Raised in a Chinese monastery (a huge and labyrinthine edifice illuminated by zillions of candles), Caine generally was not the most popular half-breed on the block, but he won converts in his wanderings by the strength of his character and the strange and wonderful way he could subdue a whole bunkhouse of bank robbers.
Kung fu, the martial art, was new to America in the '70s, and it caused a sensation. The TV show was part of the excitement, even if each episode usually included only one fight sequence.
The mysticism, the innovative direction and camera work, and flashbacks, extremely unusual in TV at the time, powered Kung Fu's popularity, which helped make ABC the top network on Thursday nights, something virtually unheard of before or since. Faced with some western crisis, Caine would think back to his days at Shaolin, where the monks called him Grasshopper, and figure a way out.
Stranger than Caine himself, David Carradine played the wanderer. Keye Luke, longtime No. 1 son to Charlie Chan, was Master Po. One of the episodes costars a 10-year-old Jodie Foster, who had already appeared in more than a dozen TV shows.
Just two extras in the set of three double-sided discs, but one, "From Grasshopper to Caine: Creating Kung Fu," is superb, loaded with TV history and the remembrances of many of the people, including Carradine, who made the show.
Contact TV critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Complete First Season
With David Carradine and Keye Luke.
Price: $39.98, 3 discs.
The extras: *** Two features, including "From Grasshopper to Caine: Creating Kung Fu."