Thursday, June 04, 2009

'Kung Fu' Actor David Carradine Dies

I just heard that David Carradine, the Kung Fu TV program star from the 80s, died in Bangkok.

I remember the martial arts craze of the 70s fueled in large part by the 'Kung Fu' program on TV starring David Carradine. The TV series ran from 1972–1975 (I graduated from high school in 1976). It was a huge hit putting a pacifist idealistic kung fu master in the rough old west. It hit the trends well riding both the enthusiasm for Westerns and the interest in Eastern philosophy and the martial arts. I learned about kung fu and Eastern philosophy from it.

The Plot - In the pilot episode, Caine’s revered master is murdered by the Chinese emperor's nephew, and Caine retaliates by killing the nephew. In order to avoid execution, Caine flees to America.

Although it is his intention to avoid notice, Caine repeatedly comes out into the open to fight for justice. After each such encounter, he is compelled to flee to stay ahead of the emperor's assassins.

Flashbacks - The story relied heavily on flashbacks. An interesting note is that this was partially driven by the FCC's frequent intervention to limit the amount of combat time in an episode. To demonstrate many of the cool moves, the program used a large number of training flashbacks, which were not counted against their limited allotment of time for combat.

The flashbacks recalled specific lessons during Caine's childhood training in the monastery by his teachers, the blind Master Po and Master Kan. The flashbacks were great showing how people's early mental and spiritual training gives them power that can last a lifetime. In theflashbacks, Master Po calls his young student "Grasshopper" in reference to a scene in the pilot episode:

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 that 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?

The Road Taken - In a radio interview with NPR a few years ago, David Carradine said that the fight scenes were meant to be realistic and says that they're more realistic than the ones today. He talks about how kung fu affected his life and says that it's impossible to know about the roads not taken. There were times that people recognized him on the street and challenged him but mostly, he talked his way out of it trying to turn it into an autograph session. A few times, he ran ("faced with a superior force, escape"). He talks about how his father forbid him from taking dance lessons saying: "No son of mine will earn his living with his feet." Carradine comments how useless it is to resist our fate in that he ended up earning his living by kicking.

1 comment:

grasshopper said...

i was surprised to find out how many more movies Carradine was in besides Kill Bill