Kung Fu, Starring David Carradine As A Shaolin Monk: Facts And Stories

By | November 26, 2020

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David Carradine on 'Kung Fu.' Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

In 1972, David Carradine stepped onto TV screens as Kwai Chang Caine, protagonist of Kung Fu. The show presented the saga of a Shaolin monk wandering the American West of the 19th century. American viewers hadn't seen a show quite like this before, but it combined a perennially popular genre, the western, with a genre that was rapidly gaining interest, martial arts. The show was an interesting mix of the increasing interest in martial arts and Eastern thought with the nostalgia of the Western. 

A Controversial Origin

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Bruce Lee. Source: (brucelee.com)

The show’s origin story is steeped in controversy; according to Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, Bruce Lee had the original concept of a martial artist living in the American Old West, but Warner Bros. took it. There is circumstantial evidence to support her assertion; in 1971, during an interview on The Pierre Berton Show, Lee discussed the concept, explaining that the Old West setting was appropriate because of the violence of the West. As the interview progressed, Berton asked Lee whether the audience would be okay with a non-American actor, and Lee responded that that was the reason that the show would not be filmed. However, this evidence is only circumstantial and according to biographer Matthew E. Polly and other sources, Ed Spielman created the show the show. Lee had another connection to the show:  as they were casting the role of the main character, Lee was considered, however, Tom Kuhn, a studio head, was concerned that the audience wouldn’t be able to understand Lee, who had a thick accent.