Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Sun and Cloud Shadow"

In this episode, Caine wanders into the middle of a dispute between some Chinese settlers and the man who owns their land, a hard-bitten but meditative ex-military man called Colonel Binns (Morgan Woodward). The gist of the disagreement is that the Colonel abandoned a mountain and the Chinese stayed behind to mine it, persevering until they found gold. Now that the mountain has proven to be valuable the Colonel wants it back, and all the gold in it.

The racist behavior of the townsmen, particularly Binns’ sons Doug (Dennis Lee Smith) and Dave (Richard Hatch from the original “Battlestar Galactica”) aren’t helping the situation. In fact, in the beginning of the episode Caine is marginally involved in a scuffle in which Doug shoots and kills one of the village elders, Ying (John Fujioka). Caine also learns that Dave has a secret love affair with one of the Chinese girls, Po Ten or “Cloud Shadow” (Aimee Eccles). Po Ten had once been a servant in the Binns house.

The Chinese are prepared to take up arms to defend the mine, and Caine, revealed by his brands to be a Shaolin priest, agrees to represent them and negotiate some kind of agreement between them and Colonel Binns. Caine and Binns hit it off – Binns admires the “tiger” in Caine, although Caine tries to show this man, who only understands the outcome of battles, that there’s more to warriorship than physical victory. But he’s able to reach an accord with Binns, in a great scene in which Caine shows just how incapable of manipulation he is.

Unfortunately, things get complicated, as Ying’s son (Clyde Kusatsu) takes revenge for his father’s death, and Dave refuses to man up to his relationship with Cloud Shadow. On top of that, a Pinkerton operative has traced Caine to this location, and brought a Manchu martial arts expert to deal with Caine. Everything comes to a head in the episode’s climax.

Something about “Sun and Cloud Shadow” bothered me. I think I found the love story distracting. The resolution of the conflict left me lukewarm, too, as Caine faces his adversary in a pretty cool fight sequence, then turns to Dave and demands, “Choose,” meaning he must choose to face his father and claim his Chinese bride or remain silent, honor his father and let Binns cannon the Chinese. This just didn’t have the same ring of revelation and enlightenment that Caine brings to some of his other encounters with characters. I think I would have enjoyed more interplay between Caine and Binns and Caine and the Chinese, perhaps Ying’s son, showing these multiple sides of Caine, as Chinese and American, warrior and peacemaker.

Two out of four yin yangs. IMDB is here. The Manchu was played by veteran stunt man, karate instructor and actor Bill Ryusaki (image from Schumann’s Martial Arts Training Center).

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yin Yang Nature: The Interview

You may remember a couple weeks ago I did a post on a site called Yin Yang Nature. It's a site about Taosim that's run by an Australian gent named Bobba who has also put a number of "Kung Fu" clips up on the related YouTube channel. I got a chance to catch up with and interview Bobba, whose writings on Taoism from his own perspective are insightful.

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Charlie: Bobba, thanks for speaking to me at I Am Caine. Tell us what got you interested in Taoism. I know that's a very personal question for you and that you have written about it at length at Yin Yang Nature.

Bobba: My interest in Taoism evolved over a ten year period, but was mainly a result of my wife being diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was at a loss to understand why this terrible thing was happening to this wonderful woman. In a desperate bid to be released from our suffering, I started a search for the answers to why Nature was sometimes so cruel.

After a search of about 8 months I found the answers I was seeking in this ancient Chinese philosophy. It was a huge relief to finally find something that spoke of reality in the terms I intuitively felt. It was like rediscovering something very precious that had been lost somewhere on the road between childhood and becoming a man.

Charlie: Thank you. What was your experience with the TV show "Kung Fu?"

Bobba: I remember watching "Kung Fu" every Friday night with my mother and father. That was about 1974, I was about 12 and we watched it on a black and white television. I can even remember when "Kung Fu" bubble gum cards were the hottest thing in the play ground. But this was a period before Star Wars and merchandising was far simpler.

When "Kung Fu" was released on DVD, I hesitatingly hired it out from the local video store. I hadn’t seen an episode of Kung Fu for over 33 years and I was a little skeptical about it standing up to the test of time. Yet, I found it just as captivating at 45 as I did as a 12 year old boy. What surprised me the most is that I could even recall some of the scenes I hadn’t seen since I was a preteen!

These days I often watch "Kung Fu" with my daughters and their friends who are in their early 20s. "Kung Fu" seems able to span the generations and is timeless in it’s appeal. I also haven’t found anyone over the age of 40 that doesn’t remember "Kung Fu" with a great deal of affection. I believe this makes "Kung Fu" exceptional and unmatched by any other TV series of it’s era.

