Saturday, September 23, 2017
KUNG FU: SEASON 2, EPISODES 7-9 (1973)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, sociological*
"The Tong" is Caine's first encounter with the Chinese criminal organization. The Tong is explicitly said to have arisen when renegade Shaolin priests sought to oppose the imperial forces of China, which led only to the Tong becoming purveyors of vice rather than liberatorsn-- a moral very much in keeping with the series' skepticism regarding organized movements.
Caine drifts into a town where Sister Elizabeth, a Christian proselytizer, has been seeking to convert lost souls in the Chinese section of town. The adults ignore her, but Wing, a little boy brought over to serve as a slave to Mister Chen, a Tong functionary. Wing doesn't understand Elizabeth's Christian rhetoric, but he hides behind her skirts to avoid punishment by Chen. For his part, Caine seeks to peacefully persuade the Tong man to "cut his losses," but Chen considers the loss of his slave to be a loss of face as well. He appeals to his superior, Master Li, to intervene and send "highbinders" (Tong henchmen) to collect Wing.
Unfortunately for Chen, Li wants him to clean up his own mess, which means taking on Wing's protector Caine. Chen makes a clumsy attempt to kill Caine with a thrown hatchet, and naturally Caine simply catches the weapon in flight. Nevertheless, Li has always planned to unleash a more formidable opponent-- his henchman Ah Quong-- to kill the interfering priest, as Li believes that "a superior man fights only great battles."
Ah Quong is initially up for the coming fight, but when Caine shows off a little of his own skills, the henchman tries to fix the fight by having a hidden associate shoot the priest with an arrow. Caine does get shot. Yet his determination to meet his opponent, despite the arrow-wound, so cows Ah Quong that the highbinder hightails it outta there, and the Tong loses its hold on Wing. Caine doesn't display any uncanny skills here, and he's at pains to inform Wing that his efforts had nothing to do with what the boy calls "magic."
"The Soldier" is a straightforward meditation on the perils of trying to live one's life according to someone else's standards. Caine stumbles across a massacre, the result of a bandolero attack on a detachment of pony soldiers and the civilian they were escorting. Caine gets a degree of personal involvement as the civilian dies in his presence, asking Caine to give a keepsake to his soon-to-be widow. Then Caine learns that there's one soldier left alive. As Caine watches, Lt. Wyland-- who apparently took cover during the bandit-raid and failed to engage the enemy-- shoots himself in the leg. Then, seeing Caine, Wyland takes the priest prisoner, accusing the stranger of being one of the raiders.
Caine is transported back to the fort from which the detachment set out, but despite being falsely accused by Wyland, the Shaolin does not reveal what he saw Wyland do. The soldier's convictions about Caine weaken once he sees the priest interact with the widow, and it comes out that Wyland has chosen the life of a soldier to follow in the footsteps of his officer-father. Eventually Wyland frees Caine and chooses to pursue his own path. One of the flashbacks retells a familiar story: a monkey reaches into a jar to get a fruit inside, but can't remove his paw as long as he holds the fruit. Master Po, seeing the monkey's distress, comments that the creature is additionally perverse because he could seek out any of the fruits in the garden, but chooses to focus only on the one that's hard to get.
"The Salamander" is one of the weaker second-season episodes. The priest sees Andy, a young man on a bridge, apparently contemplating suicide with a hangman's noose. Andy tells a sad story about how his mother went insane and had to be placed in an asylum, while his father, a miner named Alonzo, deserted the family. Caine and Andy journey to Alonzo's last known address, a -played-out mining-town where Alonzo still seeks to make a great strike. External conflict is foreshadowed by a claim-jumper named Bates, who hopes to steal any new claims. Andy and Alonzo go back and forth on the reasons Alonzo left, which involved his attempt to separate his wife from a father she loved too much. Those efforts resulted in the woman's insanity, which amounts to some rather facile plotting. The flashbacks are more interesting than the main story, for it mirrors Andy's desultory suicide-attempt with a successful suicide, committed by one of Master Kan's teachers. Kan uses the tragedy as a teachable moment for Young Caine, stressing the importance of seeing the world clearly.