QT5: Old School Kung Fu Night! David Carradine and KUNG FU episodes, JADE CLAW
Published at: Sept. 6, 2001, 1:50 a.m. CST by staff
OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU MARATHON
There are nights that seem to just exist in a floaty happy cloud of cool. These are the nights in your life where you sit there and you just can’t believe what is going on. This night contained a dialogue between Quentin Tarantino and David Carradine that was interrupted by various episodes of the TV series KUNG FU shown in 16mm film and Old School Kung Fu Movies starring Bruce Li, Jackie Chan and Billy Chong.
Now the Kung Fu features were cool, not quite the sublime perfection of last year’s… but what old school Kung Fu flicks could be better than SNAKE IN THE MONKEY’S SHADOW, DRAGON VS NEEDLES OF DEATH and SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW? That night was film going perfection. This night this year was something a bit more.
As Quentin pointed out as he first took the stage, "We are going to have Royalty in house tonight! Kwai Chang Caine is going to be right here with us talking and sharing stories from his days on KUNG FU! He’ll probably be getting here at some point during the first episode so when he’s here show David Carradine fucking respect! He’s Kwai Chang Caine! And if you are not down with Kwai Chang Caine all night, then just pick up your shit and leave now, because we’re going to get into it tonight! Now in case you didn’t know, this Kung Fu Night actually began at about 1am this morning with the 35mm Cantonese print of Bruce Lee’s FISTS OF FURY and is continuing through to now!"
"We’re going to have a complete royal line up of old school kung fu. We started with Bruce Lee, next we’ll have David Carradine and in this first episode of Kung Fu we’ll also have John Saxon being represented! Then it is JADE CLAW with Billy Chong and Siu Tien Yuen, who you may remember from last year’s SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW. Then we’ll have another episode of KUNG FU followed by FIST OF FURY PART 2 with Bruce Li and the great Lieh Lo, who you may know as Chao Chi-Hao in FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH! Then we’ll have our final episode of KUNG FU followed by the FISTFUL OF YEN sequence from THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE… And ending up with Jackie Chan in the fucking great DRAGON LORD!!! Jesus Christ it doesn’t get better!"
Quentin’s energy was radiating from him like the power of the Ark from Belloq… Everyone was shakingly excited. Old school Kung fu night… Caine in the house!!!! Quentin and Caine chatting about walking the Earth AS Caine from KUNG FU!!! Dude, my row… the AICN-ers were just smiling like a Smilex test group!
Since David Carradine wasn’t here yet, Quentin went straight into his introduction of the first episode of KUNG FU we would be treated to this evening. Quentin told us that Kwai Chang Caine is his favorite character and performance on Television. He quickly encapsulated the premise of Caine on a 3 season search for his brother. He then promised that when he gets the final 4 episodes of the arc that he was going to play them as a serial!
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!"
Now the first episode we were getting was the first episode of the series KING OF THE MOUNTAIN with John Saxon and Lara Parker. "Now does anyone here remember the Western TV series that David Carradine did before KUNG FU? There were only like 16 episodes. Anyone? Not even you Jay (Father Geek)? Wow. Ok, well Carradine was in the television series version of SHANE with Jill Ireland in the Jean Arthur role, David as Shane and there wasn’t any Van Heflin character any more. Well, this first episode of KUNG FU plays exactly like an episode of his TV version of SHANE. It was like Shane/Caine…" The audience begins giggling crying out CAIIINNNEEE… "No no, there is no little boy running after Caine screaming out CAINE CAINNNNEEE hahhah"
That’s when the KUNG FU episode 1: KING OF THE MOUNTAIN began. First it was that dang theme. God I love the Kung fu theme. I don’t know what there is about it, but watching this on the big screen, that theme just gave me goose pimples and I looked over at Patch and her sister and just started geeking out.
We were watching KUNG FU episodes with David Carridine. That’s just… that… I can’t imagine watching Classic Trek episodes with William Shatner. KUNG FU and STAR TREK were the coolest things in the world when I was a kid. Before there was STAR WARS, there was Star Trek and Kung Fu. I remember my KUNG FU lunch box. I remember watching this series on TV in my earliest years of memory. Watching it big here with Kwai Chang Caine… well it was transcendentally cool. Earlier this year I had dinner with Peter Mayhew while being surrounded by guys in StormTrooper outfits in Minneapolis… But this was CAINE!!!
