Carradine and guest star Sondra Locke, 1974
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||62 + Pilot|
|Executive producer||Jerry Thorpe|
|Running time||50 minutes|
|Production company||Warner Bros. Television|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Television Distribution|
|Original release||October 14, 1972 -|
April 26, 1975
|Followed by||Kung Fu: The Movie|
Kung Fu: The Next Generation
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
Kung Fu (2021 TV series)
Kung Fu is an American action-adventure martial arts Western drama television series starring David Carradine. The series follows the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk who travels through the American Old West, armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts, as he seeks Danny Caine, his half-brother.
Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is the orphaned son of an American man, Thomas Henry Caine (Bill Fletcher), and a Chinese woman, Kwai Lin, in mid-19th-century China. After his maternal grandfather's death he is accepted for training at a Shaolin Monastery, where he grows up to become a Shaolin priest and martial arts expert.
In the pilot episode, Caine's beloved mentor and elder, Master Po, is murdered by the Emperor's nephew; outraged, Caine retaliates by killing the nephew. With a price on his head, Caine flees China to the western United States, where he seeks to find his family roots and, ultimately, his half-brother, Danny Caine.
Although it is his intention to avoid notice, Caine's training and sense of social responsibility repeatedly force him out into the open, to fight for justice or protect the underdog. After each such encounter he must move on, both to avoid capture and prevent harm from coming to those he has helped. Searching for his family, he meets a preacher (played by real-life father John Carradine) and his mute sidekick Sonny Jim (played by real-life brother Robert Carradine), then his grandfather (played by Dean Jagger). Flashbacks are often used to recall specific lessons from Caine's childhood training in the monastery from his teachers, the blind Master Po (Keye Luke) and Master Chen Ming Kan (Philip Ahn). In these flashbacks, Master Po calls his young student "Grasshopper," given from a playful lesson he taught to Caine as a child about being aware of the world around him, including the grasshopper that happened to be at his feet at that moment.
During four episodes of the third and final season ("Barbary House", "Flight to Orion", "The Brothers Caine", and "Full Circle"), Caine finds his brother Danny (Tim McIntire) and his nephew Zeke (John Blyth Barrymore).
David Chow, who was also a guest star in the series, acted as the technical and kung fu advisor, a role later undertaken by Kam Yuen.
In her memoirs, Bruce Lee's widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, asserts that Lee created the concept for the series, which was then stolen by Warner Bros. There is circumstantial evidence for this in a December 8, 1971, television interview that Bruce Lee gave on The Pierre Berton Show. In the interview, Lee stated that he had developed a concept for a television series called The Warrior, 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 Warner Brothers and Paramount.
In the interview, Pierre Berton commented, "There's a pretty good chance that you'll get a TV series in the States called 'The Warrior', in it, where you use what, the Martial Arts in Western setting?"
Lee responded, "That was the original idea, ...both of them [Warner and Paramount], I think, they want me to be in a modernized type of a thing, and they think that the Western type of thing is out. Whereas I want to do the Western. Because, you see, how else can you justify all of the punching and kicking and violence, except in the period of the West?"
Later in the interview, Berton asked Lee about "the problems that you face as a Chinese hero in an American series. Have people come up in the industry and said 'well, we don't know how the audience are going to take a non-American'?"
Lee replied, "Well, such question has been raised, in fact, it is being discussed. That is why The Warrior is probably not going to be on." Lee adds, "They think that business-wise it is a risk. I don't blame them. If the situation were reversed, and an American star were to come to Hong Kong, and I was the man with the money, I would have my own concerns as to whether the acceptance would be there."
Whether or not Kung Fu was based on a concept by Lee, he was undoubtedly considered for the starring role, and David Carradine himself in a 1989 interview mentions that Bruce Lee was passed over for the role. It is alleged that an unnamed ABC executive said "You can't make a star out of a five-foot-six Chinese Actor."
According to biographer Matthew E. Polly, Bruce Lee did not invent the Kung Fu TV series. Ed Spielman created the character of Kwai Chang Caine, and the movie treatment Spielman wrote with Howard Friedlander was the origin for the pilot and subsequent series. Warner Brothers first rejected the movie version, and later produced the television version. Bruce Lee auditioned for the part of Caine, but the studio was reluctant to hire a Chinese actor and had concerns with his accent.
In October 1971, a month before Warner Brothers officially designated David Carradine for the role of Caine, Warner Brothers executive Ted Ashley offered Bruce Lee an exclusive development deal to create his own TV program. Bruce Lee's treatment described a show called Ah Sahm, which he later retitled The Warrior. Bruce did not sign Ashley's deal, preferring to see how The Big Boss performed in theaters. When the movie was a smash success, Bruce Lee abandoned his plans to be a TV star and instead focused on the big screen.
The series aired on ABC from October 1972 to April 1975 for a total of 63 episodes. Kung Fu was preceded by a full-length (90 minutes, with commercial breaks) feature television pilot, an ABC Movie of the Week, which was broadcast on February 22, 1972. The series became one of the most popular television programs of the early 1970s, receiving widespread critical acclaim and commercial success upon its release.
On the week ending May 6, 1973, Kung Fu became the number one show on US television, drawing a regular audience of viewers. This was a precursor to Lee's success with Hong Kong martial arts films such as Enter the Dragon, which was completed around the same time.
