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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Full Frame
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • Dual Sided
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
  • French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Czech, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Turkish, Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Slovenian
  Extras
  • Booklet - Complete Season One Episode Information
  • 2 Documentaries

Kung Fu - The Complete First Season

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 792 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

How to define a show like Kung Fu?

An institution all of its own, it set the benchmark for unusual and original television series' that still exists today with shows that push the boundaries of the traditional and capture the imagination of the populace.

Anyhow, enough jagged clichés. In general Kung Fu is indefinable in terms of the regular garbage churned out by the Hollywood TV Machine®™ (patent pending). In part a western, it’s mostly a life lesson of Eastern wisdom each episode. It’s a story of absolute truth in the midst of chaos; a simple, gentle mind wandering aimlessly through the mayhem and brutality of the Old West. And it kicks arse.

Kwai Chang Caine is a child wishing to join the order or Shaolin Monks to seek Holy Truth. He endures the rigorous testing to land himself in the role of acolyte, although he is the first person not of pure Chinese blood to be allowed to do so. With his mother being Chinese and having an American father, he is an easy target for the other children of the order (who aren’t all that enlightened yet… )

"When you can snatch the pebble from my hand… "

Befriended by the oldest and most revered monk in Master Po – a blind and deeply wise man – Caine is raised to believe in absolute truth and the inner light to see the simplicity and order of the universe. However, with his parents both dead, he wishes to connect with his roots, and upon being a fully-fledged priest, he makes his way to America to find the town where his father was born. However, he is pursued by the Chinese government for the murder of the Emperor’s nephew and a thousand dollar bounty is placed on his head. In the course of his travels, he learns he has a half-brother and this then becomes the reason for his trek across the Old West (although at the time it was probably called the New West… ).

Caine is a unique hero. He doesn’t carry a gun, he doesn’t ride a horse. He walks barefoot a lot of the time. He is a simple man of simple needs, able to go days without food or water. However, it’s not so great being a Chinaman in America during this time. Racism is rampant in every town and thankfully this gives us (the viewers) ample opportunity to witness the kung-fu abilities of Caine in action. Each fighting arena is another area where this (dare I say ‘groundbreaking’ and use such a well-worn adjective?) show brings in yet another fresh angle. Slow-motion and speeded up action are both used; sometimes consecutively to enhance the experience. At times this emulates (although occurring decades before) modern film techniques and just adds yet another feather in the battered stetson of this show.

While the writing is at times a little trite, for the most part the wisdom is right on the money and dispensed in yet another unusual feature for a show of the time; the flashback. Much of this show is told in such fashion as Caine applies a current experience to an older teaching from his youth in China. And these teachings aren’t ladled out in pop-psychology spoonfuls like they are in some rubbishy Hollywood vehicles of today. Instead, we hear a whole fable and how it applies to this situation at hand. It is also spoken reverently with absolute respect to the Chinese and the order of Shaolin. Whether these tales are actual stories utilised by the Shaolin is another matter, but they sound authentic at any rate and suit the characters and situations.

And of course, I couldn’t go any further without mentioning the premise here. It’s a well-worn path by now, the lone guy seeking truth pursued by the faceless bad guys, but here it seems to genuinely suit the purposes of the storyline (except where it is conveniently forgotten for an episode if required). Many have come along since, but not all have managed this plot device as well. The Incredible Hulk did it, as did (and does) Spider-Man. Richard Kimble did it to great effect in The Fugitive as well. Yet somehow here it seems purposeful, almost as if conceived for the character of Caine himself. At least, he makes it his own, anyway, regardless of how rehashed it is and has been.

It’s good fun and every episode holds a kernel of truth about all manner of things in life itself. Patience, wisdom, calmness. All things that are disappearing into the past as we race headlong into the future. More shows like this should come along for this burgeoning age when we could use the 45 minutes of wisdom all the more. Remind ourselves to take it easy and slow down and listen to our hearts beat.

