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Instead of Valentine’s Day, how about Carradine’s Day? I used to love watching David Carradine in Kung Fu when I was a nipper. Some of The Edge’s younger readers may not have even heard of it, but it used to be a weekly western martial arts drama series back in the early seventies and a programme that was definitely not to be missed for its fight scenes alone, which pretty much always occurred during the final 10 minutes of each episode. The series followed the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine, portrayed by David Carradine as an adult, Keith Carradine (David’s younger brother in reallife) as a teenager, and Radames Pera as the whippersnapper Grasshopper. Caine was a Shaolin Monk who travelled through the American Old West armed only with his spiritual training and his skills in martial arts, trying to find Danny Caine, his half-brother. Blind Master Po was also a member of the regular cast, who christened young Kwai as a green, ground-dwelling, Orthoptera. Caine was the orphaned son of an American man and a Chinese woman. After his maternal grandfather croaked, he was accepted for training at a Shaolin Monastery where he eventually grew up to become a Shaolin Priest and martial arts expert. In the pilot episode, Caine’s beloved mentor, Master Po, is murdered by the Emperor’s nephew. Outraged, Caine retaliates by killing the nephew and with a price on his head flees China to the western United States, where he sought to discover his family roots and, ultimately, his long-lost half-bro’. Although it was his intention to avoid notice, Caine’s training and sense of social responsibility repeatedly forced him out of the shadows in order to fight for injustice and ever protect the underdog. But after each such encounter he moved on, both
to avoid capture and prevent harm from coming to those he had helped. During his search, Caine meets a preacher (played by his real-life father, John Carradine) and his mute sidekick, Sonny Jim (played by his real-life brother, Robert Carradine) and then his grandfather (played by someone other than a real-life family member). Flashbacks were often used to recall specific lessons learnt from Caine’s upbringing at the monastery, while part of King Fu’s special fried rice appeal was undoubtedly his memories of both the mental and spiritual powers he had gained from his rigorous training. Master Po: “Close your eyes. What do you hear?” Young Caine: “I hear the water. I hear the birds.” Po: “Do you hear your own heartbeat?” Caine: “No.” Po: “Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?” Caine: “Old man, how is it that you hear these things?” Po: “Young man, how is it that you do not?” Incidentally, the Shaolin Monastery which appears in Caine’s many flashbacks was originally a set used in the 1967 film Camelot. It was inexpensively converted for the setting in China. The series used slow-motion effects for the action sequences, which Warner Bros. had previously utilised in The Wild Bunch (1969) and also in The Six Million Dollar Man, played by Lee Majors. In her memoirs, Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, asserts that her husband created the concept for the Kung Fu series, which was then stolen by Warner Bros. There is circumstantial evidence for this in a 8th December 1971 television interview that Bruce Lee gave on something called The Pierre Berton Show. In the interview, Lee stated that he had developed a concept for a television
series called The Warrior, which was meant to star himself, about a martial artist in the American Old West (the same concept as Kung Fu which aired the following year), but that he was having trouble pitching it to both Warner Bros. and Paramount. There definitely appears to have been some discussion as to whether or not an Asian actor should play the part of Caine and Bruce Lee was certainly considered for the role, although at that time, The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon had not yet been released. At that particular point, Bruce Lee was best known for his role as Kato on TV’s Green Hornet in the midsixties, a role which Lee privately hated due to his character being so subservient. Whatever the ins and outs of the behind the scenes fracas, your editor adored Kung Fu and I seem to recall getting home from my weekly evening trip to the swimming baths and watching it with a couple of beefburger sandwiches with ketchup.
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