For several decades, David Carradine was the pre-eminent martial artist on television. As the half-Chinese-half-American orphan raised in a Shaolin monastery, Caine became a symbol for justice on the TV landscape during the mid-seventies as he traversed the Old West in search of his half-brother, righting wrongs and defending the little guy along the way. For three seasons, Kung Fu enamored its audience and did more than its share to create a market for martial arts that hasn’t dried up more than forty years later. Here are some things you need to know about the show.
1. It Might Have Been Bruce Lee’s Idea
In addition to a claim made by Lee’s wife in her memoirs, there’s evidence to suggest that Bruce Lee, the most famous martial arts film star in history, was the one who actually came up with the idea for TV’s Kung Fu. In 1971 (one year before Kung Fu went on the air), Bruce Lee publicly pitched a show to Warner Bros and Paramount called The Warrior, about a martial artist traveling through the Old West. Sound familiar?
2. A Strong Example of White-washing in Hollywood
Many Asians balked at the casting of a Caucasian man in the Chinese-American role, but it’s a long tradition in Hollywood. In The Slanted Screen, a 2006 documentary on the subject, Japanese American actor Mako Iwamatsu talked about a conversation he had with Kung Fu studio executives back in the day: “I recall having a meeting with executives of Warner Bros. about David Carradine portraying a Chinese character in Kung Fu. And I remember this vice president said, ‘If we put a yellow man on the tube, audiences would turn the switch off in less than 5 minutes.’” Cringe!
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