Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ong Bak 3: Name Your Fighters!

Got contacted by Magnet Releasing, a division of Magnolia specializing in the distribution of "the wild, unquantifiable and uncompromised." Sounds exciting, and the reason they were reaching out to me was to help promote Ong Bak 3, the newest in the series starring Thai sensation Tony Jaa (if you aren't checking these out, you really need to get to it!).

For starters, head on over to Facebook to see what these guys are up to. In this post, you can name your Ultimate Fighting Dream Team to win an OB3 Poster signed by Tony and Thai Action DVD pak. Runner-up wins the DVD Pak.

As for me, my dream team would probably include Bruce Lee, of course, and Jim "Blackbelt Jones" Kelly. But I'd have to throw in Ron "the Black Dragon" Van Clief and I'd consider, naturally, Kwai Chang Caine. Maybe I could envision a lost episode of Kung Fu in which these actors all star in an episode. Bruce would play a Chinese Shaolin friend of Caine's and the black actors would have to play old west types - former slaves? Persecuted freemen? Wait wait, I got it - Caine stumbles upon a settlement in which a Shaolin monk is sheltering African Americana and training them to protect themselves with kung fu. Oh, the possibilities!

Do head over to Facebook, y'all and submit or vote on your fighting dream team. Meanwhile...

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Herbie J Pilato: The Interview

When I first started getting into Kung Fu as an adult, rediscovering the show I had loved as a kid in the 70s and 80s, I quickly came across what many fans will recognize as an authority, a welcome companion on the journey. I'm talking about the books of Herbie J Pilato, specifically The Kung Fu Book of Caine and The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom. Imagine my great delight when Pilato appeared on our Facebook page, and imagine my even greater delight when Pilato agreed to let me interview him for this blog!

What follows is an exchange with this prolific writer, actor and classic television authority. Enjoy. If you haven't checked out his books or his Classic Television Preservation Society, please so, and keep in mind any further questions you may have for Pilato - you never know when he'll be popping up on Facebook or otherwise!

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IAC (Charlie Kondek): Tell us a little more about Herbie J Pilato, the man. You're an actor and a writer. What got you interested in TV and film and made you want to write about it?

HJP (Herbie J Pilato): Well, I grew up in a tough neighborhood in the inner city of Rochester, New York. My parents did not have a lot of money, but they had a lot of love. And they encouraged me to follow my dreams, and one of those dreams had to do with one day working in the entertainment industry, specifically television. Besides Kung Fu, my favorite shows growing up were Bewitched, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, as well as The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show and so many others. Either way, I knew that one day I wanted somehow to be a part of TV. So very early on I started dreaming big. At the same time, I always had my priorities straight. I knew that above all, family and a belief in some form of prevalent "goodness" was most important. And with that, I later managed to be accepted in Aquinas Institute, one of the most heralded high schools in upstate New York, earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre from Nazareth College of Rochester, studied Television & Film at UCLA, and served my Internship at NBC-TV in Burbank, CA. But still before any of that, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to somehow connect television in a positive way with the world. And that part of the story really began with my particular fondness for Bewitched. When I was about 9 years old, I was perusing the books and magazines in one of the many Wegmans supermarkets in Rochester. I came across a book, titled, The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold, the prolific writer who, among many other wonderful pieces of work, had written the famous Star Trek episode, "The Trouble With Tribbles." I was a huge Star Trek fan, and still am, and I had then said to myself, “One day, I’m going to write about Bewitched like this man has written about Star Trek.” So, right then and there I knew I had to buy that World of Star Trek book. So, I ran to check-out counter, and stood in line. Once I got to the clerk, she told me the price for the book was 90 cents. But I only had 80 cents. An elderly, disabled woman in line in front of me was in a wheelchair. She heard this exchange between the clerk and I, and before she left, she reached into her purse and said to me, “Here, Honey…you take this dime and buy your book.” It was such a gentle and generous moment that I will clearly remember forever. That kind elderly woman taught me so much in that moment…which became a major stepping stone in my career. Had I not purchased that Star Trek book, I might would never had gone on to write The Bewitched Book, let alone The Bionic Book, or the Life Goes On book, let alone The Kung Fu Book of Caine and The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom.

