The ‘Kung Fu’ TV series made a big impression on me as a kid in the 1970’s. Saturday evening became a magical time when I’d sit glued to the glowing box in the corner, and was transported away from my dull urban surroundings, back through time to the American West of the 1870’s and, in flashbacks, to the Shaolin Monastery in China. Kwai Chang Caine, a half-Chinese, half- American Shaolin priest, was an unusual choice of hero for a small boy growing up in the North East of England in the 1970’s, more so since it wasn't the action sequences that all my friends loved and imitated that drew me to the show, but the strange other-worldly calm and wisdom of the two Shaolin Masters who guided the young Caine in the ways of Shaolin.
The philosophy expounded by Master Po and Master Kan was what really hooked me in at the time and re-watching the DVD’s as an adult, it’s still the philosophy of the show that draws me in. It’s this philosophical element, that makes ‘Kung Fu’ stand head and shoulders above any other TV action show of the 1970’s Sure, the other shows had car chases, explosions, gunfights and fist fights etc, but Kwai Chang Caine’s adventures aren't just about how many racist bullies he kicks or any of that other macho stuff that helped draw in its huge TV audience every week. It’s about one man’s encounter with himself and his burden (Caine is sought by Chinese assassins and American bounty hunters who are after the $10,000 reward that China, in widely distributed wanted posters, offers for his capture). Kung Fu martial arts are not about how many bad guys can be beaten to a pulp, but about the training of body and mind, so that they work in harmony. The show’s creator, Ed Spielman, points out that the show is “not really about violence. It was a show about the reaction to violence, about appropriate action and reaction and the ability to deal with conflict". When young Caine asks his master, what the most appropriate way to deal with an attacking force is, his master tells him, “Run away.” This, his master says, is the “simple and preferred method” for the man who prizes peace over victory. This is the essential lesson of the whole three season series: peace is more important than victory; nonviolence is to be preferred to violence. And, it is that message that I, along with millions of others, learned first while watching TV’s first and only mystical western.
The original series of Kung Fu ran for three seasons, beginning on October 14, 1972, and ending on April 26, 1975.
It was a worldwide hit with audiences and several items of memorabilia and merchandise were produced to cash in on the enormous success of the show.
The three Annuals issued by Brown Watson Ltd. between 1973-1975
Two of a series of four novelizations written by Howard Lee and published by Warner Paperback Library, beginning in 1973.
Along with magazine tie-ins...
...and the obligatory 1970's lunchbox and flask combo (I don't own these - yet!)
Should you be interested in finding out more about this classic TV show, check out Herbie J Pilato's superb "Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guite to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western',