THE NEW KUNG FU – THE LEGEND CONTINUES
The original Kung Fu series hit the airwaves in 1972, and not before or since has a martial arts-themed TV show had such a profound impact with an audience. First, the show hit number-one in the ratings during its peak. Second, several shows won Emmy awards, television’s most coveted accomplishment. Third, coupled with the hit films of Bruce Lee, Kung Fu helped launch the biggest worldwide martial arts boom in history.
The Kung Fu television series has undergone three stages of evolution over the last 20 years. This special issue is devoted to that evolution, applauding the only TV program ever to emphasize the philosophy of martial arts over the action. Its weekly lessons in human values define television’s ultimate goal — to educate and entertain.
THE NEW “GRASSHOPPER”
When Kung Fu co-star Mike Potter was a kid in Canada, he used to watch the original show all the time. “I loved the character, Caine,” he says. “I loved the way he spoke, the way he handled everything, and I loved the fights. If somebody had said to me back then, ‘One day you’re going to be the next Grasshopper,’ I would have told them, ‘Get out of here!’ Cause at that time I wanted to be a hockey player.”
Interview by Dwight Brown
Q: Tell me about your background.
Chris Potter: I’m Canadian. My dad’s an ex-football player. We were all hockey and football players in my family. My mom was interested in, and got us involved in, the theater. I’ve got a brother and a sister, but I’m the only one in the [entertainment] business in my family. I started when I was a kid, doing amateur theater, and basically worked through my late teens and early twenties on the oil rigs. I sold cars for a couple of years. I was in the insurance business. Then I acted professionally. I did a series for CBC up here called Material World, which is still on the air. I left the show to do this [Kung Fu].
Q: How old are you right now?
Potter: I’m playing a 27-year-old on the show.
Q: So is that pretty close to your real age.
Potter: Pretty close [laughter].
Q: How did you get the opportunity to work on Kung Fu?
Potter: I was in L.A. and I did a number a screentests for it. I tested for Steven (Cannell sp?) a few times. He was trying to get me on one of his shows, The Hat Squad. CBS wasn’t interested in me playing the role. Basically, this was just one of the screentests that came up. I was just ready to come back to Canada when my agent called and said, “You should read for this [the Kung Fu show]. This part’s made for you.” So I read for it and two days later I had the part. I was at Warner Bros. and David [Carradine] and I read together. He took me up to his ranch afterward and we celebrated. Rode some horses. Had a couple drinks. And started work in July .
Q: Did you have to know martial arts as a prerequisite for the part.
Potter: No. They were looking for an actor who could be trained in the martial arts. I have no martial arts background at all. I’m just one of the toughest hockey fighters in Canada [laughter].
Q: Do you have to do martial arts in the show?
Q: Do you do it yourself?
Potter: Mike Vendrell does the show’s choreography. Mike’s been a choreographer for years. He’s a pretty interesting guy. He’s a friend of David’s from L.A. and he’s trained a lot of celebrities including Schwartzenegger. So Mike coordinates all the fights. And I said to Mike, ‘Unless I look better than Van Damme, I don’t want to be on camera. I don’t want my kicks to look like a guy who’s just learned.’ And he said, ‘I won’t let that happen.’ So I’m a [only a martial arts] student. But when you have to work on one specific technique, like a spinning back kick, and that’s all you have to work on — and if you’re a good athlete — you can pull it off.
Q: Has your opinion about martial arts changed?
Potter: I have really come to respect and appreciate the martial arts like I never did before. It’s been a great experience for me because I walked into this thinking, ‘I don’t care if a guy knows martial arts. If you get enough beers in me and I get pissed off, I can take any of these guys. And I learned pretty quickly that that’s exactly what a guy in martial arts wants you to do: get a couple beers in you and get mad. Because, then, you can use his strength against him. That’s when I started to understand a little about the thought processes. Also, I used to think that most people in the martial arts have ‘Small-Guy Syndrome.’ They’re guys who were never good enough to play sports, period. I grew up playing all-star hockey, junior hockey, with guys who were good athletes. Same with football players. And none of those guys took martial arts.
So that was my opinion for a long time. They’re just punks who want to have something to prove. But now I’m meeting guys who aren’t that. Who have studied this all their lives. Guys like Mike Vendrell. And there’s a lot of little kids who get involved in martial arts, and it’s a tremendous form of discipline for them. It’s a great form of [physical] fitness too. With its mental discipline, there’s a lot more to it than mere self-defense. In fact, our crew has gotten involved in this now.
Q: Tell me more about that.