Charlie: I know what you mean. I myself am 35 so I was just a pup when it came out, but I remember this with great fondness from my childhood, when it was in reruns. Like you, I wanted to reconnect with the show when it came out on DVD and, like you, I have become a renewed fan of it the second time around.

Next question: you have great respect for the way taoism is portrayed in the show. From what I've read about the creators of the show, they really had a sense of the philosophy of the Shaolin, which would have been, I think, a blend of Ch'an Buddhism, Chinese Taoism, martial arts, and their own early-1970s, kind of Age of Aquarius ideals. Most of the literature around the show doesn't go into detail about what these writers and producers were like in their thinking but they really seemed to have created something special. What do you think the show "gets right" about the philosophy?

Bobba: The developers and producers of "Kung Fu" made a couple of very important decisions that ultimately made it the incredible success that it is. Firstly, they based "Kung Fu" in the Wild West rather than in China as they originally intended. Setting "Kung Fu" in the 1880s gave the writers plenty of scope to apply the Shaolin philosophy in the atmosphere of aggression, greed and fear we usually associate with this period. Each episode showed how Caine was able to overcome all the Wild West could throw at him, with little more than compassion, moderation, humility and a little Shoalin magic.

Secondly, the developers and producers had the foresight to involve the local Chinese community. It was a major condition of the Chinese/American cast that the series have technical and kung fu advisors (David Chow and Kam Yuen). This ensured the philosophy of the Shaolin (a union of Taoism and Buddhism called Ch’an or Zen) was thoroughly researched and inserted into each episode. It was this philosophical content that made Kung Fu appealing to an audience who wouldn’t normally have an interest in martial arts. Couple this with the engaging dialogue of Carradine, Pera, Luke and Ahn; and we have the profound and near ageless TV series we love today.

Charlie: According to Herbie Pilato's episode guide-book on the show, there is some documentation of what the producers, writers and research department were looking at in terms of their historical references. I'd love to see it – I mean, they didn't have the internet in '72 so it wasn't as easy!

What I think interests me most about the show besides the innovative writing – the fact that Caine isn't even the main character in many of the episodes, the fact that he undermines and turns inside out the western formula – is that the character of Caine moves through these plots and responds almost perfectly to every situation. He sees someone in trouble, he helps; he enters a dispute, he mediates; he sees someone in need of a lesson to be learned, he teaches. And he emerges from each encounter stronger, basically unstained even though he has this blood on his hands, an enlightened person becoming more complete, always moving forward, but also happy to be where he is. Do you think this exemplifies the tao?

Bobba: Wow. I think it’s a bit harsh to say Caine has “blood on his hands." In the few scenes where Caine has been left with no choice but to use deadly force, it is only to protect his own life or the life of someone else. For the majority of the series, Caine is preventing death and preserving life. A Shoalin priest believes that all life is a direct manifestation of the Tao and therefore extremely sacred.

Someone following the path of Tao understands the only time that truly exists is “now." Although we are able to think about the past and the future, this thinking can only be done in the present moment. Therefore the present moment is really all that ever exists.

Knowing that the present moment is the only place one can ever be, an enlightened person chooses not to dwell in the past or worry about the future. This is why Caine always appears so relaxed and untroubled. He simply flows with the “eternal now” and is unfettered by either yesterday or tomorrow.

Charlie: So what exactly is the tao?

Bobba: The first thing that anyone should understand about the Tao, is it is not an alternative word for God or any other deity. The Tao doesn’t find an equivalent in the Judeo-christian tradition, since the Tao is neither personal or a law maker. The Tao is the indescribable pattern of intelligence that is always followed by Nature and the Universe.

Cosmologists currently believe there are 6 values that are absolutely critical for the Universe to exist. These 6 numbers are the key properties of this Universe and govern the shape, size, and texture of everything. If any of these parameters were to be just slightly different, the Universe would not exist.

It is my personal opinion that the Tao is these 6 vital parameters that were set at the birth of the Universe. This put in motion a self perpetuating organic unity, that today allows us to be the aperture in which the Tao is experiencing itself.

Charlie: Thanks for joining us, Bobba. To read more of what Bobba is laying down, please visit him at Yin Yang Nature.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Kung Fu Cinema: Good round up of Season One

From the launch of this blog, I noted in my blogroll that Kung Fu Cinema as a great online resource for all things related to kung fu movies. Recently, I came across the site's review of "Kung Fu" Season One. An excellent round-up of the first season. Kung Fu Cinema's Mark Pollard writes:

In 1972, the word “kung fu” didn’t mean anything to most Americans. Bruce Lee had caught on in Asia, but was only beginning to be noticed in the States despite his previous appearance on the GREEN HORNET television series. Apart from a handful of Hong Kong kung fu movies like KING BOXER, released in grindhouse theaters, there wasn’t much to see regarding kung fu action. So for creator Ed Spielman and developer Herman Miller to pitch a network action series for American audiences based on Shaolin kung fu with an emphasis on Buddhist philosophy was quite remarkable.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

"Nine Lives"

The title of this episode cleverly refers to a cat that drives the plot and to a chain of debt that is created and extended between characters.

