1 9 7 2- 1 9 7 5 (USA)
63 x 60 minute episodes
Premiering in February 1972 with a two-hour pilot originally titled Kung Fu: The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon, the world was introduced to “Grasshopper” – the nickname for the young Kwai Chang Caine, given to him by Master Po, the blind Shaolin priest.
In flashbacks, Master Po playfully teaches the young, orphaned Caine (offspring of a Chinese woman and an American sea captain) of the ebb and flow of life and the interconnectedness of all things.
Caine also had another, stern mentor called Master Kan, the head priest at the Shaolin temple.
They tutored him in a mystic, philosophical way of harmony and the “oneness of all things,” and a strict code of non-violence whenever possible.
They also taught him the martial art of Kung Fu. By challenging him to “Snatch the pebble” time and time again, Kan instructs Caine in the self-awareness and concentration needed to achieve any goal in life. “When you snatch the pebble from my hand,” Kan would say, “then it will be time for you to leave.”
That time comes when Caine kills a member of the Chinese royal family in self-defence and is forced to travel to the 1870s American west with a price on his head.
Once in the US, Caine begins to search for his lost half-brother Danny, who is wandering the Western countryside.
And so his quest to find Danny and, hence, himself began. He travelled through the Wild West, following up clues to his brother’s whereabouts, and familiarising himself with his new homeland.
He also discovered an intolerant air of anti-Asian racism. In combating that racism, Caine’s martial arts training came into play. When confronted with a thug or bigot that threatened him, he would calmly and with no fanfare dispatch the villain with a flexing of his Kung Fu skills.
There were many unusual, things about Caine. Besides being a “Chinaman” in the United States, he spoke very softly and hardly at all, uttering cryptic statements about the nature of being and universal harmony, often flashing back to something he was taught by the Masters (“Remember, the wise man walks always with his head bowed, humble, like the dust.”).
Only when he absolutely had to defend himself, would he use the ancient Chinese martial arts instead of modern-day weapons.
Kung Fu used many gimmicks to lend it a surreal aspect, such as slow-motion photography and including frequent flashbacks to Caine’s days as a youth in China where his teachers, Master Po and Master Kan appeared.
Caine was usually a loner, although in the final season, an American cousin, Margit, began to make frequent appearances.
Of interest is the long list of guest-stars who wandered the show’s credits, including Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster, Barbara Hershey, Robert Urich, Gary Busey, Tina Louise and William Shatner.
The star, David Carradine, was responsible for much of the publicity surrounding the show. A member of a respected theatrical family (his father was legendary actor John Carradine),
David dropped out of Hollywood’s glittery world and lived an unconventional life in a rundown old house in the hills, reflecting the same philosophy of mysticism and “oneness with nature” that his character Caine’s represented.
The lame syndicated update Kung Fu – The Legend Continues, sullied the Kung Fu legacy in the early ’90s.
Kwai Chang Caine
Young Kwai Chang Caine