series Primetime Emmy Award Won [112]
1973 Jack Woolf, episode "An Eye for an Eye". Best Cinematography - One Hour Drama Primetime Emmy Award Won [113]
1973 Herman Miller, episode "King of the Mountain" Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama Writers Guild of America Award Won [114]
1973 David Carradine, Best Television Actor - Drama Series Best Actor – Television Series Drama Golden Globe Awards Nominated [115]
1973 David Carradine, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Drama Series - Continuing) Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy Award Nominated [116]
1973 Jerry Thorpe, Outstanding Drama Series - Continuing Outstanding Drama Series Primetime Emmy Award Nominated For Kung Fu [117]
1973 Jerry Thorpe, Outstanding New Series Outstanding New Series Primetime Emmy Award Nominated [118]
1973 Frank Westmore, Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Outstanding Makeup (Non-Prosthetic) Primetime Emmy Award Nominated [119]
1973 David Carradine, Mejor Actor Extranjero Best Foreign Actor Teleprograma magazine, Spain Won Delivered in 1974 [120]
1973 Kung Fu (David Carradine), Personaje más popular Most Popular Character Teleprograma magazine, Spain Nominated Delivered in 1974 [120]
1973 Kung Fu, Mejor Serie Extranjera Best Foreign Series Teleprograma magazine, Spain Nominated Delivered in 1974 [120]
1974 Joseph Dervin, Best Edited Episode for a Television Series Best Edited Drama Series for Commercial Television American Cinema Editors Nominated For Episode "The Chalice" [121]
1974 Melhor Programa de TV Best Television Program Troféu Imprensa, Brasil Nominated Official website.[122] [123]
1975 Lew Ayres, Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy Award Nominated Episode: "The Vanishing Image" [124]
1977 Melhor Série Best Series Troféu Imprensa, Brasil Nominated Official website.[122] [125]

Home media[edit]

Warner Home Video released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 between 2004–2005.

On November 14, 2017, Warner Home Video re-released all three seasons, as well as the complete series set on DVD in Region 1.

The extras include audio commentary by David Carradine on four episodes of the series (s2e1 The Well, s2e14 A Dream Within a Dream, s3e2 Blood of the Dragon - 2, s3e21 Full Circle), Zen & Now: A Dinner With David Carradine And Friends (Guests: Hal Sparks, Sifu Rob Moses, Vivica A. Fox, Kam Yuen, Cynthia Rothrock, Radames Pera, Michael Madsen), two documentaries on the series' development and production (From Grasshopper to Caine: the Making of Kung Fu, The Tao of Caine: Production and Beyond), and David Carradine's Shaolin Diary, a visit to China's Shaolin Monastery and the Great Wall.[126]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date Notes
The Complete First Season 16 March 16, 2004
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
Image cropped by 25% to 16:9 ratio
Episodes presented Edited-for-Syndication
The Complete Second Season 23 January 18, 2005
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
Original fullscreen image
The Complete Third Season 24 August 23, 2005
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
Original fullscreen image
The Complete Series 63 November 6, 2007
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
No change (same as individual releases)

The series is also available online on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes (including Pilot), and on Google TV.

Legacy[edit]

Kung Fu: The Movie[edit]

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 (page 157) 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 Hong Kong, where he made The Big Boss, the film that began his legendary career in martial arts movies.

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 Kwai Chang "Johnny" Caine (Brandon Lee), who is the great-great-grandson of Kwai Chang Caine, and the difficult relationship he has with his father, also named Kwai Chang (David Darlow). In an attempt to connect with his son, Caine Sr. takes him to Silver Creek, a ghost town, the place where their ancestor spent his last years. They talk about how Caine arrived there, became the “wise man of the town,” and how he passed away.

"So I guess he died here, right?"
"That’s the strange thing. One evening in his garden his heart failed him. His wife went to fetch the doctor. When she returned, Kwai Chang was gone."
"Where did he go?"
"No one really knows."

As Johnny has involved himself with an operation of burglary and arms trafficking, the perfectionist father and the rebellious son need to put their differences aside to fight the criminals and save Johnny from prison.

Kung Fu: The Legend Continues[edit]

Two decades after the first series ended, a second, related series titled Kung Fu: The Legend Continues running in syndication followed the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine's grandson, also named Kwai Chang Caine.[127] It again starred Carradine, this time as the grandson of the original Caine, and introduced Chris Potter as his son.[128] Caine's mentor was played by Kim Chan as Lo Si (The Ancient) / Ping Hai. The second series ran for four years, from 1993 to 1997.

