Kung Fu: One of The Great T.V. Series of All Time
Kung Fu starring the late David Carradine
Given the recent and unusual circumstances surrounding David Carradine’s death, I thought it only appropriate to let some time pass between his untimely demise and reviewing his trademark character Kwai Chang Kaine in one of the greatest T.V. series ever made: Kung Fu.
Kung Fu lore has it that Bruce Lee originally conceived of the idea for the show and had wanted it to feature Lee as the star. Carradine, however, pulls it off and would be known for the rest of his life as Kaine. Kaine, an orphan who was raised by Shaolin monks, was forced to flee China after killing the emperor’s nephew in retaliation for the murder of his kung fu master Po (played by Keye Luke). Constantly on the run from bounty hunters and assassins from China, Kaine wanders the American West in search of his half-brother Danny. His conscience forces him to fight injustice wherever he encounters it, fueled by flashbacks of training during which his master famously referred to him as “Grasshopper.” Also dispensing wisdom is the head monk Master Kahn (played by Phillip Ahn). This show has a very mystical quality and when combined with the eerie music of Jim Helms, that mystic quality is even more fully fleshed-out.
It’s detestable that anyone who hasn’t seen the show often lumps it in with the group of old, campy television shows like “The A-Team” or “Charlie’s Angels” or others similar shows of that ilk. To those Philistines I would like to say that any given, hour-long episode of “Kung Fu” probably contained only about 45 to 60 seconds of actual action–if not less even less. The fact is, David Carradine was as good a leading man and true actor as any TV drama has ever featured.
Caine was a true iconoclast (in the best sense of the word) within the world of mainstream network television–a complete reversal of nearly every American screen hero who came before. He was not just peaceful–but passive and serene. As Caine described it–“Kung Fu” was an “anti-revenge television show”–an astonishing premise for a show given the norm of the day.
It certainly could be argued that T.V. was just as much of a wasteland in the ’70s as it is today, but I long for the day when we will be able to view something as good as this again on broadcast television.
As Martin Scorsese (who gave Carradine’s eulogy) said, and with whom I completely agree, “We’re going to miss you Kawai Chang Kaine.”