Potter: We rented a [martial arts] studio to use as Caine’s studio, in which to shoot footage everytime we needed a studio setting. The crew has Sundays and Mondays off. And Mike decided that he would teach classes to anybody that was interested. Now he’s got a full class every Sunday of people from our crew. The crew has made this commitment to it. When we were shooting the pilot, we were doing a Shaolin Temple scene, and everybody shaved their heads! I thought, “Great! These guys are committed to the show. They’re not gonna jump ship on us. They’re into this.” About two weeks after that, Mike started his kung-fu classes. Now they’ve been coming regularly to his classes for about two-and-a-half months.
Q: How about the whole philosophy attached to kung-fu? Have you been exposed to any of that?
Potter: Yeah. It comes every week. It’s through osmossis. You can’t really help it when you’re surrounded by a guy like David Carradine. I work with him every day. And guys like Mike Vendrell and Rob Moses, who’s up here from L.A. as well and has been training and teaching. These guys have been studying this art for years.
Q: Being a beginner, you’re basically in the same situation David Carradine was twenty years ago when he started the original show without having had any training.
Potter: Yeah, but David started when he was 35! He was older than I am when he started the series. David came from a dance background. He was an actor and a dancer. He could move. If you talk to these guys who train him they say, “If you can move, I can teach you.” And they teach us using our flow, our movement. That’s the interesting thing. David is the same way.
Q: So you’re proud of the show so far?
Potter: Well, I am. But if we’re talking strictly from the business side of it, you never know in this business what is gonna work and what isn’t. What worries me a bit is we’ve got kind of the old Star Trek situation. That is, we’ve got a reputation to live up to. Like the old Trekkers, we’re gonna have a bunch of old Kung Fu fans that are gonna watch this and say, “Oh, hell…it’s not what it was. I’m disappointed.”
On the other hand, there’s gonna be a whole legion of new fans that get caught up in the momentum of this whole thing. So I never know if it’s gonna work or not. All I do is prepare myself every day, get to work and do the job. The rest will take care of itself.
Q: After this, do you think it will become part of your life?
Potter: Well, I’m an actor. Let’s not try to tell people otherwise. When the show becomes a hit, I don’t want to be walking into every bar like I’m Wendell Clark and have to defend myself all the time.
One of the reasons I chose acting was because, as a kid, I was good at a lot of things. I was a musician, I did well in sports, I did well in school. It’s gave me an outlet to do a lot of different things. I try to do them really well. And as an actor, you’re always being challenged by that. So the answer is, if I do this show long enough, yeah, definitely, I’ll become involved in the martial arts to the point of studying it seriously. But if the show was to end tomorrow, I don’t know that I’d rush out to study it. I don’t hink it’s gonna make a career for me.
I think that’s what some of the martial artists have to understand about this business. Sometimes they think, “If I’m the best martial artist around… Jean-Claude Van Damme and [Steven] Seagal are not great martial artists, definitely not. It’s been proven. We have people up here on the show that doubled them and worked with them. But it’s their job to make movies. I admire those guys for their ability to cross the line and sell the martial arts as a respected sport and so on.
Q: Tell us about your character on the show.
Potter: Peter is the great-grandson of Kwai Chang Caine. David is playing the grandson of his original character. That’s how we bring it up to present day. Back in the original [Shaolin] Temple, my father brought me up and my mother had disappeared. Died or disappeared…we’re not sure. Peter grew up with the Shaolin principles. At the age of thirteen or fourteen there was a fire in the Temple and in the aftermath he was told his father was dead. Caine was also told that his son was dead.
They were separated for fifteen years. Fifteen years later, in the first movie — the pilot — they are reunited. Peter grew up in an orphanage and was brought up by a cop and his family., and ends up becoming a cop in the big city. He has abandoned his Shaolin principles. He’s become a version of Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis. He’s quick with his gun, quick with his tongue, looks for fights, doesn’t subscribe to gentleness overcoming strength. He figures a bigger gun overcomes a smaller gun, and that’s that.
By accident, at the scene of a crime in Chinatown, he ends up seeing his father. They end up reuniting. That sets us off on a new journey. Father and son are reunited; father has a lot to teach the son about his ways, and he is constantly, in every episode, reminding him of lessons and principles from the past.
Eventually, in episode five, we get the stage where Peter has just been in a fistfight with a martial artist and has had the shit kicked out of him. He musters up some strength to give this guy one last haymaker, stands back, and then just has a vision of a flying back kick that he remembers. He does it, and just about takes this guy’s head off.