Feature film[edit]

In June 2006, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander announced that a feature film (which would serve as a prequel to the original Kung Fu series and take place in China) was 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 was in talks to direct the adaptation of the TV series.[129] On April 11, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Baz Luhrmann was in talks to direct the film, and if the deal was made, Luhrmann was to rewrite the film's script.[130]

2021 reboot[edit]

In September 2017, it was reported that Greg Berlanti and Wendy Mericle were developing a female-led reboot of the series for Fox.[131] In November 2019, it was announced that the reboot had moved to The CW, which is home to the majority of the Arrowverse shows, all of which are produced by Berlanti. The series received a pilot order by the network in January 2020.[132]

The series is written by Christina M. Kim and Martin Gero and sees a quarter-life crisis causing a young Chinese-American woman named Nicky, played by Olivia Liang, to drop out of college and take up residence in an isolated monastery in China. When she returns to find her hometown overrun with crime and corruption, she uses her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice, all while searching for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and now is targeting her.[133]

In January and February 2020, Deadline reported the casting of Liang as Nicky; Tzi Ma and Kheng Hua Tan as Jin Chen and Mei-Li, her restaurateur parents whose secrets threaten to destroy their lives; Jon Prasida as Ryan Chen, a quick-witted medical student and Nicky's younger brother; Shannon Dang as Althea Chen, Nicky’s larger-than-life older sister who is newly engaged and on her way to planning her dream Chinese wedding; and Eddie Liu as Henry Chu, a martial arts instructor and Chinese art history buff who has instant chemistry with Nicky.[134][135][136] In March 2020, Gavin Stenhouse was cast as Evan Hartley, a highly successful Assistant District Attorney who still has a soft spot for his first love, Nicky; and Gwendoline Yeo was cast as Zhilan, a cryptic woman with deep criminal ties and a mysterious connection to the Shaolin monastery where Nicky trained in kung fu.[137]

It was announced on May 12, 2020, that The CW had given the reboot a series order.[138]

References[edit]

