Kung Fu, the story of the lonely hero who combined martial arts with Buddhist teachings

The series that changed David Carradine’s career, the truncated project that Bruce Lee dreamed up and the list of stars that accompanied Little Grasshopper

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Kung Fu, the story of the lonely hero who combined martial arts with Buddhist teachings

A Buddhist monk named Kwai Chang Caine ( David Carradine ) must flee China when authorities put a price on his head for being responsible for the death of the Emperor’s nephew. Caine had avenged his master and spirit guide Po ( Keye Luke ), who had been killed by the aforementioned Imperial nephew. The viewer meets the character when he is already in the United States, looking for his half-brother. The series takes place in a present of the North American west and in flashbacks with the memories of Caine in the monastery. The first episode tells all this and establishes the general rules that it will have from then on.

Kung Fu is a rare mix of western, martial arts, melodrama, and Buddhist teaching manual that, as is often the case with greatest hits, it surprisingly and effectively combined. It takes a classic television structure that had already been seen in The Fugitive and would also be seen in The Incredible Hulka lone hero who wanders through the seasons, finding a new space to stay and losing it when some event forces him to commit. with the situation, drawing attention to their presence. An always effective formula and also quite melancholic. CaineLike the characters mentioned, he is condemned to be a loner, as he is presented at each beginning and closing of the chapter.

When he accepted the role, David Carradine did not know martial arts. His training had just begun almost with the start of the filming. It is enough to see the first few episodes to realize that he could barely perform a few movements. Then, when his instruction increased, he was able to do more fights on camera. Although he never became a true expert, his dominance grew and became more credible. Although he had a previous career and later had an interesting career, his name was forever associated with this role and martial arts, getting to play a key role in Kill Bill, of Quentin Tarantino.

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David Carradine Did Not Know Martial Arts When The Kung Fu Series Started; With The Passing Of The Episodes He Was Able To Demonstrate What He Had Learned

For years there was a controversy about whether this series had been an idea and a project of Bruce Lee. His widow said at the time that this was so. The debate has raged for decades and Warner studios have declared that rumor to be not true. The truth is that there was a project with Warner and Lee, called The Warrior, which has elements in common with the series, but in no way could it be said that it is Kung Fu.

Bruce Lee was famous for his work on the series The Green Hornet, and in 1971 released his first feature starring in The Big Boss ( The Big Boss ) Hong Kong film that would make him a star. It was his ancestry that made the studio doubt about giving him a leading role, which is why The Warrior did not materialize, and perhaps that is why a Western actor was chosen to be the face of Kung Fu. If Bruce Lee had not died so young, it is very likely that the position would have changed and with his much greater fame, the leading role would not have continued to be denied him. But today no one denies that the idea of ​​Kung Fu had come from producer Ed Spielman.

Regarding the origins of David Carradinethe myth that he was partially oriental also spread. This is completely false; only the rumor served to support the decision. In the series, he does have a western and eastern family. Carradine was lightly made up for the role, without exaggerating the features; the rest was acting. The rest of the eastern cast was; most Chinese, but not all. The strict but fair Master Po (Luke) and the kindest Master Kan ( Philip Ahn ) are the ones who will teach young Caine, whom they call Little Grasshopper, everything that he will later use in his adult life. Two other actors play Caine, a boy, and a teenager: Radames Pera and Keith Carradine, David’s brother.

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David Carradine, In Kung Fu

Many familiar faces are seen throughout the 63 episodes of Kung Fu. Some are a real rarity, like for example José Feliciano, who obviously plays a musician. David Carradine’s brothers and their father, the legendary John Carradine, also appear in the series. Pat Morita, who would later become Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, stopped by here too and took note of the idea of ​​martial arts and Buddhist teachings. Leslie NielsenDon JohnsonWilliam ShatnerCarl Weathers, and Gary Busey are more memorable names. But the two figures who would later become huge stars and it is impressive to see them in small roles are none other than Jodie Foster, a child actress, and Harrison Ford, in one of the few westerns he did in his career.

Another interesting piece of information is Caine’s name, a reference to Cain, the biblical character. The Caine of the series wanders the world after having murdered someone and also wears a mark, although it is the one made in his training as a Shaolin monk.

But the most interesting legacy of this rare series is the way it managed to bring Eastern thoughts into Western culture. Every teaching Caine remembers is associated with this thought. Then Kung Fu will lean towards entertainment, as it should be, but there are many ideas along the way that would not become as popular in the West until a few years later. And the most remembered and repeated phrase among which is the following: “Your footprint should be short as if you were stepping on rice paper. This rice paper is proof, fragile like the dragonfly’s wings. When you can travel its length without leaving a trace, you will have learned”.


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Written by Christina d'souza

Proofreader, editor, journalist. I have been doing my favourite thing for more than six years.

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