IAC: Why Kung Fu! What attracted you to this show and made you want to produce two books on the subject?

HJP: I was attracted to Kung Fu for the same basic reason that I was attracted to Bewitched, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and later, Life Goes On. At the core of each of these shows is the theme of prejudice. Like Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha is a witch in a mortal world, David Carradine’s Kwai Change Caine is an Asian in a Western world….Lee Major’s Steve Austin and Lindsay Wagner’s Jaime Sommers were half-human and half-machine. So, they, too, like Samantha and Caine, felt like outsiders. And just as with Life Goes On, which featured Corky, who had Down syndrome, as does the amazing Chris Burke, who portrayed him, and the AIDS-stricken Jesse, played by Chad Lowe. And also, too, of course, Caine, like Samantha, and Steve and Jaime, had special powers, and yet, they kept those powers in check, and at first employed their “inner strengths”…their wisdom, their heart, or their charms to deal with the challenges of life. Only as a last resort, did they twitch, or employ kung fu or bionics to resolve a situation. There was a certain “spiritual essence” to each of these shows, specifically and clearly with regard to Kung Fu. And the great thing about Kung Fu, too, is that while President Nixon was holding historic talks with China’s Chairman Mao, Kwai Chang Caine was introducing the beautiful and wondrous ways of the Asian culture to the American mainstream.

IAC: Herbie, my basic thesis in my blog is that Kung Fu took what was basically a formula, the Western, and subverted it with Eastern wisdom and action, and that this was truly what made the show click. Agree? I mean, the show was an excellent Western that featured veteran producers, writers and directors and terrific character actors in the roles and situations. But turned inside out and hinging on the character of Cain - who was often a supporting character in his own series!

HJP: I absolutely agree with that assessment. There was nothing like Kung Fu before it aired on ABC, first as a TV-movie, then monthly series, then weekly show. In many ways, it truly was an anthology series…but with a running character. Or should I say, walking character.

IAC: What about David Carradine? He seems essential to the whole thing, as an actor, a presence.

There would have been no Kung Fu series without David Carradine. He was just as unique a man and actor as Kwai Chang Caine was a character. The amazing thing about David playing Caine is that we saw a peek into his Caine interpretation in another TV western in which he previously starred. It was called Shane, and it briefly aired a few years before Kung Fu. And besides the fact that both shows were Westerns, and that Caine rhymes with Shane, there were other similarities between the shows. In fact, if you watch both shows today, side by side, it is eerie just how similar they are. In both shows, David plays somewhat mysterious loners…and in one episode of Shane, I even recall an interchange of wisdom between Shane and another wise elderly character…very similar to the legendary Keye Luke’s Master PoKung Fu. The similarities between the two shows are just astounding.

IAC: You've studied the wisdom of Shaolin and expressed it as a book. Can you describe it for us? Tell us about the source of Po and Kan's rich philosophy?

HJP: Kung Fu creator Ed Spielman, who wrote the forward to my Kung Fu Book of Wisdom, was inspired by the works of the iconic director Akira Kurosawa, who helmed cinematic classics like The Seven Samurai. And many of the writers from Kung Fu relayed to me how they were inspired by the various wisdoms presented by everything from Hinduism and Buddhism to that of The Bible. It was a fine mix of the best of loving-kind thoughts and beliefs.

IAC: You clearly spent a lot of time interviewing the various individuals associated with Kung Fu, and you had access to the scripts, etc. Tell us about that.

HJP: Before I even started to think about the content of The Kung Fu Book of Caine, I knew I wanted to get it right…and the only way I could have done that was to interview as many people as possible who were associated with the show, including of course, David Carradine, Radames Pera and series creator Ed Spielman. As long as I interviewed these three gentlemen, I knew I would be fine. Attaining interviews with everyone else was icing on the cake.

IAC: What other elements contributed to the success of the show?

HJP: So many reasons…each element of the series was top-notch…the acting…the directing…the writing…the cinematography. All of it was unique. And the show’s success was all about timing. It just came along at the right time…when the world was ready for it. And in the process, it inspired millions along the way.