I like Caine and I love Kung Fu. This is classic material, regardless of how clichéd that may sound.

  Video
Contract

First airing in 1973, Kung Fu looks pretty darned good for a show of 30+ years. Delivered in the stone-age format of 4:3, there are naturally going to be faults with picture quality, but for the most part the prints have been cleaned. And while not restored, per se, they are certainly much cleaner than they may well have been. There are varying amounts of film artefacts about and at times we suffer some heavily re-used and soft edged flashback footage that looks like it went two or three rounds with Caine.

Colour leans toward the earthy, but I figure this is generally the way it was meant to be. It is a western, after all. Flesh tones are okay, though Caine’s tones get a little wonky between Chinese and Whitey at times. Shadow detail isn’t real great, but blacks are true at least. In general, this looks pretty good, considering its age, and isn’t of a poor quality, rather a well-salvaged and entirely watchable series.

  Audio
Contract

Every episode is bristling in Dolby Digital mono. The sound is entirely serviceable and brings each spoken piece to us fairly clearly, though there may be one or two occasions to switch on the subtitles for a minute. Music is okay for this sort of thing. Sculpted by Jim Helms, it is a strange and eclectic mix between East and West. Naturally. Very nice anyway and does fill this collection admirably.

  Extras
Contract

Ah, here I was hoping for a little more, given it’s a six disc set, but alas, we get but two recent documentaries. The first is From Grasshopper to Caine: Creating Kung Fu and is the usual, albeit indepth, 'making of'. This includes recent interviews with cast and crew (interestingly, child actors from the series have been dredged up and interviewed as adults looking back). This 22:51 will be found on Disc One Side A, regardless of the typo that says otherwise on the included booklet. This booklet is cool, however, and thankfully trimmed to fit neatly into a DVD case (Buena Vista, take note). Detailed notes are included for each episode and include Emmy information and guest stars who’ve gone on to bigger things (Jodie Foster for one. That girl is truly a natural born actor).

Another interesting thing about this set is in the three double-sided, dual layered (DVD 10) discs squeezed comfortably into one humble, not-taking-up-all-your-room-on-the-DVD-shelf DVD case. Nice one. It’s heavier though.

Finally, for the extras, on Disc One Side B, we have The Tao of Caine which runs for 20:28. There are some very interesting set stories and such brought up in this and I found it (as well as its companion on the flipside) quite compelling. Both are well made with respect to the show and its creators and speak lovingly about the show and its uniqueness. Great stuff (but again, contrary to the booklet, it isn’t where the booklet says it is).

Apart from that we have the pilot episode that originally aired on February 22, 1972, almost eight months before it was followed by the 15 episodes listed here (with my highlights in bold):

  • King of the Mountain
  • Dark Angel (better than the recent show of the same name)
  • Blood Brother
  • An Eye for an Eye (dual Emmy Award winning episode)
  • The Tide
  • The Soul Is The Warrior
  • Nine Lives
  • Sun and Cloud Shadow
  • Chains
  • Alethea
  • The Praying Mantis Kills
  • Superstition
  • The Stone
  • The Third Man
  • The Ancient Warrior

  Overall  
Contract

I’d never really seen this show when it aired, being but a year old, but the whole ‘Grasshopper’ thing seems to have enmeshed itself into the collective consciousness of our society with references springing up all over the place in any manner of things since. I am wholly impressed, and much moreso than with many other shows of the era and eagerly await any future releases of this classic among classics.

Justifiably named a classic. Brilliant, unique, wise, funny. Kung Fu was years ahead of its time and miles above its competition. Plus, and this is the best part, there’s kung-fu and serious arsekicking.

Never seen it? There has never been a better time than now.

Go now, Grasshopper.

Begin.


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      And I quote...
    "Long before Kea-nu and wire-fu… there was Kung Fu."
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Teac DVD-990
    • TV:
          AKAI CT-T29S32S 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Subwoofer:
          Akai
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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