But with each episode, things are starting to come back to him more and more. And Caine is there to always protect his ass. Of course, Peter is always there, too, to do the same in return. Caine is always getting in trouble because he’s like a fish out of water. So every week there’s a conflict in that situation.
So it’s pretty interesting. We got some great story lines. And as you can imagine, the difference between the two characters is really interesting.
Q: So as the show progresses and the closer you get to your father in the show, does your character evolve a little more into the philosophy of kung-fu?
Potter: Yeah. He starts to drop his gun more. He starts to leave his gun behind and go into situations with an better awareness.
Q: Before you got this job, David Carradine, to you, must have been a name you’ve known…
Potter: Yeah, when I was a kid, my brother and I used to watch the original show all the time. I loved the character, Caine. I loved the way he spoke, the way he handled everything, and I loved the fights. If somebody had said to me back then, “One day you’re going to be the next Grasshopper, I would have said, ‘Get out of here!’ Cause at that time I wanted to be a hockey player. To me, David Carradine is on a pedastal amongst martial artists and sifus. What was interesting was that when I started working with him I realized what a great actor he is. I always knew he was an outsider in the acting world, and I wondered why. A lot of it has to do with the fact that David is just David. David doesn’t play business games. He’s in this strictly to act. And when he’s not acting, he’s not really happy. He likes to work. That’s it. So he can be tough on himself sometimes. That pisses me off. I wish he would take it a little easier on himself. But, at times, I guess we’re all tough on ourselves. I can’t think of a better person to work with on television because, as far as I’m concerned, David Carradine should be on the A-list in Hollywood, working in feature films. So, for me, it’s like working with one of the best actors you could ask for.
Q: Has anything about this show changed your outlook on violence?
Potter: Not really. As I said before, my respect for martial arts has changed. But I’ve always been a pacifist. I mean, that’s contradictory to what I said about hockey, but hockey’s a game, and the game is played that way. But I’ve never really looked for trouble. And I guess this is reinforcement of my own beliefs about that. The thing I find about the best martial artists that have come on the show is that the guys who are really good, and really potentially very dangerous people, won’t talk at all about it. They don’t tell you much about their accomplishments. The guys that aren’t like that never stop talking about this or that kick that they can do, and this or that guy who they know. Those guys don’t really scare anybody else. It’s really interesting cause it’s really common. Guys who run their own studios will come on the show to play extras. They’ll work a whole week before you find out they’re into the martial arts.
Q: The violence on the show … does it tone down from episode to episode?
Potter: Let’s put it this way. There’s no unnecessary beatings or killings. Violence doesn’t tone down, just like it doesn’t in the real world. We’re beating people up every week; it’s always in the story line. But they deserve it.
The fights are realistic. David is not 30 years old. He’s an older guy now…an older Kwai Chang Caine. And an older guy is not going to fight the way a younger guy does. He’s gonna fight smarter. And that’s what Caine does. You’re not gonna see Caine throwing kicks to compete with Jean-Claude Van Damme or anybody else. David’s character is now able to overcome opponents with touches and holds and deeper types of kung-fu training. Even with dim mak, the death touch — you touch a guy a certain way and produce a blood clot which kills him. Here, let me show you [laughter].
Q: [laughter] You don’t think I’d fall for that…
Potter: Worth a try. Anyway, there’s a whole higher level of kung-fu which involves medicine, healing and touching, and we explore aspects of that on the show. Because at Caine’s age and level of expertise, he’s a master at all of that.
Q: In your opinion, how much place for martial arts is there in Hollywood? Should actors just do acting, including the martial arts part of it? Should martial artists stick to martial arts?
Potter: It’s a tough thing because you can go either way. You can say it’s best to hire an actor to do acting, and best to hire a martial artist to do martial arts. But actors have always done swordfights. They train to do swordfights in classic stage work. It would be tough to watch a story about Wayne Gretsky played by Wayne Gretsky.
This is a skill that we’re trained as actors to do. And I think there’s a huge place for martial arts in Hollywood. I just think they’ve tried many times, but it’s tough to find a guy who is committed to martial arts and who’s also committed his whole life to acting. And even if he has committed himself to acting, he might not be very good at it. That’s the other side of the coin. So it’s always safer for them [producers] to cast an actor who can play anything and be taught. I was up for a role in Street Justice [see story in this issue] with Carl Weathers. And the kid who got the job [Bryan Genesse], he and I were the last two choices. This kid was a martial artist and a hell of a good actor. He got the job over me. I thought, “Great, they found exactly what they wanted – a martial artist and a good actor at the same time.” But it’s really hard to do that. You’re just not gonna get Dustin Hoffman and a guy who can really wail, too. If you want to be an actor, you better make a major commitment to acting, not to martial arts.