IAC: How do most people that you talk to seem to remember Kung Fu? It seems it touched the lives of many people that lived through it in the ‘70s and ‘80s when it was in reruns, and it seems from the Facebook page that the show is still winning audiences internationally.

HJP: It’s funny because it has such a wide range in fan base. There are the martial arts fans…there are the spiritual fans…there are the former-hippie fans….there is the massive population of former-kids fans. So many different sectors…but they all loved it for the same reason. It was and remains a hauntingly beautiful show of quality that became the prime-example of just how much a positive influence quality television programming has the potential to have on viewers.

IAC: What's next for Herbie J Pilato?

Things are going so well. A few other books are in the works, and because of my work with Bravo and A&E, I have a few television shows myself that I’m working on developing. And I’ve completed a few scripts that are family-oriented and sci-fi/fantasy-based. Into that mix, I am the Founder & Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, which is a nonprofit organization whose main mission is to educate individuals, community, arts/media and business organizations, as well as academic institutions, on the social significance and positive influence of classic television. And Kung Fu creator Ed Spielman is our Executive Advisor to the Board of Directors. So, it’s all very exciting stuff…and ultimately it all happened because that kind elderly woman who - all those years ago - gave me that little dime.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Nice Website: Kung Fu Movie Madness

At our Facebook group, a user brought our attention to a great site for info and insight into kung fu movies. Kung Fu Movie Madness offers best of lists, actor profiles, video clips and more. An excellent resource for the kung fu fan!

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Squawman

Kung Fu often concerns itself with outsiders, as Caine is an outsider. In “The Squawman,” the outsider is Marcus (Jack Elam), a rough hewn pioneer whose marriage to Kiona (Rosanna DeSoto), an Indian woman, has banned him from the society of other townsmen, which he craves. In this case, Marcus’ isolation is not a reaction to humanity’s wounds on him (as it is in “The Well”) but a sacrifice he makes for the love of his spouse.

Conflict with local bandits drags Marcus back into the fellowship of the townsmen, however. For a time, Marcus is a hero because he has shot marauder Cob Blake. His newfound friendships are tested when the rest of the Blake clan comes for revenge.

The flashback involves a man Caine saves from drowning but who is despondent because Caine cannot save him from poverty and hunger. In the present tense, “The Squawman” ends in a terrific fight scene. And the questions the episode raise focus on society and civilization: what is it on the frontier when its shape and boundaries are determined by a handful of men and dependent on their ideas? How are its dictates enforced? And what do you do when the crowd’s justice is injustice?

Good solid episode, not too surprising. Three out of four yin yangs. It was observed at the Facebook page that some episodes of Kung Fu concern themselves with the spiritual while others focus on the secular, the ethical. Interesting that "The Brujo" was the former while episodes like "The Squawman" and "The Ancient Warrior" are the latter. It's a resonant theme in the western genre: in the absence of a central authority, how is civilization defined and maintained? What does it mean when law and order is one man, a gang, a tribe, a mob?

Another interesting thing worth noting here is that part of what made this show so great was its endless supply of great character actors. Jack Elam is a prime example. Great quote from him on his IMDB page, describing what makes a good character actor: "Who's Jack Elam? Get me Jack Elam. Get me a Jack Elam type. Get me a young Jack Elam. Who's Jack Elam?"

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Friday, May 07, 2010

The Brujo

“The Brujo” is one of those episodes people seem to remember about Kung Fu. (Another is “The Cenotaph.”) It’s a terrific episode pulled slightly askew by what seems to me an unnecessary sub-plot. I feel that often, because the show followed a four-act format rather than a three- or five-act that might have given it a bit more symmetry, Kung Fu stretched too much and involved undernourished characters. That seems to be on display here in what is otherwise a splendid episode.

The show’s engrossing, consistent cinematography, courtesy of the professional that developed its look and feel (Chuck Arnold), is on display in “The Brujo” as well. It opens with a series of spooky shots of the title character, a raven haired Mexican sorcerer, working his black magic. The story involves the town of San Martin, its body controlled by the landowner, Don Emilio (Henry Darrow), but its soul fought over by two mystical forces. On one end is the Brujo, driven by revenge to exact tribute and terror from the villagers. On the other is a mysterious, silent white haired wizard and a mute, white haired boy (Jimmy Turner), aided by San Martin’s priest, Father Salazar (Julio Medina).