The first episode of KUNG FU… It sets up the character and the series perfectly. Watching Master Kan and Master Po teaching the young Caine. Shows us what he did to be wanted and hunted. And gives us a dose of his ethics and morals. Plus John Saxon plays an evil slimy Bounty Hunter that gets into it with Caine!
Watching these on the big screen you notice right off just exactly how super cool Keye Luke looks as Master Po. Those blind eyes… the facial hair… There’s just a part of me that wanted to watch Master Po unleash with super fu. I’ve seen enough Kung Fu flicks to know not to fuck with the blind Shaolin monk… they’re the worst! And does anyone else think that George Lucas was sitting down in Northern California eating shrooms watching KUNG FU when he came up with the idea of Yoda? Ok, maybe it’s just me.
The fight with John Saxon was oh so brief, but what was there was cool, and when the episode ended and Quentin and David Carradine hit the stage… the place came unfucking-glued. It was Kwai Chang Caine… and I don’t think there was a single person in the place that didn’t want him to kick Quentin’s ass… including Quentin. I mean, we all wanted to just watch Carradine do amazing badness to somebody and Quentin was closest.
Quentin grabs the microphone and says, "I’m shocked to be in the presence of complete royalty here!" The crowd was still flipping nuts back and forth. "You know, when you take off your boots there to kick John Saxon’s ass, I think that’s the last time you were shoes of any type on the show."
Carradine, "Well why don’t you just tell them everything, I’ll just sit down." Audience laughs, "Yeah the Network was scared as hell, you have a show with a half Chinese barefoot criminal searching for his brother. Originally they planned to have us on for just 4 episodes, once a month alternating with COLUMBO and some other shows, but when we shot EYE FOR AN EYE, a title stolen by Chuck Norris, that was going to be the last episode, they came to us saying, ‘Whoa, stop there, we’re going for the whole series!’ John Saxon was so knocked out by all this, that it was this show that got him interested and studying Karate… Ya know, I have people coming up to me all the time telling me how they love the show, that they went out and learned Karate because I so inspired them. And I just look at them and say, ‘Karate? You know the name of the show is KUNG FU!’"
The audience roars…
At this point Quentin is letting David just go… He knows a good thing when he sees it… Me and Patch are geeking tremendously and her sister is feeding off our combined geekgasms.
"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.
"Ok and here’s the other one. I was at this Bar in Los Angeles called THE CASTING OFFICE. I was a pretty heavy drinker then, but just so you know I’m now 5 years sober…" Applause
"It was called the Casting Office so when an actor or stuntman’s wife would call they’d pick up saying, ‘The Casting Office can I help you?’ and they’d think that you were trying to get work. The place was loaded with Stuntmen and Cops. I’m there at the bar with my drink and I can tell… I could see out of the corner of my eye, you know how you can tell… Well I knew he was edging for something. Well he was this REALLY TALL GUY, like 6’6" or taller. He comes up to me, turns out that he was a stuntman and really wanted to be on KUNG FU, but was always being turned down, and so he was blaming me. He had studied Karate and everything. Karate, it’s always Karate. Well #1 KARATE…" laughter "#2 We weren’t looking for giant white guys that do martial arts, that was sort of my domain. Asians and cowboy types were what we wanted. Well, he takes off. About an hour and a half later I see him coming at me while I had my full drink. Now this guy throws a Rocky Marciano punch… you know one of those awkward throw your whole body into it sort of punch. Well I just moved to the side, and he tumbled to the floor. I mean, it looked real slick, like I was a big time martial arts star." Cheers and Laughter Commence…. Dies down… "But I was just trying to protect my drink!" LOUD LAUGHTER!!!
At this point Quentin interjects that the episode we just watched would have made for one helluva movie. Recalling how fantastic the scene where Carradine is about to open up on John Saxon, but tells a tale about a snake and a cat and which one was the predator and which was the prey. It was a fantastic bit, real evil and cool. And Carradine says:
"Well that was all Jerry… Jerry Thorpe. We were shooting on a 9 day schedule which was longer than your typical show. Now Jerry didn’t know much about the whole Shaolin/Buddhist belief system, but Jerry vaguely remembered these things and put them in." Quentin started going, "Cool cool, that’s great" that sort of thing… "We tried everything. We shot an Exorcist episode, I remember this one time we were sitting around the table and a writer came out with wanting to do ‘an honest story of Adultery’. Now luckily we had a no-man, you know how lots of people have yes-men, well we had a no-man. And he said, ‘how about a dishonest story of Adultery’ and that killed that episode right there."