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    Chow not only works with the actors, but also helps introduce new scenes to, as well as eliminate some from, the scripts. “We have to make sure the fight scenes are believable,” he says. “We do not want the public to think that kung fu is some kind of a Chinese magic or that the masters are super-human beings. We want the public to learn a little about the ancient art of kung-fu, its history, its philosophy and its applications.”
    (...) Veteran actors Philip Ahn and Richard Loo, who probably have acted in more Hollywood films than any other Oriental actors, are used to portraying bald men. In Kung-Fu, they portray Shaolin priests.
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  53. ^ Eugène Lourié (1985). My Work in Films. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 337–341. ISBN 978-0156623421. I prefer pictures that offer more personal creative involvement. (...) I firmly believe that in designing a set, it is important to convey the strongest impression and suppress useless details. (...) In each scene I tried to find an interesting visual approach. In this I was helped greatly by Jerry’s understanding and the inventiveness of his direction. (...) I tried to achieve ambitious sets, but my guiding principle was to remain strictly within the budget. (...) For me, these Chinese sets always had a dreamy, poetic quality.
  54. ^ Steven Bingen (2014). Warner Bros.: Hollywood's Ultimate Backlot. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 190–192. ISBN 978-1-58979-962-2.
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  63. ^ La Percussion Rentals (2021). "Dharma Bells". LAPR. Retrieved June 5, 2021. According to Emil, they came in sets of 3, 5, and occasionally 7 or 9. He took the dharma bells and laid them out in rows so they could be played more easily; then once he had enough, he mounted them vertically.
  64. ^ "Jim Helms". Discogs. 2021. Retrieved June 5, 2021.
  65. ^ Jon Burlingame (2010). Music and Dialogue from the Warner Bros. TV Series, by Jim Helms (CD booklet). Film Score Monthly Silver Age Classics. pp. 3–6, 8. A composer gets only one chance. They shoot the film for seven days. It’s brought in, chopped up, and fooled around with. They have two or three weeks to make something of it. You see the show once, or sometimes twice if you’re lucky. You record three or four days later and it’s supposed to be right. That’s the only chance you have, because a week later it’s going to be on the air. [Jim Helms, from a contemporary interview.]
  66. ^ "Jon Burlingame. Kung Fu. Liner Notes". Jon Burlingame. 2021. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
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  71. ^ a b c d "The Truth about the Creation of the Kung Fu TV Series". Martial Journal. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved February 20, 2021.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  72. ^ The Pierre Berton Show (Television episode). December 9, 1971. Event occurs at 16:20–17:00, 20:21–21:29.
  73. ^ Goldman, Albert (January 1, 1983). "The Deadliest Man on the Planet: The Life and Death of Bruce Lee". Penthouse Magazine. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  74. ^ a b Richard Bejtlich (May 20, 2019). "The Truth about the Creation of the Kung Fu TV Series". Martial Journal. Retrieved April 9, 2021. In the following edited and augmented excerpt from Bruce Lee: A Life, authoritative Bruce Lee biographer Matthew Polly shares the true story of the creation of the Kung Fu program. The truth is more interesting than the myth, and readers who wish to learn even more about Bruce Lee are encouraged to read Polly’s book, arriving in paperback format in June 2019.
  75. ^ Fred Weintraub (2012). Bruce Lee, Woodstock And Me: From The Man Behind A Half-Century of Music, Movies and Martial Arts. scribd.com. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  76. ^ Fred Weintraub (2012). Bruce Lee, Woodstock And Me: From The Man Behind A Half-Century of Music, Movies and Martial Arts. Brooktree Canyon Press. pp. chapter 1. ISBN 9780984715206.
  77. ^ Fred Weintraub (2012). Bruce Lee, Woodstock And Me: From The Man Behind A Half-Century of Music, Movies and Martial Arts. scribd.com. Retrieved March 31, 2021. I was as enthusiastic as ever to put Bruce into the role of Kwai Chang Caine, but was still meeting with resistance from the powers that be. So I sent Bruce to Tom Kuhn’s office to introduce himself. It was a meet and greet Tom is not likely to ever forget. Most actors show up to auditions with a résumé and an 8 x 10 glossy headshot. Bruce showed up with one extra item: his nunchucks. For the uninitiated, nunchucks are two wooden sticks, not unlike police billy clubs that are attached end to end by a short length of chain or rope. In the cramped confines of Tom’s office, Bruce, a master of the weapon, gave Tom an in-your-face demonstration, flailing the lethal sticks with mind-boggling speed, grace, and dexterity. Bruce didn’t need to punch Tom in the gut to take his breath away.
    "What the fuck was that!" Tom asked me after the interview. "That was Bruce Lee," I said, "What do you think about him for Kung Fu?"
