Time for another TV party, friends. Only tonight, we won't be having popcorn and soda. No, we're going to brew up some green tea and contemplate the deep meaning behind Kung Fu.
Kung Fu was eagerly watched in my household. When the show premiered in 1972, the martial arts craze was in full swing. Both my father and brother were studying kenpo karate (and I was lucky enough to be taught some moves by them - the teacher didn't take girls!) and more shows and movies were appearing featuring some form of martial arts. Bruce Lee hadn't quite hit it big in the states yet - Enter the Dragon, the film that would make him a household name, didn't come out til 1973. He was mostly known here for his role as Kato on The Green Hornet TV show. But make no mistake, the martial arts and the esoteric philosophies that accompanied them were gaining ground on U.S. soil.
Television usually takes these trends and cranks out a lot of junk. But with Kung Fu, they had managed to create a show that was capable of balancing action and thoughtfulness - much like the main character, wandering Shao Lin monk Kwai Chang Caine.
Caine was a Shao Lin priest, taught to be peaceful, but also taught the fierce skills of kung fu. Born of an American father and Chinese mother, he was always a man apart, whether it was in China or the American West. After angrily killing the Emperor's nephew because his men had slain Caine's beloved teacher, Master Po, Caine fled to the U.S. to seek out his half-brother. Set in the Old West, Kung Fu was an odd mix of conventional Western and martial arts genres. Caine wanted nothing but peace and solitude, and yet, every week, he became involved in some affair that required the use of his deadly talents.
The late David Carradine seemed to be the perfect actor for the role. His Caine was possessed of a calm stillness that contrasted nicely with the violent men he encountered. There has been much speculation that the whole idea for the show was stolen from Bruce Lee, and there does seem to be plenty of evidence to support that assertion. But it's hard for me to imagine anyone but Carradine in that role. In many ways, his 'half-breed' (the unenlightened term used in those days) Caine reminded me a great deal of Star Trek'sMr. Spock, who was also a man apart, not able to find a place in either of the worlds he straddled. I think both of these characters had a strong appeal to teenagers and young adults for these very reasons.
Of course, the late 60s and early 70s was also a time in which many people were exploring eastern religions and culture, and so this also made Kung Fu attractive to viewers. Many of my favorite sequences in the show were the flashbacks which took place during Caine's youth in the temple. Usually these involved his teacher, the blind Master Po, played charmingly by Keye Luke. Master Po would give the young Caine, or Grasshopper as he affectionately called him, some lesson in life. These lessons always informed Caine's decisions in the course of an episode. This was back in the day when some shows were not afraid to moralize.
For comics fans, it's worth noting that writer Steve Englehart has stated that Kung Fu was the major influence on the creation of Marvel's Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. He and co-creator Jim Starlin were fans of the show.
Like most shows that are now decades old, Kung Fu can seem a bit hokey. But I can honestly say, I have seasons 1 and 2 on DVD, and they are packed full of great story-telling, wonderful old character actors, and some pretty cool action sequences (slow-mo, anyone?). It's been a lot of fun to revisit them.
Of course, anyone who watched the show regularly will recall the excellent title sequence, which includes the famous scene with Master Kan intoning, "As quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand." Take a look below.
Karen has joined the ranks of podcasters along with her friends Larry and Bob on the Planet 8 podcast. Click on the image to hear them explore all things geek!
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Karen and Doug
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On Sunday, 4/23/17, Martinex1, Doug, and Redartz gathered for a day of fun at C2E2 in Chicago. It was great to finally meet in person after years of online cameraderie.
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons, also both married.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
Believe it or not, the Bronze Age Babies have never spoken to each other...
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Dig Karen's Work Here? Then You Should Check Her Out in Back Issue!
BI #44 is available for digital download and in print. I've read Karen's article on reader reaction to Gerry Conway's ASM #121-122, and it's excellent. This entire magazine was fun! -- Doug
Back Issue #45
As if Karen's work on Spidey in the Bronze Age wasn't awesome enough, she's at it again with a look at the romance of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Back Issue's "Odd Couples" issue -- from TwoMorrows!
Karen's talking the Mighty Thor in the Bronze Age!
Click the cover to order a print or digital copy of Back Issue! #53