262. Kung Fu (US TV Movie 1972)

 

Director: Jerry Thorpe (and NOT Jeremy Thorpe the swarthy, greasy Liberal leader and 'player of the pink oboe' of the 1970s)

Starring: David Carradine,

Music:  Jim Helms (and not Jimmy Helms who sang 70s chartbuster 'Gonna Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse')

Cinematography: Frank V.Phillips; Ricahrd L Rawlings

Screenplay: Harold Friedlander, Ed Spielman

 In one line: Shaolin priest escapes to the United States to evade execution in his own country.

Kwai Chang Kane is a Chinese/American orphan. He seeks shelter in a Shaolin temple in  a remote part of China. His persistence and manners pay off and he is selected for holy orders. He is educated by the Shaolin priests including the kindly and wise Masters Po and Kan. After completing training, he meets up with Po at a religious festival. Po is murdered by the Emperor's henchmen and Kane uses his martial arts skills to kill Po's assassin. He is forced to go on the run and flees to America.

Kane works on the railroads and experiences the institutionalised racism inherent in American society. He is also pursued by a mercenary Shaolin who is using his talents in the service of the Emperor and the powers of evil.

A final showdown is arranged......

 

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I'm breaking the rules again (like you give a fuck) by including yet another TV movie, but just like one time Labour 'leftie' Diane Abbott (I'm not even going to bother looking up if there are two T's in her name) sending her kid to public school and thus negating years of telling us about the imperatives of sending your kids to a state school, I'll suit myself when it comes to me.

The initial inspiration for Kung Fu was the slew of martial arts films which became very popular amongst low-lifes in the early 1970s. Although the programme stressed its spiritual values, the title itself was enough to tell you that its hook was violence.

Kung Fu the series followed a loose template established in the sixties by programmes such as Branded and The Fugitive, in which a wronged man drifts from town to town and encounters the good and bad sides of humanity.

Kung Fu also set the template for The Incredible Hulk because we'd see a brief example of the USP (Kane's fighting skills in Kung Fu/David Banner's transformation in The Hulk) in Act One, followed by - hopefully - a full demonstration in the closing scenes, before the resolution of the narrative and Kane's/Banner's continuation of their lonely journeys.

Carradine is an odd actor and a very odd choice for the role of Kane. His 'Chinese-ness' is debatable beyond belief and I'm sure the Chinese actors in American Equity must have been made up at the choice of non-Asiatic actor in the starring role. Having said all that, Carradine is superb and suitably enigmatic as the half American/half Chinese wanderer (perhaps the bottom part of his body is the Chinese and that's why he looks like a white bloke with a bit of make up on).

Carradine (anyone else remember Aston Villa's Frank Carrodus?) like Lou Ayres in All Quiet on the Western Front was deeply moved by his most famous acting role and did his best to live up to the ideals of his fictional alter-ego.

The film follows the young Kane's selection for monastic orders, his life and martial arts training and his flight to America following the murder of his beloved Master Po (the excellent, but somewhat limited in his choice of roles Keye Luke). There's loads of top-notch made-for-TV violence and more iconic images than a whole raft of far more expensive Hollywood 'fare' that made it to the cinemas.

Highlights include the young Kane waiting for entry to the monastery and also waiting for his master to eat before touching his meal; the older Kane walking the rice paper 'carpet' and picking up the burning hot cauldron to burn the tiger an dragon tattoos on his inner arms; and best of all Kane's epigrammatical conversations with the blind Master Po - the source of much copying/homages throughout the seventies from Bic razor adverts to Eddie Large in a saffron robe and half ping pong balls for eyes.

Kung Fu is essentially a TV western series with a great gimmick,  and Kane is a seventies Jesus with a twist.

He's nails.

Kung Fu's addressing of racism and intolerance was quite an eye-opener for some of its seventies British viewers, and for a TV movie it has quite an epic scope.

All in all, effing marvellous.

9/10 aaa222                              

Next time: Murder She Wrote: the Motion Picture.