    "He’s amazing," Tom gushed. "I’ve never seen anything like that. But getting him the lead is still going to be a long shot. He might be too authentic."
    To my continued frustration, Tom was right. The powers that be had a hundred different reasons why Bruce was wrong for the part: he was an unknown, he was short, his English wasn’t good enough, he lacked the necessary serenity to play the role… But at the end of the day, there was really only one reason. In the history of Hollywood there had never been an Asian hero—unless you count Charlie Chan. But even that iconic Chinese-American character was never popular in films until he was played by Warner Oland, who was not only Caucasian, he was Swedish, for chrissake. From Oland on, only white guys played Charlie. And that dubious tradition was carried on into Kung Fu when David Carradine landed the role of Kwai Chang Caine. Bruce was crushed. Even his lightning reflexes were powerless to keep the opportunity of a lifetime from slipping through his fingers.
  78. ^ a b Polly, Matthew (2018). Bruce Lee: A Life. Simon & Schuster. pp. 277–280, 321–327, 573–574. ISBN 978-1501187629.
  79. ^ Robert B. Ito (May 2, 2014). ""A Certain Slant": A Brief History of Hollywood Yellowface". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved April 7, 2021. “Giving the audience what they want” was a common justification for this one-sided deal, which was a nice way of saying that audience members didn’t want to have to look at Oriental actors for any extended period of time (this was the primary reason given for the now infamous casting of David Carradine in the 1970s television show Kung Fu, over original choice Bruce Lee).
  80. ^ Clint C. Wilson; Felix Gutierrez; Lena M. Chao (2012). Racism, Sexism, and the Media: Multicultural Issues Into the New Communications Age. SAGE Publications. p. 105. ISBN 978-1452217512. Bruce Lee influenced another ABC series, Kung Fu, (which ran from 1972 to 1975), which was a Western starring David Carradine and with supporting Asian actors including Keye Luke and Philip Ahn. Lee was a consultant to those who developed the Kung Fu show and labored under the impression that he was to be their choice for the lead role. When Carradine was selected for the part, Lee confided to friends that he had been the victim of racism. Kung Fu's producers told Lee that they didn't believe a Chinese actor could be seen as a hero in the eyes of the American television audience. The show revived the "mysterious" Asian stereotype. With racism standing as a barrier to Bruce Lee's achieving stardom in the United States, he went to Hong Kong and achieved superstardom throughout Asia as a film star.
  81. ^ Hannelore Hanja Dirnbacher (2009). SCHWERT & FAUST Kultureller Austausch OST-WEST / WEST-OST Am Beispiel physischer Techniken asiatischer Kampf-Kunst-Filme. Universität Wien. p. 70. This “Eastern” - “Western” genre mix offers parallels to the “Spaghetti Western”. It shows a half-Chinese Buddhist monk walking through the “Wild West“ grazes [streift/streit?/quarrel?]. "Kung Fu" was produced by Warner Brothers and Bruce Lee, who contributed ideas, was not cast for the lead role, which prompted them [him?] to turn to film productions in Hong Kong - the rest is film history. (Google translated from German) / Dieser „Eastern“ – „Western“ – Genre-Mix bietet Parallelen zum „Italo-Western“. Er zeigt einen halbchinesischen buddhistischen Mönch der durch den „Wilden Westen“ streift. „Kung Fu“ war von Warner-Brothers produziert worden und Bruce Lee der Ideen dazu beigesteuert hatte wurde nicht für die Hauptrolle besetzt, was diesen veranlasste, sich an Filmproduktionen in Hong Kong zu wenden – der Rest ist Filmgeschichte
  82. ^ Guillermo Courau. "Kung Fu: una traición, un protagonista agotado y una serie que dejó su marca en la cultura popular". La Nación. La Nación (Argentina). Retrieved April 7, 2021. As already stated, the genesis of Kung Fu has a B-side, much less glamorous than the official one, and at the center of that scene is Bruce Lee. The version that the martial artist repeated until the day of his death was that Warner Bros., with the complicity of Ed Spielman, had stolen the idea of the show from him. That in fact, in the meeting he had held with the studios, he had told them many details that they later appropriated. Not trusting the American public to accept a Chinese-born hero, they decided to put him aside and kept it all. (Translated from Spanish)
  83. ^ Alexandre Coste (August 8, 2014). "Kung-Fu, l'ambassadeur du bouddhisme chez les occidentaux". Marianne TV (France). Retrieved April 9, 2021. Kung-Fu is first and foremost an idea of Bruce Lee, that lesser-known Bruce Lee. (...) Even though Bruce Lee wrote the series synopsis and offered the concept to ABC, the producers preferred a white actor over him, arguing that a Chinese headlining an American show was not a good sell. (Translated from French)
  84. ^ Louis Paul (2008). Tales from the Cult Film Trenches. Interviews with 36 Actors from Horror, Science Fiction and Exploitation Cinema. McFarland. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-7864-2994-3. ... he even screen-tested for the television pilot of Kung Fu in the role of Kwai Chang Caine, wearing prosthetic eyepieces to make him appear Chinese. It is rumored that the ABC television network was interested in the actor for the leading role, but ultimately he was deemed too muscular and possibly menacing for the part; the role went to David Carradine instead.
