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Thread: The old American "Wuxia" TV series KUNG-FU: how right/wrong did it get wuxia?

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Default The old American "Wuxia" TV series KUNG-FU: how right/wrong did it get wuxia?

    Back in the early 1970s, American network television produced a popular TV series called simply KUNG-FU, starring American actor David Carradine (of KILL BILL fame) as Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine, who wandered the old American West righting wrongs and protecting the innocent with his Shaolin martial arts, wuxia-style. The series, which was based on a concept first developed by Bruce Lee, was quite popular in its day and even spawned a sequel in the 1990s (KUNG-FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES), with Carradine playing a similar role as the original character's grandson in contemporary times.

    How right or wrong did the American TV scriptwriters get it? Did they utterly, completely misrepresent wuxia in the KUNG-FU series, or did they get it surprisingly right considering how unknown wuxia culture was (and still is) in the West?

    One thing that struck me as odd was how *soft* Shaolin martial arts was depicted in KUNG-FU. The "Shaolin" style seen in KUNG-FU was more like Mo Dong Tai Chi martial arts...soft and yielding. It's not the hard, yang-style martial arts we expect from Shaolin.

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    Senior Member CC's Avatar
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    I don't care! I curse this series and the powers which executed it for the single fact that they rejected Bruce Lee.

    Think of what could have been.
    Its BIxie Jianfa Gawdammit you guys!!!!

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC View Post
    I don't care! I curse this series and the powers which executed it for the single fact that they rejected Bruce Lee.

    Think of what could have been.
    I know. Not that David Carradine was lousy in the role; he did OK, but Bruce would have done it much better, probably.

    Of course, if the scriptwriters had written the Caine character for Bruce like they did for Carradine, Bruce would have to have been way more low-key than he usually was in his films. Caine was such a peaceful, sedate guy (really like a Shaolin monk). Bruce's characters always tended to be aggressive.

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    Senior Member sniffles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Back in the early 1970s, American network television produced a popular TV series called simply KUNG-FU, starring American actor David Carradine (of KILL BILL fame) as Shaolin monk Chang Kwai Caine, who wandered the old American West righting wrongs and protecting the innocent with his Shaolin martial arts, wuxia-style. The series, which was based on a concept first developed by Bruce Lee, was quite popular in its day and even spawned a sequel in the 1990s (KUNG-FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES), with Carradine playing a similar role as the original character's grandson in contemporary times.

    How right or wrong did the American TV scriptwriters get it? Did they utterly, completely misrepresent wuxia in the KUNG FU series, or did they get it surprisingly right considering how unknown wuxia culture was (and still is) in the West?

    One thing that struck me as odd was how *soft* Shaolin martial arts was depicted in KUNG-FU. The "Shaolin" style seen in KUNG-FU was more like Mo Dong Tai Chi martial arts...soft and yielding. It's not the hard, yang-style martial arts we expect from Shaolin.
    I don't think the writers were even trying to imitate wuxia per se. They were trying to make a tv series that looked like a Bruce Lee film. I don't really think of Bruce Lee films as wuxia genre, although I guess really they are.

    And they definitely weren't trying to do anything historically or culturally accurate. This was the '70s, remember. No Political Correctness in those days.

    I've been a fan of "kung-fu flicks" for many years, but I had never heard the term wuxia until Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon hit theatres in the US. Before that my experience of martial arts in movies was all Jackie Chan films. It never even occurred to me to think of the Kung Fu tv series having any relationship to wuxia.
    你看这些云彩,聚了又散,散了又聚,人生离合也是一样。

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    Registered User JamesG's Avatar
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    It was typical of TV series of that time when sitting back and enjoying the story was all that mattered. Nobody was looking for deeper meanings.

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    Senior Member sniffles's Avatar
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    Actually, reflecting on this topic a little more, the series got some of the wuxia elements right even though they probably weren't trying to. Kwai Chang Caine was mostly non-violent and would only fight when provoked. He had a code of honor that he followed. He tried to behave in a chivalrous manner. He was always respectful to elders and treated everyone with courtesy. (My husband has the entire series on DVD )

    That tv series caused a huge surge of interest in martial arts in the US. Lots of little boys started taking kung-fu and karate lessons as a result. But it was all just about kicking butt and taking names. All of the subtleties were lost on an audience of 8-year-old boys.
    你看这些云彩,聚了又散,散了又聚,人生离合也是一样。

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