JULES – “That’s what I’ve been sitting here contemplating. First, I’m gonna’ deliver this case to Marsellus. Then, basically, I’m gonna’ walk the earth.”
VINCENT – “What do you mean, walk the earth?”
JULES – “You know, like Caine in KUNG FU. Just walk from town to town, meet people, get in adventures.”
These words, spoken between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Quentin Tarrantino’s amazing film Pulp Fiction, marked the first time that I ever heard of …his landmark 70’s television series. In fact, I suspect that many of my generation have only been exposed to this show through the lens of imitation. Kung Fu seems to be one of Tarrantino’s favorite sources of inspiration, a story of a man of few words, a Shaolin monk who avoids conflict at all costs, but when faced with adversity, he can put the smack down like no one else. The monk in question is played by David Carradine, and it is a role that would prove to be the finest of his career. Until Kill Bill, that is, where Carradine plays the title character himself… the ultimate warrior, who has risen to the top of an empire only to have it threatened by one who helped build it.
This DVD set is simply fantastic. All 15 episodes from the first season are included, along with a Pilot Movie that brings the running time to a whopping 13 hours. To make it all affordable, Warner has been kind enough to utilize both sides of the disc, making this a three disc set instead of a much pricier six. Luckily, everything else about this collection is top-notch, from the attractive fold-out Digipack case to the attention to detail with regards to the audio and video quality.
I am thrilled to see this title arrive on DVD, as I was quickly sucked into this world of adventure and self-discipline. I would dare anyone to try and snatch this DVD collection from my hand.
As would be expected, this made for TV epic is presented in glorious, breathtaking mono.
All kidding aside, this is quite possibly the best mono soundtrack that I have ever experienced. Obviously, there is no real sense of space and distance, but the track does have a surprising amount of depth. The audio, like the man himself, is simple and reserved, but it can become quite forceful when the need arises. The silence which inevitably comes before the storm is powerful when combined with the hard-hitting impact that Caine subsequently delivers to his foes. Even the Chinese/Western-hybrid score is nice here, and while it is nothing breathtaking, it is yet again, simple and reserved, but altogether adequate.
I was shocked to find that this program is presented in a widescreen format. Apparently, the episodes were originally shot in widescreen, and then cut down for broadcast. The inclusion of this wide format, however, tells me two things. One, the material contained on these discs is either taken from a first generation master source, or darn near close to it. The result is a picture quality that transfers even better to DVD than it did to television. Second, it is clear that much of the footage (approximately 1/3 of every frame) is available for public viewing for the first time. Granted, none of the story is new, but the wide nature of these images really gives a sense of scope to the locations that was not available on the previous full screen format.
There is some grain present, and blemishes do show up on occasion, but as a whole, the picture is surprisingly clear and sharp. The only real annoyance that I could find was that the flashback sequences are shown in soft focus, “Barbara Walters” style. This is an issue with the original production, however, and not so much with the DVD transfer itself.
The extras that are included are of great quality, I just wish that there was more to them. They consist of two documentaries that were produced exclusively for this release. They work as two parts of one whole, with part one covering the Pre-Production struggles of creating such an inventive television show, and part two covering the Production itself. All the relevant people are interviewed, and they provide some good insight into the story behind the camera. When viewed together, they are about as long as one full length episode from the show.
Hopefully, Season Two will pick up where these extras left off. I would love to see more behind-the-scenes footage from these shows, if such footage still exists.
I am quite excited to be able to add this title to my personal film collection. The release of this program on DVD may usher in a whole new fan base for this historic and often-times unfairly overlooked masterpiece. Come, young grasshoppers, and experience how good television dramas can be. This is a program that ranks right up there with The Soprano’s as one of the best hour-long dramas to ever live on broadcast television.
Special Features List
- “From Grasshopper to Caine: Creating Kung Fu“
- “The Tao of Kwai Chang Caine: Production and Beyond”