70’s TV Shows – Kung Fu

Kung Fu, David Carradine
"Never assume that because a man has no eyes, he cannot see."

In the early to mid-seventies, every kid in the UK was Kung Fu fighting, well sort of. At least we were all practicing our King Fu kicks on one another in the school playground.  I also seem to remember that the Kung Fu TV series that starred David Carradine, in the lead role of Caine, getting a lot of flak because kids were copying his Kung Fu moves.   Kung Fu, the original series, ran from 1972 to 1975 and followed the exploits of a Shaolin monk as he travelled from one adventure to the next, in the American old west. Caine always came in peace and then proceeded to kick the hell out of all of his adversaries, in between having flash backs to his childhood days spent in the tutorage of the Kung Fu ‘Master’. Kung Fu’ regularly topped the ratings for years and it has gone on to become something of a cult classic. Here are ten facts about Kung Fu, the TV series that you may not have known.

1. There are claims that Warner Bros stole the idea for ‘Kung Fu’ from Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, claimed in her memoirs that it was Bruce Lee, who came up with the original idea for a Kung Fu TV series, called based in the old West of America. He pitched the idea to Warner and to Paramount but didn’t get very far with it. A year later, ‘Kung Fu’ appeared on the screens with no involvement at all form Lee, although Bruce Lee was considered for the role of Caine.

2. But, Ed Speilman claims that ‘Kung Fu, was all his idea
Ed Spielman, who is the official creator of the ‘Kung Fu’ TV series, refuted all claims that the idea had been stolen from Bruce Lee. He says that he had come up with the idea himself by drawing on his own personal knowledge of Kung Fu that had learned as a teenager, before Kung Fu was even heard of in the Western World.

Kung Fu, David Carradine3. David Carradine wasn’t a Kung Fu expert
When the show first started David Carradine had no experience of martial arts at all. He was a fit man and he was an accomplished dancer, but he didn’t learn any real Kung Fu until the filming of the last season of the series. He became so good at Kung Fu that by the end of the last season, he was performing virtually all the Kung Fu moves himself.

4. The snatching the pebble scene took a lot of practice
Remember the scene where the young Caine tries to snatch the pebble from the hand of Master Kan and being told “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.”?
Well, apparently, that shot took a long time to get right because Radames Perá, who played the young Kwai Chang Caine, was too quick for Philip Ahn, who played Master Kan, and he kept getting the pebble, when he shouldn’t have.

Kung Fu, David Carradine5. The fight scenes had to be in accordance with TV network rules.
The fight scenes in ‘Kung Fu’ were great and pretty realistic for a TV show. They had to be choreographed carefully, though, to stay within the rules on violence that were laid down by the TV network, ABC. A person couldn’t be hit more than three times, for example, and no kicks below the belt were allowed. A person was also only allowed to bleed from a maximum of two places at once.

6. It was a miracle that it ever got screened in the US
When you think about the character of Caine and how would have appeared the 1970’s US viewers, it is a miracle that it ever got screened at all in the US. It was a Western, where the main character was a Chinese, pacifist vegetarian monk who spouted loads of Buddhist quotations and sayings.  Hardly what the average American would be expecting from a Western!

7. David Carradine’s brother played a young Caine in early episodes of ‘Kung Fu’
In the pilot movies and in the first series of ‘Kung Fu’, the young Kwai Chang Caine was played by David Carradine’s own younger brother, Keith Carradine, who also played the FBI agent Frank Lundy in the TV series Dexter.

Kung Fu, David Carradine8. Cain’s name is a reference to Cain in the bible
In the ‘Kung Fu’ TV series, Kwai Chang Caine killed his own brother, as a result of which, he was banded with the signs if the dragon and tiger and cast out in the wilderness.  The choice of the name, Caine, is believed to have been a reference to Cain of the bible who also killed his own brother and was cast out.

9. The show reused a lot of old sets
‘Kung Fu’ turned out to be quite a cheap TV series to make, because the producers made use of some old sets that were already in existence. They used old disused sets from earlier Warner Brothers Westerns and the Shaolin Temple in the flashback scenes was a revamped version of the castle set of the Camelot movie of 1967.

10. There were some pretty big names that made guest appearances in ‘Kung Fu’.
Some well-known faces made guest appearances in ‘King Fu’, including a ten year old Jodie Foster, William Shatner in an episode where he played an Irish sea captain and Harrison Ford who played a businessman.

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