"Nine Lives" is primarily the story of Shawn Mulhare (Albert Salmi), an Irishman trying to make his fortune in America. Caine befriends Mulhare at a mining camp. When the camp's feline mascot, Boozer, is killed in a dynamite accident caused by Mulhare and Caine, they are kicked out of the camp (there is a hilarious "court room" scene leading up to this), and banished from returning until Mulhare can find a replacement. Mulhare desperately wants this, as he thinks he's found a secret vein of gold. He carries a sample with him.

Caine follows Mulhare and tries to help him, in part because that's perhaps what he would do anyway but also because Caine owes a debt of honor to Master Po. Master Po helped Caine as a child in China, and explained to Caine that he, Po, was similarly helped in an accident when he was a boy by a stranger who said to him that he was now bound by debt to assist 10 others. Caine was one of Po's 10, and Po passed the debt on to Caine. Mulhare, it seems, will be one of Caine's 10.

Set adrift, Caine and Mulhare wander in search of a new Boozer, at one point being set upon by the demented Skowrin family, a gang of bandits and con artists headed by a father, Henry, (Royal Dano) and a gaggle of unwashed sons that includes the hulking Perlee (Merlin Olsen!). Caine and Mulhare are robbed by the Skowrins.

Eventually, the pair make their way to the riverside home of the Widow Tackaberry (Geraldine Brooks). They aid the widow in delivering a calf (great scene, and one in which Caine uses his animal calming power again) and agree to dig a well on the widow's land in exchange for her cat. Unfortunately, the Skowrins discover Caine's identity and come seeking him to claim the reward. They bind Caine, but Caine goads Perlee into fighting him (one of the Skowrins' cons is to have Perlee wrassle all comers for money). In the ensuing melee, Caine, Mulhare and the window are able to turn the tide against the Skowrins – and they also discover that Mulhare's sample of gold is worthless fool's gold.

But there's one last turn to this plot. Now that Mulhare knows Caine is worth money, he contemplates turning Caine in, and has an opportunity to do so. I won't tell you how this ends but I will tell you that Po's Debt is encountered once again, and Mulhare must come to grips with himself as a man of honor as well as a fortune hunter.

Great episode. As I've said, in this show Caine is often a supporting character in the plot, in this case a supporting character to Mulhare, the real protagonist. That's one of the things I feel was truly revolutionary about this show, that it didn't always have to have Caine at center stage. It is the first episode in which we learn of Po's Debt, something that will return again in the series. I think for someone like Caine, he realizes in assuming the debt and fulfilling it that helping others is so virtuous and feels so right that he needn't stop at 10. The debt is only the incentive that gets him started on the path of a virtuous, heroic life, one in which he realizes he is bound by love, kindness and transcendence to everyone in the human family.

Four out of four yin yangs. IMDB for this episode is here. Look at the actors and writers and directors in this show; it's amazing how many great careers were created at this time in TV history.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ying Yang Nature and the Tao of Kung Fu

I'd like to introduce you to a cat named Bobba. Bobba is from Australia and has created a site called Ying Yang Nature in which he discusses at length his deep personal involvement with Taoism.

At Bobba's YouTube channel, "The Tao of Kung Fu," he has uploaded several clips from "Kung Fu" and discusses in each the philosophical ideas involved. Highly recommended. From Bobba's channel:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

David Carradine on the John Kerwin show.

Here's an entertaining episode of the John Kerwin show in which Mr. Caine himself makes an appearance. Carradine comes on about halfway through and even does a cool re-enactment of the snatch-the-pebble scene with Kerwin (he moves pretty well, I think!).

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The Tide"

In “The Tide,” Cain demonstrates two important values in his belief system; that it is better to trust, even when trust leads to betrayal, and that it is acceptable for a man to love a woman, even when that relationship leads to pain.

Caine is passing through a coastal town, presumably in California, when he is recognized and arrested by the local law, Sheriff Boggs (veteran character actor Andrew Duggan). When it becomes clear to Caine that Boggs would be just as happy to collect the reward for a dead Caine as a live one, Caine fights his way free and escapes, but is shot and wounded in the process. A Chinese woman that lives in the town, Su Yen Lu (Tina Chen) helps Caine and hides him, at first in a barn and then in a cave on the rocky shore of the ocean.

