Friday, September 12, 2014

KUNG FU: SEASON 1, EPISODES 13-15 (1973)


PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

The last three episodes of KUNG FU's Season 1 are resoundingly in the naturalistic sphere. Caine shows no special talents, but plays more of a second-fiddle to the guest stars.

"The Stone" is in part KUNG FU's take on Steinbeck's "The Pearl," which also concerns characters who lose themselves in the quest for profit.  Caine is passing through a town when he sees bullies attack a Braziilan man, Isaac Montoya (Moses Gunn), presumably for no reason but that he's a black man wearing a suit.  Montoya defends himself with his country's fighting-art capoeira, much to Caine's fascination-- though the Shaolin isn't so fascinated as to neglect defending Montoya when one of the bullies resorts to firearms. Montoya, who has a chip on his shoulder due to his treatment as a slave in Brazil, expresses a modicum of gratitude and goes his way-- not knowing that during the fight he's lost his most precious possession: a huge diamond.  When he misses it, he jumps to the conclusion that Caine took it.

Three kids witness the fight and one of them idly picks up the lost gem.  Their main concern is also with Caine. They live with their widowed mother, who was recently left at the altar by her current beau, an Armenian immigrant named Zolly. The kids, having seen Caine's skill, try to get him to accept a commission to assassinate that triflin' man. Caine, concerned only with getting the kids back home, gets involved with seeking out Zolly. Zolly, like Montoya, is haunted by the past. In his case, Zolly fled his native land to escape a purge, yet he harbors the desire to return and fight tyranny. Caine more or less convinces him that he's formed new ties in the new land and to forget old hatreds.

The climax leads to a nice, fluid fight between Shaolin arts and capoeria dance-fighting, followed by the usual sorting-out.

"The Third Man" is more in the vein of a murder mystery. On a road that leads to a town, Caine comes across Jim, a genial gambler who was attacked and beaten by robbers. Caine helps Jim reach his wife Noreen, and then invites Caine to stay as their guest. But Jim, despite being a popular guy in town, is a lightning-rod for trouble. He goes out gambling again and has a great night-- until he leaves the saloon. The same thugs that attacked him come after his roll. Caine comes to Jim's defense, fighting the robbers, but a mysterious "third man" intevernes and kills Jim.

As there aren't many suspects there's not a lot of suspense about the killer's identity, and the script doesn't play up the perpetrator's emotional conflict as much as it might have.  Though one of the script's main points is that Jim was wealthy in friends even if he was perpetually strapped for cash, this too is a little tough to believe.  In a small western town, how many creditors really appreciate the spirit of the all-or-nothing gambler?

"The Ancient Warrior" is easily the most touching of the three episodes. At another random stopping-place (Caine seems to have pretty much forgotten about looking for his brother in these segments), the monk encounters an aged Indian named Ancient Warrior (Chief Dan George) and his adult son. The son has been wounded and dies almost immediately, so charitable Caine takes up the obligation to get the old fellow where he's going. This happens to be his final resting-place, for the old Indian knows that he's going to die soon. He's also the last member of his almost extinct tribe, so he wants to be buried in a location given to him in a vision.

The quest becomes more complicated when it turns out that the grave foreseen by Ancient Warrior is in the middle of the street of an Indian-hating town.  One thing keeps him from being kicked out on his rear: Ancient Warrior has a deed that gives him ownership of the entire town and the surrounding valley.

Caine doesn't do very much in this episode, since the main action is legal and philosophical in nature. In the episode's best scene, an irate townsman (Gary Busey) rages at Ancient Warrior about the brothers he Busey lost to Indian raids. Ancient Warrior calmly trumps him with the record of the many Indian tribes wiped out by the white man's advance-- though Busey's character pays no attention whatever.

In the end Ancient Warrior doesn't elect to be buried in a town that hates him, though after his death Caine sprinkles the old fellow's ashes in the street, thus honoring his vision in a roundabout fashion.

No comments:

Post a Comment