  85. ^ Zennie Abraham (July 26, 2020). "Enter The Dragon's John Saxon, Jim Kelly Talk ABC TV Racism Against Bruce Lee In "Kung Fu"". Oakland News Now. Retrieved June 19, 2021. min.0:25. 'What I knew, what had happened was, he [Bruce Lee] was supposed to do this series, the television series Kung Fu…'
    'Uh-uh, right here-'
    'aft, and it was written for him, but what happened was that ABC in their grand wisdom, said “what do we know, what are we doing? I mean, the American public doesn’t want to watch a Chinese actor every week…” so they changed… Now, here, here’s strange stuff. So you know who they came to second? Me.'
    'Are you kidding me!'
    'No, I’m not.'
    'Wow!'
    'I’m not. This is not spread around too often.'
    'No, I’m honored to know this!' [laughter]
    'The reason, the reason… '
    '’Cause I’ve read about it!'
    'I couldn’t do it, because I was under contract at Universal to do a medical series called The Bold Ones.'
    'Right, I remember that.'
    'So, my agent said, “Can you get him out of this? Because they want, uh, him to go to this show in, you know, about the, this and that [gestures martial arts] and all that kind of stuff,” so they said, “No way! you know, he’s with us,” and so on so far…' [Interview transcription]
  86. ^ Jane Iwamura (2011). Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture. Oxford Scholarship. pp. Chapter The Monk Goes Hollywood. ISBN 9780199738601. This chapter looks at the figure of Kwai Chang Caine and his Shaolin monk teachers in the popular 1970s TV series, Kung Fu. At this moment, a fictional Monk takes his place alongside representations of historical figures, making the hyperreal effect discussed in previous chapters complete. Kung Fu also marks the rise of a new generation into cultural power, whose attempts to selectively wed their parents’ ideals with their own counter-cultural values are clearly seen in America’s first “Eastern Western.” The racial politics of the show are specifically discussed, from the casting of David Carradine as the “half-Chinese, half-American” fugitive priest to the storylines that often feature minority characters. The way in which racial minorities are scripted into each episode reveals a potent commentary on contemporary race relations in the early 1970s. Ultimately, the show individualizes the politics of race and ideally configures a spiritual approach to social oppression. (Abstract)
  87. ^ National Congress of American Indians (2017). "Misappropriation of Native Identity in Film & Television". NCAI. Retrieved April 23, 2021. NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) calls on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to lead Hollywood’s diversity efforts to promote Native Actors, Native stunt men and women, Native people in front and behind the camera and Native stories in film. NCAI calls on the Casting Society of America to cast Native Actors to represent Native people in film and television. NCAI calls on the Writers Guild of America to represent and promote Native Americans in screenwriting. NCAI urges producers, studios and directors to highlight stories that accurately and positively portray Native people and Tribal communities as they are the stories of America.
  88. ^ "Asian and Asian American Studies Department". Cal State LA (California State University, Los Angeles) (published 2021). October 22, 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  89. ^ Jun Xing (1998). Asian America Through the Lens: History, Representations, and Identity. Rowman Altamira. pp. 74–75. ISBN 0-7619-9176-X. Bruce Lee was rejected by Warner Bros. for the leading role despite his awesome martial arts expertise and Chinese ethnicity. Hollywood deemed it legitimate for the Eurasian role to go to white actor David Carradine. “This racial rejection by Hollywood,” as Tiana (Thi Thanh Nga) recalls in a recent article, “Bruce told me, made him furious. It impelled him to leave the United States and return to Hong Kong, where, in two dizzying years, he became an international legend.” The week before he died, Tiana remembers, Lee vowed to “outgross Steve McQueen and James Coburn,” and so he did. Both McQueen and Coburn were Lee’s students, and yet “each one had told him that he [Lee] could never reach their star status because he was Chinese.”