Su Yen Lu is the daughter of an important Chinese poet whom Caine recognizes and for which he has great admiration, a man imprisoned for political reasons by the same emperor that has put a price on Caine’s head. In Yu’s care, Caine is slowly healed and he becomes Yu’s lover. Unbeknownst to Caine, however, Yu is betraying him. She sends for her brother, Wong Ti Lu (played by the wonderful Japanese-American character actor, Mako). Her plan is to ransom Caine to the emperor in exchange for her father’s freedom.

When the plot is revealed, a pretty cool fight scene ensues but Caine agrees to be the Yus’ prisoner. As they try to leave the cave, however, Boggs catches up with them, shoots and kills Wong Ti Lu, and is shot himself by Su Yen Lu. The plot foiled and the treachery revealed, Caine and Su Yen Lu agree to part ways, with Caine bearing a book of her father’s work and no real malice.

What’s significant about “The Tide” is the emphasis placed on the flashback scenes. Every episode of “Kung Fu” makes use of these, usually to show Caine’s thinking or make some comment on his current action. In this case, there are two flashbacks that reinforce the theme of trust and love.

In the first, young Caine and a fellow acolyte named Hong Fo are on their way to the market to buy food for the Shaolin monastery. An old man by the roadside warns the boys that there are too many bandits on the road, and diverts their path. They are robbed. (Another great Asian-American character actor, James Hong, whom you may recognize as “Seinfeld? Four?” and the great villain Lo Pan in the delightful Big Trouble in Little China.) When Caine and Hong Fo return to the temple, Master Kan asks what they learned from the encounter. Hong Fo responds, “Never trust anyone.” Caine responds, “Expect the unexpected.” Hong Fo is summarily dismissed! Only Caine has shown the capacity Kan seeks – he tells Cain that it is better to trust in the good of all people, even when that trust leads to betrayal. Kan wants Caine to preserve not a face of animosity to the world, but one of collaboration.

In the second flashback, Kan and Caine are at a street festival watching an attractive woman perform a folk dance. This is a great scene, with the great Philip Ahn as Kan looking on the performance and smiling and Radames Peres as Caine, behind Kan, looking deeply uncomfortable. Kan, not even looking at Caine, asks Caine what he is feeling. Caine insists he feels nothing. Kan knowingly informs Caine that what he feels for the woman on stage is natural and not something to be fought. This is a wonderful moment by Peres, who just looks at war with himself, the Shaolin equivalent of getting a hard on in math class and wishing you could sink into the earth.

Thus, the Shaolin flashbacks are just as much a part of “The Tide” as the action with Su Yen Wu, her brother and Sheriff Boggs. It gives us a more complete picture of Caine the man, though it raised several questions for me. Specifically, it caused me to question whether Caine is a priest of Ch’an Buddhism, as I believe the Shaolin were and are, which would have made him a celibate. I believe he is not a priest in the strictest sense, that since he was always destined to “snatch the pebble and leave” he is not bound by the same regulations as a full-fledged Shaolin monk – even though he wears the brands on his forearms. Certainly, the series played fast and loose with Chinese philosophy and history, so strict adherence to a historically accurate view of a Shaolin monk or Chinese philosophy is not necessarily a priority. The show’s philosophy, as we have noted, is a 1970s hybrid of new age ideas. But to hell with it, this is a show about a half-Chinese kung fu guy wandering the Old West, after all! The point is Caine long ago learned his lessons at the feet of Master Kan. He trusts, he loves, he accepts betrayal, he conquers, and his heart is unstained at the end, he moves on.

Still, I hope to spend some more time on the philosophical side of “Kung Fu” and the characters Master Kan and Master Po later. I’d also like to write more about Mako, who had wonderful roles in the Conan movies and a show I like called Avatar and who just died in 2006. Tina Chen, I believe, is the attractive Asian woman who gets killed in the beginning of Three Days of the Condor.

As enjoyable as this episode was, I like this format a little less than I do the one in which Caine is a supporting character undermining the Western, so I can only give this three out of four yin-yangs. IMDB for “The Tide” is here.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Also found at CoverBrowser: Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu

You can't like kung fu movies and TV from the 70s and not have at least a random appreciation for Marvel's Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Again, image courtesy of CoverBrowser, do check them out.

Interesting write-ups on this character here, here and here.

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Wait a Minute: People are actually reading?

Hey, all. Not sure if anyone is still reading this but I started clicking around this blog for the first time in many, many months and, holy moly, I thought no one was reading but the comments are convincing me otherwise!

I apologize for not updating. If any of you are still reading this or finding your way to this blog, please drop me a comment or drop me a line. Would love to link back.

Addendum: Ex-Lion Tamer, if you're at there, hit me up. Your kung fu is strong. There is much you can teach me.

Also, now have moderated comments per the suggestion to keep the spam out. Thank you!

Esquire, 1973

Long time no post. I really need to spend more time here. But first I want to tell you about this site, I can't stop playing with it - and look what I found? (IMG from

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