Q: So a really good actor with a really good fight coordinator can be very believable?
Potter: If a good actor is a good athlete, he can do a lot with him.
“KUNG FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES”
David Carradine stars as Kwai Chang Caine, grandson of the character he created in the television classic “Kung Fu,” in “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues,” a compelling new action adventure series steeped in mystery and mysticism from Warner Bros. Television.
“Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” is produced by Warner Bros. Television in association with Warner Bros. Distributing Canada Ltd. Michael Sloan (“The Equalizer”) is executive producer and Maurice Hurley (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) is supeNising producer of the series. In addition to Carradine, the series stars Chris Potter as Peter Caine, Kwai Chang Caine’s long lost son. The series is filmed on location in Canada, in Toronto’s historic Chinatown. “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” is set in a contemporary metropolitan city, where Caine (Carradine) is reunited with the son, Peter (Potter), whom he had given up for dead. Caine, a modern day Kung Fu master, aids his tough-minded police detective son, as Peter fights crime for the city’s metro force.
Fifteen years before, Caine, a widower, was raising young Peter alone amongst a small band of Shoalin priests in the Shoalin temple he founded in Northern California. However, the harmony was soon shattered forever when a renegade priest, a sworn enemy of Caine, burned the temple to the ground. In the aftermath of the fire, Caine believed his young son was dead, and Peter too believed his father had perished in the blaze, a falsehood woven by a friend to protect both Caines from an unrelenting, deadly enemy. Caine became a wanderer; Peter was brought up in an orphanage by people who had no knowledge of his background. Some 15 years later, Caine’s travels bring him to the city where Peter, who has become a police detective, now lives and works. The people of the city’s Chinatown ask Caine for help in fighting a mysterious gangster — the same case Peter has been assigned to solve. Peter realizes that the Kung Fu master who has come to the people’s aid is his father, and the two are happily reunited. But father and son soon learn how different they are. Caine is a Shaolin priest and a Kung Fu master who lives by his deepest spiritual beliefs that spum violence and force. Peter, on the other hand, is a man to whom violence has become a way of life and force a seeming necessity.
Peter turns to his father in a series of harrowing adventures — from breaking up a white slavery ring to defusing a tense hostage situation to solving a series of murders linked to a forbidden cult. As the bonds between Peter and Caine grow stronger, Peter finds himself recalling his early childhood Shoalin teachings and drawing upon Caine’s wisdom and mystical powers. As Kwai Chang struggles to adapt to his disturbing surroundings and his reborn fatherhood, he attempts to revitalize in his son the compassion and non-violent ways of his ancient teachings. “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” also stars veteran actor Robert Lansing as Lt. Paul Blaisdell, Peter’s mentor and boss. Appearing in recurring roles are Marla Schaffel as Tyler Smith, Peter’s beautiful ex-fiance, with whom he carries on an on-again, off-again romance; Kim Chan as the Ancient, an old Shaolin priest and proprietor of an apothecary shop in the heart of Chinatown who befriends Caine; and William Dunlop as Frank Strenlich, chief of detectives. Nathaniel Moreau appears as young Peter in the flashback sequences. Mike Vendrell, who has worked with David Carradine on such martial arts films as “Circle of Iron,” is stunt coordinator and technical advisor. Susan Murdoch is producer, David Carradine, Larry Lalonde and Phil Bedard are co-producers and Nigel Watts is executive in charge of production of “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”
Michael Sloan’s extensive television credits include work as creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed series “The Equalizer.” He was also executive producer of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “BJ and The Bear,” associate executive producer of “Quincy,” and supervising producer of “McCloud” and a writer for “Harry O.” He has written and served as executive producer on the telefilms “Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Bionic Showdown: Return of the Six Million Dollar Man & Bionic Woman II,” and “Return of Sam McCloud.”
(Kwai Chang Caine)
David Carradine is part of one of Hollywood’s most respected acting families; the son of famed character actor John Carradine and brother of Keith and Robert Carradine. He grew up in a variety of locales: California, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont were among the places his family called home. His first ambition, after that of becoming a cowboy, was to be a sculptor. His father, who had apprenticed with Samuel Chester French, the creator of the Lincoln Monument, had started Carradine out on sculpting at a very young age. After some deliberation, he decided he didn’t want to spend his life all alone in a room chipping away on a piece of marble, so he decided to turn to his second love, music. He attended San Francisco State College as a music major.