At this point Quentin started talking about how much he loved the flashbacks and the philosophy they were teaching and how rare that was on television. "Well that was Jerry and us. KUNG FU didn’t produce scripts we solicited scripts… you don’t see that at all anymore, but we did. We asked for writers to come up with the stories. But we wanted just the American stories… the western part. We would come up with all the temple flashbacks and Zen stories." This fascinated Quentin… and myself… if only Star Trek did this. Ahem…
I sat my pencil down a bit due to finger cramps and just watched them interact… You would hear Carradine lament that there were so many beautiful women on the show and Kane never got any of them. You would hear Tarantino go on about the show never become stale like the FUGITIVE and sing on poetic, to David’s urgings, about the parallels between David Carradine and the life of Caine on camera. We heard that when you see Caine in the blue shirt, Bruce Lee was alive, but when he’s wearing the Saffron yellow shirt, Bruce was dead. That so long as Caine had his hat, Carradine didn’t know Kung Fu… but that when the hat went, it symbolized Carradine’s capacity as a martial artist becoming real. Quentin would reference THE KUNG FU Companion book by Herbie Pilato, and Carradine would retort "There’s a lot of wrong stuff in there, don’t get me wrong, its good, I wrote the foreward but… whew… there’s a lot of wrong stuff in there!" We would then see Quentin sort of dumbstruck… As if to say… "Tell me all that is wrong sensei!" And then Quentin went on about how the Barbara Hershey 2 parter would have made a great Feature Film, much better than the theatrical MAN FROM UNCLE flicks. (btw this dual episode was called: BESIEGED: DEATH ON THE COLD MOUNTAIN and BESIEGED: CANNON AT THE GATE) Apparently this episode was directed by David Carradine, who was given 10 Extras with which to film the ‘ARMIES OF ATILLA’. And he was quite proud of the fact that you couldn’t tell… but that, "I had some petty editors that left this one shot where we pan down the line and then suddenly there’s this guy standing by himself sort of like ‘Hi How Ya Doing?’ Other than that shot, which didn’t need to be in the episode, it was pulled off."
Then Quentin wrapped up the first Q&A with Carradine with a bit about the in-development KUNG FU feature film at Warner Brothers… Quentin said, "Personally I won’t see the fucker if you are not playing Master Po in the film!" and with that Carradine did a bow to the audiences applause and a side kick to their glee and he took his seat.
Personally at this point I was sated. I thought, well, time to go home… this was great, but then I realized… ah hell, I’ve got 3 kung fu flicks, 2 more KUNG FU episodes and a section of the KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE to watch still!
As if to remind me of that fact, Quentin takes the mike and starts in on his into of Billy Chong’s JADE CLAW! He reminded us of the great SNAKE FIST & EAGLE SHADOW which starred Siu Tien Yuen and Jackie Chan… and told us that from that amazingly successful film, not only did Jackie Chan become famous, but Siu Tien Yuen (Woo Ping Yuen’s father) also became huge in Hong Kong cinema playing basically the same old sage kung fu comedic teacher in rip-offs of SNAKE FIST & EAGLE SHADOW, but that of all the rip-offs of SNAKE FIST & EAGLE SHADOW… JADE CLAW is the best. He called Billy Chong "young, handsome and charismatic" in this film, and told us that his real name in Indonesia was Willie Dozer
Now, I first saw JADE CLAW at Quentin’s house after last year’s QT4 and flipped for it. The film is just fun as can be. Billy Chong is a doofus wannabe kung fu fighter, that is always being picked on and has nearly no aptitude for Martial Arts, but likes to act the big shot part… but is always beaten up. He gets put to work in a kitchen of a Kung Fu school run by a 52 lb weakling and a 375 lb kung fu fat man, that really play it as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
In the kitchen he meets Siu Tien Yuen, who is a great kung fu master in hiding. He uses his amazing prowess to work miracles in the kitchen.
Now the interesting thing is, Billy Chong plays a character that should never have been taught Kung Fu. Like in DAY OF ANGER, Billy Chong’s character is much like Giuliano Gemma’s character. A box of TNT with no fuses or fire. Yuen, like Lee Van Cleef provides the fuse and the fire… and Chong becomes a deadly irresponsible bastard of a hero.
