Kung Fu The Complete Series Collection by Warner Home Video
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David Carradine stars as a Buddhist monk and hunted man who wanders the American West in the 1870s fighting intolerance and injustice with his mastery of an ancient form of high combat known as Kung Fu.]]>
Everybody was kung-fu fighting after the 1972 premiere of this mystic western starring David Carradine (snatching the role from Bruce Lee) in his signature, Emmy-nominated role as Caine, a stoic Shaolin monk forced to flee China after killing the royal family member who slew his Master. Our wandering hero roams the west in search of his long-lost brother, while eluding American and Imperial bounty hunters, and imparting his ancient wisdom on those he encounters and is compelled to aid. Kung-Fu was never a ratings force, but its cult status was assured long before Samuel L. Jackson referenced it in Pulp Fiction. Along with the inaugural 15 episodes, this three-disc set contains the feature-length pilot that establishes the series' iconography: the inscrutable aphorisms ("When you cease to strive to understand, then you will know without understanding"); the flashbacks to Caine's youth, where the orphaned half-American and half-Chinese boy served as disciple ("Grasshopper") to the Old Man; and, of course, the anticipated moments when the peaceful Caine, like Billy Jack, is reluctantly compelled by some frontier bigot to use his fighting skills. Look for appearances by father John Carradine and brothers Keith and Robert in the episode, "Dark Angel." That's 11-year-old future Oscar-winner Jodie Foster in "Althea." Other notable episodes include the Emmy-winning "An Eye for an Eye" and "Chains," featuring an Emmy-nominated turn by Michael Greene as a not-so-gentle giant to whom an imprisoned Caine is chained. "With each ending," Caine observes in the episode, "The Third Man," comes a new beginning." Kung Fu's new beginning comes on DVD. Thanks to the timeless frontier setting and the uniqueness of its genre-bending concept, Kung Fu dates better than other '70s series. As these episodes demonstrate, the show still has plenty of kick. --Donald Liebenson
While it may not rank with Richard Kimble's fateful meeting with the One-Armed Man in the series finale of The Fugitive, Caine's reunion with his long-lost brother, Danny, brings Kung Fu, to quote the title of the four-episode story arc's conclusion, "Full Circle." The series' rich iconography and episodes featuring returning characters may make this final season heady going for newcomers. But those who have faithfully followed Caine (David Carradine in his iconic role) on his nomadic adventures will be richly rewarded with some of the series' best episodes. The season begins with a stellar two-parter, "Blood of the Dragon," in which Caine seeks the truth about his grandfather's murder, while Imperial assassins are dispatched to kill Caine. The venerable Patricia Neal guest-stars as the grandfather's iron-willed, cold-hearted former lover. Eddie Albert also stars as a doctor who sides with Caine. Other memorable guest stars this season include William Shatner broguing it up, Scotty-style, as a sea captain who arrives with an Imperial pardon for Caine (but at what cost?) in "A Small Beheading." Barbara Hershey portrays an aspiring Shoalin priest in the two-parter, "Besieged." In "The Brothers Caine," a pre-Airplane Leslie Nielsen is a ruthless magnate who puts a $10,000 price on Danny's head, making for an awkward reunion when Danny thinks that Caine is a bounty hunter. David's father, John, returns as blind preacher Serenity Johnson in "Ambush."
This season was distinguished by innovative episodes set in China during Caine's "Grasshopper" tutelage. In "The Demon God," the youth, poisoned by a prince, experiences mystical visions of his older, wandering self, who is stung by a scorpion. In "The Thief of Chendo," young Caine's Master imagines an adventure for the aspiring priest. Two Carradine commentaries, and a near-hour long chronicle of Carradine's 30-years-on visit to a Shoalin monastery in China (an incredible journey that ends with Carradine's soulful rendition of "America the Beautiful") help to give Kung Fu a worthy DVD send-off. --Donald Liebenson