  90. ^ "Hye Seung Chung Associate Professor". Colorado State University College of Liberal Arts. 2021. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  91. ^ Hye Seung Chung (2006). Hollywood Asian. Philip Ahn and the Politics of Cross-Ethnic Performance. Temple University Press. pp. 176–183. ISBN 1-59213-515-3. One can also identify Kung Fu as a nostalgic and parodic recasting of Hollywood’s sinophilic period, which roughly coincides with the duration of the popular B movie series, Charlie Chan (1931–1949). It is significant that the Charlie Chan cycle ended the same year in which Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party came into power and that Kung Fu was first broadcast the year Richard Nixon visited China, thawing decades of Cold War antagonism between the two world powers. This obvious historical bridge is buttressed additionally by the reunion of five veteran alumni of the Charlie Chan series—Philip Ahn, James Hong, Benson Fong, Keye Luke, and Victor Sen Yung—in Kung Fu. Pioneering Asian American actors who began their career playing supporting roles of sons and suspects to Warner Oland’s and Sidney Toler’s yellowfaced Charlie Chans, these aging alumni gathered again to mentor the hybridized western hero, Kwai Chang Caine. This coveted Chinese starring role was snatched by white actor David Carradine from legendary kung fu artist-turned-star Bruce Lee, attesting to the ironic circle of racist casting politics that encompassed 1930s film and 1970s television.
  92. ^ a b Kent A. Ono; Vincent N. Pham (2009). Asian Americans and the Media. Polity Press. pp. 51, 53. ISBN 978-1-5095-4361-8. Even though Bruce Lee was responsible for the concept of the show, he did not land the lead. Instead, David Carradine played the part in yellowface. As Greco Larson explains it: ‘Actors of Asian descent are excluded from lead roles on television, too. Despite working with creators of Kung Fu (1972-1975), Bruce Lee did not get the role of Kwai Chang Caine in the television show because he looked “too Asian.” Instead, the role went to white actor David Carradine, and the character was said to be half American and half Chinese. This casting decision influenced the story lines, making it easier for the writers to portray him as heroic. (2006, 68)
    (...) Implicit yellowface works in three primary ways (...) Second, it assumes the similarity of Asians and Asian Americans across the board. Thus, Asians and Asian Americans are understood in the US media to be interchangeable, having no unique qualities worth mentioning, and so they often find themselves having no choice but to play roles of Asian ethnic groups other than ones most aligned with their own ethnic and cultural experiences. According to the same logic, mixed-race Asians and Asian Americans play monoracial Asian and Asian American roles.
  93. ^ "The Case against Diane Nguyen". Broad Recognition. A feminist publication at Yale College. September 14, 2018. Retrieved May 6, 2021. Hawaii 5-0’s replacement of Kim and Park’s characters with Japanese American actor Ian Anthony Dale is oddly reminiscent of breakout Netflix rom-com To All The Boys I Loved Before, which, while praised for its Asian representation, stars a Vietnamese actress playing Korean teenager Lara-Jean. This pan-Asian model of Hollywood casting, fueled by the age-old assertion that all Asians look the same, begs the question: if Asian American representation in media isn’t accurately portraying the people it purports to be, what purpose is it actually serving? What does this interchangeability of Asian actors say about the kind of visibility Hollywood grants us with the expectation that we will mindlessly accept it for the sake of visibility at all?
  94. ^ "Isn't it crazy all Asians weren't represented in 'Crazy Rich Asians'?". The Toronto Observer. November 20, 2018. Retrieved May 6, 2021. As a Filipino-Canadian, I noticed there was no one who represented my ethnicity. That fact alone has deterred me from seeing the movie.
    There are Filipino actors, but they don’t portray Filipino characters. Nico Santos, a Filipino-American, plays Oliver T’sien, alongside Filipino actress Kris Aquino as the Malay princess, Intan. The film not only lacked a Filipino presence, but also an Indian, Tamil, Thai or Indonesian one – despite being set in Singapore.
    What does this mean for Asian actors? Stylecaster.com writer Annie Lim points out the interchangeability of Asian actors. [Links to another article about the subject]
  95. ^ "Shannon Lee Discusses Her Father Bruce Lee's Legacy And Impact On Asian Representation In Hollywood". Hong Kong Tatler. August 5, 2020. Retrieved May 6, 2020. Even in the recent example of 2019’s Oscar-winning Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Lee was disappointed by Quentin Tarantino’s stereotyped portrayal of her father as an arrogant blowhard – compounded by the fact he was portrayed by Korean-American actor Mike Moh instead of a Chinese star. It was yet another reminder of a lingering cultural blindspot, in which Asians are interchangeable and Bruce Lee’s martial arts school of thought is presented as superfluous, smug and, in this case, no match against Brad Pitt’s all-American brawn.
  96. ^ Bryant Murakami (2018). "The Martial Arts and American Popular Media. A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor in Philosophy in American Studies" (PDF). University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. p. 110. Retrieved April 30, 2021. It is widely believed that Bruce Lee was the progenitor of the initial concept for Kung Fu, but was ultimately cast aside for Carradine, demonstrating Hollywood’s ingrained racism. According to his wife, Lee was rejected for the main role because he was “too small, too Chinese, that he wasn’t a big enough name to sustain a weekly series, and that he was too inexperienced.”
