Sunday, April 05, 2015

Outré Intro: Kung Fu (1972 - 1975)

When I was a young boy in kindergarten, everyone in my age group was an avid watcher and fan of Kung Fu (1972 - 1975), a contemplative action/Western series that aired on ABC for three seasons and 63 hour-long episodes. 

Created by Ed Spielman, the series began with an ABC pilot that aired as a "Movie of the Week."

The series focused on a memorable character named Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine), the orphan of an American father and Chinese mother. 

Caine was raised by Shaolin monks, and in the pilot story, his master, Po (Keye Luke) was murdered by a relative of the Chinese Emperor.

After executing his master's assassin, Caine fled to the United States, and began to search the American West of the 19th century for his surviving family, in particular his grandfather and brother.

In installment after installment, Caine would help unfortunate or imperiled strangers on his travels, and universally adhere to the tenets of Taoist philosophy, which stressed "the way" or the "path" (the source behind all existence), wu-wei (action through non-action), and also "natural-ness."

Kung Fu was beautifully photographed, and today each episode closely resembles a 1970s feature film, bolstered by expressive visuals and accomplished photography.  The action scenes, involving martial arts, were often highlighted in dramatic slow-motion.

The opening montage of the series transmitted beautifully the core concepts of the program.  

The imagery commences with a setting sun, and a lone figure before it.  The conjunction of the sun and Caine suggests, possibly, the idea of unity: that the two forces are one, joined.  Caine is alone, like the sun, in a sense, standing apart from all others.  He is both an exile and an outcast.  But he "shines" a light on all those he encounters, illuminating the darkness of their lives with wisdom, and that too is a reflection of the sun's qualities.

Next, our lovely title card appears.

Once more, consider how Caine is linked with the sun in the following imagery. Lens flare light connects him to the sun again, and explicitly, as he wanders alone, out in the wilderness, until he is able to reconnect with his family, and with the human race.

We get our first close look at Caine (Carradine) in the imagery below, and come to understand that his "mind" and his "philosophy" are singular, and quite different.  

Caine is a hero, unlike many TV protagonists, who is driven from internal sources; by memories and adherence to philosophy.  

Every week on the series, the opening montage gives way to a pertinent flashback, one expressing a lesson he has learned and that he not only re-learns in the course of an hour, but imparts to those who are in trouble.

Here is the Kung Fu opener in live-action.

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