Friday, February 06, 2009

The Stone

There's too much going on in "The Stone," and that's what makes it one of the first season's worst episodes, which is too bad, because the ideas are good and the potential is great.

"The Stone" is about exiles, of which Caine is one. He meets Montoya (Moses Gunn), a Brazilian son of a former slave and master of the Afro-Brazilian fighting art of capoeira. Montoya has a giant diamond that he is going to use to make his fortune, a quest he sees as deeply personal because it will lift his family's legacy from the shackles of slavery.

Caine also meets Zolly (Gregory Sierra), an Armenian who has fled the Russian (or Ottoman? It isn't clear) conquest of his country and wants to raise enough money to return as a freedom fighter. Only Zolly falls in love with a frontierwoman and her three kids, something that doesn't fit into his plans.

The convoluted plot (Montoya loses the stone to Zolly's potential kids while Caine gets involved and is being chased by bad guys and a marshall forcing Caine to confront Montoya and Zolly to confront the marshall and his purpose as a freedom fighter) doesn't bring these elements together efficiently, and in the end we're left with an episode that is spread too thin and relies on too many strange connections. So, honestly, I gotta give this one out of four yin-yangs.

Mark Pollard at Kung Fu Cinema has rightly pointed out that even having a capoeira theme to an episode is a remarkable example of the show's forward thinking. The art is well known today but in the 70s? Moses Gunn you'll recognize from a number of blaxploitation movies, including the Shaft films and other work. He's always seemed really wooden to me. Gregory Sierra you'll recognize as Julio from "Sanford and Son" and Sergeant Chano on "Barney Miller." Sierra gives a terrific performance here. Also of note - not all the fight sequences on the show were equally fun, as this episode shows. Lots of cutaways of Montoya's foot going into a bad guy's stomach, etc.

IMDB for this ep is here.

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What an evil situation this is! When it is discovered that a silver mine has penetrated an Indian burial ground, the mine becomes cursed and the workers flee. To keep it going, the mine owner and a corrupt sheriff press passers-through into service on trumped-up legal charges. Into this walks Caine. The men trapped here believe they have fallen under a curse. They have given up hope.

In classic "Kung Fu" fashion, Caine's presence in the mine redefines what it means to be in prison. After a (pretty cool) scuffle with some guards, Caine and fellow miner Meador (Don Dubbins) are punished by being placed in "the Oven," a tin shack that's unbearably hot during the day and just as cold at night. Caine survives this by meditating, and he teaches Meador to do so as well. "You are not within a prison. The prison is within you."

There's a great flashback scene with Master Po. Young Caine, curious about a locked hallway at Shaolin temple, is commanded by Po to brave it. He learns that the hallway is locked because it leads to a pool of acid where metal is electroplated, and Po wants Caine to traverse a beam over this acid pool. Looking down, Caine sees the bones of monks who have tried this and failed. Po is trying to teach Caine what Caine will later try to teach the miners about the "cursed" mine. "Superstition is like a magnet. It pulls you in the direction of your beliefs."

Ultimately, Caine's revolutionary ideas, his ability to inspire the men to shift mentally, lead to renunciation of the curse, cooperation and revolution. As is so often with this show, beating up the bad guys is not an option. Rather, Caine points the way, helps it along.

Veteran character actors round out the cast; Fred Sadoff of The Poseidon Adventure as corrupt sheriff Banack, Ford Rainey as mine owner Stern, and stuntman and character actor Roy Jensen as Rupp, one of the mine's potential leaders. Four out of four yin-yangs, IMDB is here. YouTube here.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Kung Fu Novelization

As I've read up on the show and the time it was broadcast, I've learned about - and remembered some of - the other items that went with this show, including the Kung Fu lunch box (gosh, remember themed lunch boxes, you kids of the 70s?) and.... Kung Fu: the books!

Got my hands on this at that venerable Ann Arbor institution, Aunt Agatha's, and read it. It was awful! Basically, re-rells the story of the pilot episode in flat, uninspired prose, probably cranked out in a hurry to capture momentum built by the show. A fun bit of show-related swag but not a page-turner by any means. I imagine "Kung Fu" fanfic would be better.... hey, anyone know where I can find some "Kung Fu" fanfic??

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