  97. ^ David J. Leonard, Stephanie Troutman Robbins, Editors (2021). Race in American Television: Voices and Visions that Shaped a Nation [2 volumes]. Greenwood, ABC-CLIO. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4408-4305-1. Yellow Face continued to occur in television after ‘’The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu.’’ Shim writes, ‘The TV program ‘’Kung Fu’’ (1972-75) could have produced the first Asian heroic character played by an Asian actor. Action star Bruce Lee originally was to have starred in ‘’Kung Fu’’ but was later denied the role because it was assumed that audiences were not ready to watch an Asian physically humiliating whites’ (1998, 401). Scholars have written that television has historically been where anti-Asian American sentiments have been filtered through an imagination of whiteness. As scholars note, Yellow Face and television have long denied Asian Americans’ full humanityCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  98. ^ a b Complex (June 3, 2013). "The 50 Most Racist TV Shows of All Time". Complex. Retrieved April 30, 2021. There's nothing really racist about the story of a half-Chinese, half-American Shaolin monk roaming the countryside in search of his half-brother. OK, there's the fact that the very Caucasian-looking David Carradine is presented as a paragon of martial arts. There's that, plus his character's penchant for spouting weird fortune-cookie-style aphorisms like "Become who you are." All that, and, lest we forget: The whole idea for the show was straight jacked from Bruce Lee. So, what were we saying? Yeah. RACIST.
  99. ^ Kat Chow (February 5, 2015). "A Brief, Weird History Of Squashed Asian-American TV Shows". NPR. Retrieved April 30, 2021. (And we can't talk about ‘’Kung Fu’’ without addressing its controversy. After Bruce Lee's death in 1973, his wife, Linda, said that he had come up with the concept of the show and that Warner Bros. had stolen it from him. The network denied this. In an earlier interview with Pierre Berton — possibly Lee's only one — the star mentioned a Western-style show called ‘’The Warrior’’ that incorporated kung fu. He said he was struggling to develop the show with Paramount and Warner Bros.)
  100. ^ Benny Luo (June 14, 2019). "Bruce Lee Once Had a Dream That Hollywood Destroyed, Now His Daughter is Bringing it Back to Life". NextShark. Retrieved April 30, 2021. By 1971, Lee, then 30, had become an international superstar following his success with ‘’The Big Boss’’, ‘’Fist of Fury’’, and ‘’Way of the Dragon’’. Although these were all Hong Kong movies, it pushed boundaries for Asian Americans in cinema and challenged stereotypes of how Asian men are typically portrayed in the mainstream.
    Around this time, Lee wrote a few treatments for films he wanted to produce. Among them was a pitch for a TV series call ‘’The Warrior’’, which follows a martial artist in the Old West starring himself as the lead. Surely, after all his success in Hong Kong and the subsequent legion of global fans to follow, Hollywood was ready for its first Asian TV lead.
    Unfortunately, it was rejected. Even with Bruce Lee’s star power, the executives believed viewers were still not ready for an Asian lead on the big screen. Lee was forced to table the project.
    In the year that followed, Hollywood released ‘’Kung Fu’’ starring white actor David Carradine, who plays a half-Chinese monk fighting bad guys in the Old West. The show is identical to the show Lee pitched just a year before, so some couldn’t help but speculate that Lee’s idea was stolen and his character whitewashed.
    [Note: The films were released in the USA in April 1973, June 1973, and August 1974, respectively.]
  101. ^ Joel Keller (April 7, 2021). "Stream It Or Skip It: 'Kung Fu' On The CW, Where A Female Shaolin Comes Back To San Francisco To Fight Evil". Decider. Retrieved May 1, 2021. Do you remember the original Kung Fu? We do. Starring David Carradine, it aired on ABC from 1972-75 and for many years after that in syndication. It was a very calm, zen show, despite the fact that Carradine’s character, Kwai Chang Caine, kicked major butt, he was also known for the phrase “Patience, grasshopper.” This new version of Kung Fu isn’t anything like that. But does that matter?
  102. ^ Michael T. Stack (April 14, 2021). "Kung Fu Season 1 Episode 2 Review: Silence". TVFanatic. Retrieved May 1, 2021. A superb follow-up to a strong premiere, Kung Fu gets Nicky to evolve in more ways than one.
    She got her physical and mental state tested multiple times throughout the hour, and the results were lovely.
    Nicky did a lot of training this time around, both mental and physical. I think this shows how she is trying to improve herself, especially her mental state.
    Meditation was a big theme. Nicky meditated to deal with her grief, her new issues with her mom, and the fight she had with Althea.
  103. ^ Max Gao (April 22, 2021). "Kung Fu Recap: Patience Is a Virtue". Vulture (published April 21, 2021). Retrieved May 1, 2021. In another jam-packed hour of action and adventure, the members of the Shen family are all given their own moment in the spotlight, the mysterious identity of Zhilan is unearthed by an unwitting professor turned prisoner, and the recovery of a second magical weapon kicks a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse between the show’s two nemeses into high gear.