Contrary to some misconceptions, Kung Fu was not canceled and could have continued with strong ratings. The series ended when Carradine wished to leave the show after several sustained injuries. This allowed the producers time to write the final season so that all of the remaining story arcs regarding Caine and his brother could be drawn to a satisfying ending.
The series used slow-motion effects for the action sequences, which Warner Brothers had previously utilized in the 1969 Sam Peckinpah film The Wild Bunch and were also subsequently utilized for the action sequences in the science-fiction series The Six Million Dollar Man.
In Kung Fu: The Movie (1986) Caine (played by Carradine) is forced to fight his hitherto unknown son, Chung Wang (played by Brandon Lee). Herbie Pilato in The Kung Fu Book of Caine (page 157) also comments that Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, was involved in sequels related to the series:
The late Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, played Caine's son, Chung Wang. Toward the end of the film, Chung Wang asks Caine if he is his father. The question seems somewhat ironic since--in real life--Brandon's father was a contender for the role of Caine in the series. After Bruce Lee lost the part to Carradine, he went back to Hong Kong, where he made The Big Boss, the film that began his legendary career in martial arts movies.
In Kung Fu: The Next Generation (1987), the story moves to the present day and centers on the story of Johnny Caine (Brandon Lee), who is the great-grandson of Kwai Chang Caine. It explains the original Caine had married and become a town's medicine man. One night he died of heart failure. He appears as a ghost to his grandson and great-grandson, who later destroy a narcotics operation.
Two decades after the first series ended, a second, related series titled Kung Fu: The Legend Continues running in syndication followed the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine's grandson, also named Kwai Chang Caine. It again starred Carradine, this time as the grandson of the original Caine, and introduced Chris Potter as his son. Caine mentor was played by Kim Chan as Lo Si (The Ancient) / Ping Hai. The second series ran for four years, from 1993 to 1997. The first season was released in Germany on DVD in 2009.
In June 2006, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander announced that a feature film (which would serve as a prequel to the original Kung Fu series and take place in China) was in development. In September 2007, it was announced that Max Makowski would direct the movie and that he planned to make the film edgier than the original television series. Actor-director Bill Paxton was in talks to direct the adaptation of the TV series. On April 11, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Baz Luhrmann was in talks to direct the film, and if the deal was made, Luhrmann was to rewrite the film's script.
In September 2017, it was reported that Greg Berlanti and Wendy Mericle were developing a female-led reboot of the series for Fox. In November 2019, it was announced that the reboot had moved to The CW, which is home to the majority of the Arrowverse shows, all of which are produced by Berlanti and written by Christina M. Kim and Martin Gero and sees a quarter-life crisis causing a young Chinese-American woman to drop out of college and go on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. But when she returns to find her hometown overrun with crime and corruption, she uses her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice -- all while searching for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and now is targeting her. The series receives a pilot order by the network. In January and February 2020, Deadline reports the casting of the reboot with Tzi Ma and Kheng Hua Tan as Jin Chen and Mei-Li -- a husband-and-wife restaurateurs whose secrets threaten to destroy their lives just as they deal with the return of their estranged daughter and Jon Prasida as Ryan Chen, a quick-witted medical student who has to deal with the sudden return of his estranged older sister, Nicky, Shannon Dang as Althea Chen, Nicky's larger-than-life older sister who's newly engaged and on her way to planning her dream Chinese wedding and Eddie Liu as Henry Chu, a martial arts instructor and Chinese art history buff who has instant chemistry with Nicky and Olivia Liang as the character Nicky. In March 2020, Gavin Stenhouse and Gwendoline Yeo were cast as Evan Hartley, a highly successful Assistant District Attorney who still has a soft spot for his first love, Nicky, when she returns home and Zhilan, a cryptic woman with deep criminal ties and a mysterious connection to the Shaolin monastery where Nicky trained in Kung Fu. Her quest for power led her to murder Nicky's mentor, proving that she will be a determined and dangerous foe. It was announced on May 12, 2020 that the CW has given Kung Fu a series order.
Warner Home Video released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 between 2004-2005.
On November 14, 2017, Warner Home Video re-released all three seasons, as well as the complete series set on DVD in Region 1.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date||Notes|
|The Complete First Season||16||March 16, 2004
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
|Image cropped by 25% to 16:9 ratio|
Episodes presented Edited-for-Syndication
|The Complete Second Season||23||January 18, 2005
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
|Original fullscreen image|
|The Complete Third Season||24||August 23, 2005
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
|Original fullscreen image|
|The Complete Series||63||November 6, 2007
November 14, 2017 (re-release)
|No change (same as individual releases)|
In the film Office Space, characters Peter Gibbons and Joanna start a relationship when they both admit to being big fans of Kung Fu and suggest watching it together.
In the film Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, Jules tells Vincent that he intends to "walk the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu." Tarantino later cast Carradine as the title character in his films Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2.
In the January 1974 edition of Mad Magazine, the series is parodied as "Kung Fool". The British comedy series The Goodies had an episode called "Kung Fu Kapers" which was mostly a parody of Kung Fu.
In the week ending 6 May 1973, around the time Enter the Dragon was being wrapped up, the Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine was the number one show on US television, attracting a regular audience of 28 million viewers.