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Kung Fu

USA 1972
produced by
Jerry Thorpe for Warner Brothers/ABC
directed by Jerry Thorpe
starring David Carradine, Barry Sullivan, Albert Salmi, Wayne Maunder, Benson Fong, Richard Loo, Keye Luke, Philip Ahn, Victor Sen Yung, Robert Ito, James Hong, Radames Pera, Roy Jenson, John Leoning, David Chow, Keith Carradine, Bill McLean, Hidy Ochiai
story by Ed Spielman, screenplay by Ed Spielman, Howard Friedlander, music by Jim Helms

TV-pilot
Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Two stories told parallel to each other: One shows Kwai Chang Caine (played as a boy by Radames Pera, as a teen by Keith Carradine, as a grown-up by David Carradine) growing up in the Shaolin temple, learning all sorts of ... well, of Oriental stuff (the film is actually a bit hazy about that). Eventually, Caine makes it to Shaolin-priesthood, and everything should be great, until Caine's favourite teacher, blind Master Po (Keye Luke) is killed by some Imperial guards which makes Caine lose his cool and kill the emperor's nephew.

Story number two sees Caine, who has fled from China, trying to make it in the USA, working at railroad-construction - but he has a greedy boss, Dillon (Barry Sullivan), who has the tracks lead right through some sandstorm formation that holds numerous pockets of gas that eventually explode and kill many a (Chinese) worker. Almost everybody wants to rebel, but Caine, who would have the skills to lead them, calms them down, as he is at heart a pacifist. Then though Dillon learns Caine is actually a wanted man, and he has him tied up and hopes to soon have him collected and collect a reward. Caine escapes though, and only when Dillon takes one of his friends, old man Han Fei (Benson Fong) hostage does he return into custody. When Dillon has Han Fei shot though, nothing can stop Caine anymore and he takes care of all of Dillon's men before taking him captive. Enter a Shaolin monk turned bounty hunter who tries to defeat him in a fight amd then drag him back to China - but Caine defeats him instead.

 

A movie conbining elements of Eastern philosophy and the Western movie genre could be great entertainment - but no matter how popular this TV-movie (and the series that followed) was, great entertainment it was not: The Eastern philosophy in the film seems to be derived mainly from fortune cookies, with a few vows of non-violence according to Mahatma Gandhi thrown in, vows the character Caine doesn't always stick to, though. On top of that, the martial arts shown here are all pathetic to non-existant, and especially David Carradine is anything but a martial artist.

Speaking of Carradine: There has been much discussion about having a Caucasian actor play an Asian (or at least part-Asian) character, and of course, no matter how you see it, that's pure Hollywood-racism - but that said, Carradine gives a very ok performance, and really seems to have sunk his teeth into Caine. There are plenty of rumours about that the film (and subsequent series) was to have starred later Chinese superstar Bruce Lee, that he actually developed the series himself and the idea was stolen from him ... but there is no actual proof for this, so maybe this is just one of these Hollywood legends that just came into existence because they sounded good and thus also refuse to go away.

In all though, Kung Fu might not be a good Western or Eastern (though to be fair, in the early 1970's, Western audiences were pretty much oblivious of martial arts movies, that only came a little later), it is however groundbreaking concerning the fact that it was the first scripted TV show to deal with Eastern philosophy (however superficially) - which makes the choice of a Caucasian for the lead extra hard to understand, but then again, that's Hollywood for you, right? On top of that, seeing the film today from a nostalgic point of view makes it almost worthwhile - but probably only if you've seen the series as a kid/youngster.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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out now on DVD