His opponents, well they have a reason to want to hunt down and kill his master. Yuen blinded one, made the other deaf and humiliated the other. There’s a score to settle. And unlike just about any other Master, Student, Bad Guy flick, you never see the Bad Guys catch up with the master. Instead, the master trains Chong to kick their ass for him and to take revenge for his father’s death.
Overall the comedy is dead on, the action spectacular and well… that’s what we wanted to see!
There was a brief break, followed by the next KUNG FU episode entitled THE SOLDIER starring Tim Matheson as a Cavalry officer that survives an ambush by bushwhackers and fingers Caine as one of the attackers. I could tell instantly in this episode that Carradine did not yet know Kung Fu and that Bruce Lee was still alive. Carradine’s hair was long as it should be in the second season.
Matheson is such a weenie in this episode. He’s an officer that wishes he had the nerve to kill like his dad used to when he was in the military. The yellow ribbon isn’t all the yellow on him.
Of particular joy was the flashback to young Caine tying a sash about his eyes and try to descend a flight of stairs so that he would know what it would be to walk through life as Master Po, and folks… Keye Luke is just a god on this show. Being familiar with his work in KUNG FU and in the CHARLIE CHAN films so enhances his part in GREMLINS when you see it… He becomes… A God there.
In fact this scene was such the obvious stand out that it was the first thing Quentin brought up with Carradine when they took the stage immediately following the episode. Quentin was completely moved by the Po and Grasshopper scene. David told us how he very rarely ever got to work with Keye Luke as the younger Caine was usually called for. What he noticed was that this episode was one of the first times he ever got to play his flute. He’d done an entire season and a TV movie and had never had the opportunity to play his flute, but here he was playing it in his jail cell. His father, John Carradine had always told him "Never be a prop actor," as his father felt props hindered the performance, but through David’s experience, the greatest crutch an actor has is the SCRIPT.
You should have seen the look on Quentin’s face… CLASSIC!
David is apparently a subscriber of the thoughtline that if you concentrate so much upon the lines, you lose the spontaneity and the physical performance… Traditionally he’d let the stand in be out there for lighting and camera set ups, then when he’d be called to set, he’d go over to the script supervisor (he referred to her as the ‘script girl’) and says, "Let me check something real quick" and a lot of times, that’d be the first time he’d look at the script.
This shocked a ton of people, Quentin especially. Then Quentin commented on how remarkable it was that David didn’t adapt a ‘sing-songy’ accent for the character but rather chose to use simply a different rhythm of speech for the character. David then said that his main inspirations for Caine were Stan Laurel, Peter Sellers and Jimmy Stewart… With Stewart being the one he drew upon most.
Quentin then pointed out that Caine was just so cool, he wasn’t fretting about being hung at dawn at all. And wanted to know… if the other prisoners hadn’t initiated an escape, what would Caine have done… would he allow himself to be hung?
"When I’m Playing that character I’m God. Let me ask the audience something, When watching that segment did any of you think Caine would be hung at dawn?"
A big NOOOOOOO, comes from the audience…
"Then why should he think differently?"
Everyone dies laughing.
Next Quentin comments upon loving the scene between the Monkey and the Apple.
(EXPLANATION: In one flashback, Master Kan and young Caine find a monkey with his hand stuck in a jar. Kan helps the monkey get his hand out, but Caine is confused, as the hole is obviously big enough for the monkey to have easily removed his hand. Kan asks Caine to reach in and pull his hand out. Caine does. Next he tells Caine to grab what was in the jar and try to pull his hand out, and he can’t. So Kan asks Caine to get the object out of the jar, so Caine lets go, removes his hand and pours the apple out of the jar. Which the monkey begins devouring. Caine has just learned that sometimes it is necessary to give up in order to get that which you want. Something a monkey was not capable of doing.)
Quentin loves how it isn’t over-explained, but rather nicely told visually. To which Carradine adds, "Ambiguity was the Key! Jerry was big on Ambiguity!"
With that, Carradine left to applause and Quentin began to introduce FIST OF FURY PART 2 (known in the U.S. as CHINESE CONNECTION 2). Now Quentin likes Bruce Lee, but prefer Bruce Li… Now for me, watching Quentin say this, it was a matter of personal passion. You see, to Quentin, Bruce Li kept the Kung Fu film alive between Bruce Lee and when Jackie Chan took over. And he saw all the films as a kid when they were coming out. Now Quentin thinks Bruce Lee is the absolute BOMB in FIST OF FURY (aka CHINESE CONNECTION) but he didn’t really care for THE BIG BOSS or RETURN OF THE DRAGON and he likes ENTER THE DRAGON, but didn’t love it. He called Bruce Lee the Jim Morrison of Movies… Which personally I’d say about James Dean. I’d say that Bruce Lee was the Jimi Hendrix of the movies. An artist who’s skill just blew everyone away, but was not around long enough for any of us.
