Kung Fu, which aired from 1972-1975, was an unusual blend of the social questioning of 70s America, an emerging fascination with the martial arts, and the introduction of Eastern thought into American pop culture. It was one of the last Westerns of American television and thus straddled a great cultural shift that occurred during that era. It was also a fine show that earned high ratings and continues to entertain legions of fans to this day. Let's take a look at some things that you might not know about the series.
1. Kwai Chaing Caine’s last name is a reference to the Cain of the Bible. Cain, having murdered his brother, was marked and cast into the wilderness. So, too, was Kwai Chang Caine marked by the dragon and tiger branded into his forearms and wanted for murder in China. The $10,000 bounty on his head was a constant source of trouble for Caine throughout the series.
2. David Carradine shaved his head once, when shooting the pilot movie. He never cut it again for the rest of the series. So it’s possible to gauge when an episode was shot during the series by looking at Carradine’s hair.
3. Caine must walk a strip of rice paper to demonstrate the lightness of his footsteps. To prepare David Carradine for this task, kung fu consultant Kam Yuen had him step on eggs without breaking them.
The training turned out to be unnecessary. When it finally came time to film the rice paper scenes, no one could locate rice paper. The directors tried butcher paper, but it wouldn’t tear under the feet of Radames Pera, the actor who portrayed Caine as a child. They even attached sandpaper to Pera’s feet, but the paper stayed intact. Finally they pre-tore the strip of paper and had Pera walk over it. To show the adult Caine walking without leaving a trace, they simply left the butcher paper untorn.
4. David Carradine had no martial arts training before the show began shooting, but he was a skilled dancer. It was only during the final season that Carradine began to study kung fu aggressively. By that time, he was so skilled that he rarely used stunt doubles.
5. The fight scenes had to be carefully choreographed to be realistic, shoot well, and most importantly, comply with the network’s rules on violence. David Chow, the martial arts director for the show, explained at the time:
ABC absolutely bans any more than three hits on a person, all kicks below the belt, more than two areas of bleeding on a single person, any pouring of blood (but dripping is okay!), instruments entering the body, and any scenes of a man dying with his eyes open.
6. The show was rather inexpensive to produce in part because it made use of Warner Brothers aging and then unused Western sets. The Shaolin Temple did require some thought, but was just a redressing of the castle set from the 1967 movie Camelot.
7. In one scene in the pilot movie, Philip Ahn (Master Kan) challenges Radames Pera (young Caine) to snatch a pebble from his hand. This scene was shot at least fifteen times because Pera, faster than Ahn, successfully snatched the pebble, over and over again. Finally the director told Pera to try to take the pebble with his right rather than left hand, which was farther away from Ahn. Then Ahn was able to close his hand and keep the pebble.
8. Philip Ahn started a very successful restaurant named Moongate. Children often approached him there and asked if they could try to snatch a pebble from his hand. He obliged their requests.
9. David Carradine was the son of John Carradine, a highly accomplished actor in his own right. He appeared alongside his son David in three episodes of Kung Fu. The elder Carradine played an old blind preacher named Serenity Johnson.
10. You may know actor Keith Carradine as FBI agent Frank Lundy from Dexter. He's also David Carradine's younger brother. Keith Carradine played a younger version of Kwai Chang Caine in the pilot movie and early episodes of the show.
11. You may also recognize some of the guest stars who made appearances in the show. Jodie Foster starred in the episode “Alethea” at the tender age of 10. William Shatner played a treacherous Irish ship captain in “A Small Beheading." Harrison Ford was a business manager in the episode "Crossties."
Anderson, Robert. The Kung Fu Book. Las Vegas, NV: Pioneer Books, 1994. Print.
Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: Exploring Television's Most Mystical Eastern Western Drama. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, Co., 1993. Print.
Images: ABC, Showtime