Into this struggle for the strength of the villagers steps Caine, who refuses to bend to the demands of the Brujo. The resolution of their conflict is classic; when someone tries to draw a circle of power around you, what really is it that binds you? When someone curses you, where does that curse draw its strength? Caine’s solution to the Brujo’s challenge is as simple as it is powerful. As Master Po explains in the flashback, the villagers, like Caine, must have a discerning mind, a mind that rejects. “The undiscerning mind is like the root of a tree. It absorbs equally all that it touches, even the poison that would kill it.”

I have a personal connection to this episode as well. As a child I saw a therapist for a time when I was having some trouble in school after my parents’ divorce. The therapist used anecdotes from this episode to illustrate to me the responsibility I could take for my own happiness. Three out of four yin yangs due to the weirdness I mentioned in the opening paragraph, and a salute to you, Dr. Self, for helping me 30 years ago with this show as an instrument. Anyone know who played The Brujo? IMDB seems to have missed it. UPDATE: See the comment below from Ex Lion Tamer on this remarkable Mexican actor!


Monday, February 08, 2010

What is the future of kung fu films? Nat Post asks.

A great write up, part of a series, at The National Post on the future of kung fu movies. Melissa Leong asks:

Our culture of celebrity means that star power drives action films today. No one cares if Ben Affleck wields a cane with all the dexterity and attitude of a grandmother. CGI will fix that.

The real stuff is no longer practical. Why spend months choreographing an action sequence, risking injury to the actors, when tighter editing, short cuts and computers will produce the same result?

I think she answers her own question in the piece, which is the same as my answer. The reason skill is better than CGI is because it looks so, so much better. All the jump cuts and edits in the world will not make an untrained actor look as good as trained actors going at it at their own speed. Thoughts?

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Watching Kung Fu With Quentin Tarantino AND David Carradine.

First of all, I gotta give credit to this find to Dot Bruce. I met Dot through her work on David Carradine wikis and as a participant on our Kung Fu Facebook fan page and she is VERY knowledgeable about the work of Carradine, including Kung Fu - I just added her as one of the page's admins for this very reason (and with her permission).

But dude. Check THIS out. Aintitcool piece from 2001 about watching kung fu movies at Quentin Tarantino's house with QT, David and a bunch of other guests. This is worth a read, man, I am freaking out at how cool this was.


Quentin informed us that each episode this night would be an example from each season and that we should notice that in Season One, Caine was half White – half Asian and that other than a bald cap and sparse hair there was really no make up involved. In Season Two Carradine grew his hair really long, "Caine had gone native, almost a native American Indian type of thing. He also started mixing Confucianism with American Indian Great Spirit showing a comparative feeling for Shaolin and Indian. Then in the 3rd Season it was like Carradine said, now it is going to just be me. And Kwai Chang Caine became David Carradine! And it works real well!"


"I have to tell this. There have been a couple of times… A few confrontations where people just were attacking me because well, I’m Caine and they want to see if they can… You know take me. I was shooting this Roger Corman picture, this big swordfight scene… The picture was called THE WARRIOR & THE SORCERESS although there was no Sorceress in the film, anyway… There’s this scene between two warring swordfighting groups on another planet. Basically it was all stolen from YOJIMBO, the film was YOJIMBO on another planet… that was the story. Well we’re on the middle of the set in-between shots when this stuntman comes over and does this real formal challenge to me. To challenge me to a fight. I was like, you don’t want to fight me, but he did. He threw a punch and I… well come here Quentin…" Quentin nearly pissed himself to be put into a combat position with Carradine on stage…. "I just did this" He show how he pivoted away, put his leg out and pulled on the guys shoulder to throw him to the ground. "Then I showered him with kisses all over his head and shoulders!" The audience begins laughing… "But then the guy says to me, ‘Hey you tore my T-Shirt’ and I was, I mean this guy just threw a punch at me, and he’s… he should have more than a torn short. So I say to him, ‘Well it’s probably worth $100 bucks now’ and a while later he came up to see if I’d autograph his shirt!" Quentin, the audience… everyone begins laughing.

It just keeps going.

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