He felt that Jimmy Shaw, the director, was at his best with FIST OF FURY PART 2… Which is a dead on sequel to the events in the original. It literally begins at Chen Zhen’s funeral. "In fact, almost the entire supporting cast is back in this one. All those wimps that where at the school in the first ones… Well they’re back and they are even bigger dickless assholes in this one. They can’t fight worth a fuck. They wanna turn him in at the first sign of trouble. This time they are even more dickless."
The head of the Japanese in this film was Lo Lieh from FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. Which Quentin was very excited about. And there’s one scene before Lo Lieh and Bruce Li fight that he seriously wanted to take for KILL BILL’s end, but decided against it, where Li and Lieh have a completely civil discussion before their fight to the death about Calligraphy. "It is so gracious, so polite… it’s almost unbelievably beautiful how the scene plays out."
And lastly, "Now the thing that pisses me off most, is that Bruce Lee died at all, because I know had he lived, that he would have been paired up with Bruce Li on a series of films and that would have been the fucking bomb! And that is what has been robbed from us!"
FIST OF FURY PART II
I don’t share Quentin’s love for Bruce Li, though I had fun with this film. For me, Li just doesn’t seem to have it going on in his eyes and face like Lee did. I also feel that the choreography of his fights are fairly buffoonish, with it nearly all coming down to trampoline work and aerial stuff. Which comes from Li coming from a gymnastics world, rather than Martial Arts.
The characters from the first film are just so utterly pathetic in this that you are almost rooting for the Japanese to wipe them out. They don’t even put up fights half the time. As a result as the Japanese kill them I felt nothing for them. Li’s Chen Shen is cool, but he’s sort of like the brother that tries to be an actor, like his brother, but just can’t do it convincingly. If Bruce Lee were Alec Baldwin, Bruce Li’s character is Adam Baldwin.
Lieh Lo is my favorite character in the film, because… well he kicks ass.
Next was the final episode of KUNG FU: THE VALLEY OF TERROR with Sondra Locke as a psychic that believes she is insane and cursed. This is the most mystical of the 3 KUNG FU episodes we saw tonight, and it is my favorite.
Sondra Locke is in her OUTLAW JOSEY WALES state… Innocent virginal distressed freaky ostrich in the west phase here, and that was how I liked her best. She and Carradine worked quite well together in this episode, and the creepy look in her eye was played to perfection. I think she needed to be scary psychic girl in Josey Wales too.
I also like that this episode addresses the larger arc of the series in regards to Caine’s search for his brother. I also love how her psychic powers are condemned by everyone around her, but held in high regard from Caine in the east and the American Indians of the west. Very nice choices.
After the episode was over, it was 4am… Carradine and Quentin took the stage one final time, and I was completely out of paper. I had finished 20 pages of notes for the evening, my hand hurt and I decided this final conversation… which was well over an hour long would be for those that stayed, were awake and witnessed one of the best dialogues between two celebs I’ve ever seen. This was by far the highest energy from either of them, as Carradine really really got into the spirit of the whole evening. He called William Smith "The Toughest Guy Who Ever Became A Movie Actor" when Quentin referenced their epic battle in KUNG FU… But watching David and Quentin go at it, unencumbered with my note-taking… Free of coverage… It was bliss at 4 to 5:30 am. Pure Bliss.
We watched the FISTFUL OF YEN segment from THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, which is one of the greatest things ever and then finally Jackie Chan in DRAGON FIST (aka DRAGON LORD aka DRAGON STRIKE aka YOUNG MASTER IN LOVE) and the film is completely undescrible. It was INSANE. All I could do was laugh with my jaw wide open from 6am to 8am… The film was less of a film and more of a hallucination of a Kung Fu flick. I seem to recall a strange game of keeping the feather thing in the air at all times… and a weird psychotic get the ball game that must have cost the lives of at least 30 stuntmen.
This was a night to remember, as that rat from CHARLOTTE’S WEB was fond of saying!