Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Ancient Warrior

Season One of “Kung Fu” ends with what is simply one of its best episodes. In “The Ancient Warrior,” Caine befriends and elderly Native American (Chief Dan George) trying to return to his ancestral home so he can die peacefully and be buried there. Only one problem: on the ground of his forefathers now stands a town called Purgatory, and they don’t like Indians.

Caine befriends the Ancient Warrior and stands beside the man, even at one point protecting him from some village ruffians (one of whom is played by Gary Busey), but as has so often been the case, Caine is slightly off center from the real action, the struggle of the townspeople to do what is right by the Ancient Warrior and allow him his last request. Among the Purgatory town folk that have to hash this out is the righteous Judge Marcus (Will Geer) and the hateful Sheriff Poole (Victor French), who does a good job of protecting the town but is “a bigot and a tyrant.”

The Ancient Warrior, having staked his claim and pressed his legal right to the burial, basically sits in the dirt in the street and waits for justice. Caine waits with him, and as they do so they watch the town behave. They learn that there are good men like the judge and men like the sheriff who wear the mantle of goodness but, inside, are ethically compromised. An incident with a gunslinger named Lucas Bass (G.D. Spradlin), who confronts the sheriff over a past ill, is revealing – Bass gets shot in the back.

In the end it becomes quite clear to the Ancient Warrior that whatever hallowed ground there was at Purgatory has become spiritually polluted by the white man’s civilization. The Ancient wins his legal right to be buried there but after what he’s witnessed he spurns it. Better, he decides, to be buried in the wilderness where there is still purity than in the hypocrisy and contradictions of Purgatory. As Caine puts it, “It’s better to cover the land with love than let it cover you with hate.”

What a terrific story, consistent with the storytelling hallmarks I’ve been pointing out all along. Caine is a catalyst but not the only protagonist. The supporting characters are all as interesting and contribute to the plot. The episode takes a story and setting typical of the genre and subverts it, produces something new. Emblematic of the entire series and its mission.

IMDB is here. I gotta give this four out of four yin yangs. Some great reading on Chief Dan George at the link indicated.

So I’m finally, after, what, three years, wrapping up my review of Season One (something Kung Fu Cinema managed to do quite gracefully in one post). On to Season Two! I started this blog watching this show with my second child asleep on my chest every night and now, of course, that child sleeps on his own. But my love of this show goes on and I intend to stick with it. Along the way, it’s become a place for me to sound off not only on the show but on a wide genre that I love and the zeitgeist that goes with it, both of which “Kung Fu” were very much a part of. Thanks for sticking with me so far! I’ll try to be more consistent.

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