Carradine got into acting more or less by accident at the age of 20, making his debut as Tybalt in a small theater production of “Romeo and Juliet.” After performing several seasons of Shakespearean repertory, he was drafted into the Army. He formed an entertainment company while in the service, which travelled to different posts throughout the United States performing plays and musicals for the troops. Upon being discharged he settled in New York City. After some difficulty finding work, he landed starring roles in two Broadway plays: “The Deputy” and “The Royal Hunt of the Sun.”
Carradine migrated to Hollywood to take a role in the short-lived television series “Shane.” Several small roles in feature films led to his return to television to star in the hugely successful, worldwide favorite “Kung Fu.” Since “Kung Fu” left the airwaves, Carradine has pursued a film career. He has appeared in more than 50 feature films, plus 18 telefilms and 3 mini-series. Some of his many feature film credits include Ingmar Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg,” Martin Scorsese’s “Boxcar Bertha” and “Mean Streets,” “Bound For Glory” and “The Long Riders.” On television, Carradine has starred in the mini-series “Gaugin the Savage” and “North and South. ”
He also continues his work as a musician and composer, sculptor and painter. He is the author of a book on Kung Fu philosophy, “Spirit of the Shaolin,” which will be available in paperback this fall.
During production of the series, Carradine and his wife, the former Gail Jensen, make their home in Sherwood Forest, Ontario, Canada, on a apple orchard. The couple also maintain a ranch in the Santa Susana Mountains north of Los Angeles. Carradine has three children: daughter, Calista, 25, who appears in an episode of “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues”; son Free, 19, who is in college; and daughter Kansas, 14, a noted equestrienne who performs in horse shows all over the world.
Chris Potter was born in Toronto and raised in London, Ontario, Canada. Potter’s parents instilled a love for the arts and sports in him at an early age. His mother, a former singer on Canadian radio and television, involved him as a child in community theatre. His father, a former pro-football player who later coached the Western Mustangs, one of Canada’s top college football teams, encouraged his passion for hockey and baseball as well as football.
After college he held a variety of jobs, from working on an oil rig in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean, “as far north as you can get without sitting on a pole,” to playing in a rock band. He eventually got a job selling group health insurance for his father’s firm.
Throughout his myriad of jobs, Potter stayed active in community theatre groups in his hometown of London, Ontario. One play drew Martha Henry, one of Canada’s leading actresses, to the audience. She suggested that Potter try making acting his career, and cast him in a play she was producing, the Canadian production of Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues,” at the Grand Theatre in Toronto. His performance generated positive reviews. One month later Potter landed a role in the popular Canadian TV comedy, “Material World.” During the three years he starred in the series, his career took off. He guest starred in a number of American television series, including “Counterstrike,” “The Hidden Room” and “Top Cops.”
As a youth, Potter was an avid fan of the original “Kung Fu” series, but admits he tuned in mostly for the action sequences and that the Asian philosophy went right over his head. He says he’s now relishing the chance to star in the new series and to explore many of the facets of “Kung Fu” he missed the first time around.
Potter and his wife, Karen, a high school teacher, make their home in London, Ontario. The couple have one daughter, Jessie, age 16 months, and are expecting another child in the fall.
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(Kwai Chang Caine)
David Carradine is part of one of Hollywood’s most respected acting families: the son of famed character actor John Carradine and brother of Keith and Robert Carradine. His first starring roles were in two Broadway plays: “The Deputy” and “The Royal Hunt of the Sun.” A role in the short-lived television series “Shane” and small parts in several feature films led to his starring role in the original 70’s series “Kung Fu.” Since “Kung Fu” ended, Carradine has concentrated on his feature film career, which have included memorable roles in such films as “The Serpent’s Egg,” “Boxcar Bertha,” “Mean Streets,” “Bound For Glory,” and “The Long Riders.” On television, his work has included the hit mini-series “North and South. ”
Chris Potter’s appearance in community theatre productions in his hometown of London, Ontario, Canada drew the attention of Martha Henry, one of Canada’s leading actresses. She cast Potter in a play she was producing, the Canadian production of Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues,” at the Grand Theatre in Toronto. Potter later landed a role in the popular Canadian TV comedy series, “Material World,” starring for three years and launching his career. Potter’s credits also include guest starring roles in a number of American television series, including “Counterstrike,” “The Hidden Room” and “Top Cops.”
andoned his Shaolin principles. He’s become a version of Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis. He’s quick with his gun, quick with his tongue, looks for fights, doesn’t subscribe to gentleness overcoming strength. He figures a bigger gun overcomes a smaller gun, and that’s that.
By accident, at the scene of a crime in Chinatown, he ends