  104. ^ Danielle Turchiano (March 17, 2021). "'Kung Fu' Team on Using Media Representation to Combat Anti-Asian Racism". Variety. Retrieved May 1, 2021. “So much about representation and inclusion is not so much that we as Asians need to see ourselves represented on the screens, but we need to be invited into people’s homes who don’t see us in everyday lives, just to humanize us, normalize seeing us, remind them that we are just like they are and have a place in this world. And hopefully having our show in their homes will expand that worldview for them,” said actor Olivia Liang during a virtual panel for the drama on Wednesday.
  105. ^ Max Gao (April 13, 2021). "The SF-set reboot of 'Kung Fu' on The CW flips the classic martial arts show's gender roles". SFGate. Retrieved May 1, 2021. (...) For Christina M. Kim, a television writer and producer whose credits include “Lost” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” the opportunity to reboot the iconic series was a responsibility that she did not take lightly. After selling her pitch to The CW in the fall of 2019, Kim began working on the pilot and immediately wanted the new iteration to stand on its own.
    (...) The biggest difference between the two Kung Fu shows, Kim explained, is the emphasis on the Asian American experience. “I want this to be a multigenerational show. It’s on The CW, but it’s not just a show about the kids. We really get to know the parents. We have a gay character and deal with how the parents deal with him coming out. All these different issues through the lens of this family.”
    (...) “After we had shut down, I spent hours and hours watching the same footage over and over, finally getting this little three- or four-minute sizzle reel just the way I wanted it. My eight-year-old son turned to me once and he said, ‘Mama, they’re Korean.’ I was like, ‘They’re not Korean, but I know what you’re saying,’” she recalled. “The fact that he noticed that it’s very rare to see a fully Asian show anywhere – that was such a special moment for me because I realized this could really make a difference. Kids will see this. Hopefully, this opens the door for many more shows like this. I hope there are 20 shows like this with an all-Asian cast.”
  106. ^ Brandon Yu (April 22, 2021). "'Kung Fu' reboot arrives at right time to correct wrongs of '70s series". Datebook San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 1, 2021. The political realities have made the cast and crew reflect on the show with new gravity. But they also acknowledge that a breakthrough in representation on television could not begin to address or solve the complicated nexus of conditions that has put the most vulnerable Asian Americans, such as the spa workers that were killed in a mass shooting in Atlanta last month, in danger.
    “Certainly I’m not going to say our show is the solution to anti-Asian racism,” Kim says. “But I do think that we can be part of the solution just by the nature of having a predominantly Asian American cast on network television every week, going into people’s homes. We are visible, and being visible is a huge part of the solution.”
  107. ^ Paul Bowman (2021). The Invention of Martial Arts: Popular Culture between Asia and America. Oxford University Press. p. 140. ISBN 9780197540336. Of course, there is more than one way to regard all of this. The obvious ‘PC’ way is to denounce the appearance of Asian martial arts in the hands and feet of white Western ‘experts’ as cultural appropriation. In this view, David Carradine’s starring role as an orientalized ‘yellowface’ character in the 1970s TV series Kung Fu is the pinnacle of Western film and TV orientalist racism. The Avenger’s unspoken or silent orientalism is a different version of the same, as here Asia features as what film theorists used to call an ‘absent presence’ – not mentioned, not literally present, but very much exerting an influence.
    On the other hand, as Sylvia Huey Chong as argued (Chong 2012), even though the white David Carradine ‘yellows up’ to play a half-Chinese character in Kung Fu, this TV show still nonetheless offered one of the most sensitive treatments and representations of the plight of Chinese immigrants in the United States in the face of anti-Chinese racism. As such, the show could be represented as culturally/politically progressive in consequence despite the racism of its star casting.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Robert. The Kung Fu Book: The Exclusive, Unauthorized, Uncensored Story of America's Favorite Martial Arts Show. Pioneer Books, Inc., 1994. ISBN 1-55698-328-X.
  • Carradine, David. Spirit of Shaolin: A Kung Fu Philosophy. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, 1991. ISBN 0-8048-1751-0.
  • Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Foreword by David Carradine. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1826-6.
  • Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom: Sage Advice from the Original TV Series. Foreword by Ed Spielman. Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1995. ISBN 0-8048-3044-4.

External links[edit]