Monday, January 15, 2007

Fifth Graders of Fury Double Feature: Dragon of Shaolin and Kung Fu 06.08.00

An Enlightened young Chinese poetess recently cleared the Path for me when, as we sat underneath the Bodhi Tree, she revealed this Noble Truth: cute kids and kung fu are always entertaining.

Instantly, I began to formulate my objections, to search my memory for examples of cute kids and kung fu that were anything but entertaining. The Enlightened young Chinese poetess silenced my tongue with a subtle gesture before I could say anything stupid, which as we all know, is all we ever say.

The Enlightened young Chinese poetess and I meditated on the nature of this for some time when the Path became clear: a movie with both cute kids and kung fu would be the most entertaining of all.

Dragon of Shaolin (1995)
Not to be confused with the horrible Brute Lee film of the same name, Dragon of Shaolin is probably the ultimate cute kid kung fu movie, the titular Dragon being a cute kid and Shaolin, a style of kung fu. Dragon is a monk at the Shaolin Temple who becomes separated from his order. Befriending a beggar/thief with questionable ethics, Dragon begins a perilous journey across China, mentored by the miscreant, and in turn, mentoring him. Of course, this is an archetypal Chinese story, almost mythological, but Dragon of Shaolin breathes new life into an ancient parable with a spirited performance by the cute kid.

Kung Fu (1972)
It is unfortunate that the network suits at the time decided that audiences would not want to see Bruce Lee, a Chinaman, play Kwai Chang Caine, a Chinaman. But that in no way diminishes the power of this film that launched the classic ‘70s television series. The role of Caine went to David Carradine, who looks vaguely Eurasian, and the character was changed to be a half-breed orphan adopted by the Shaolin monks of 19th Century China. Carradine, of course, was not a cute kid, nor a cute adult for that matter, but in flashback sequences, Caine’s boyhood at the monastery is thoroughly explored, Radames Pera playing Caine as a cute kid, “I’m Easy” Keith Carradine, playing Caine as a cute teenager. The story follows Caine’s escape from Imperial China, where Caine has killed a prince in retaliation for Master Po’s murder, to the Old West, where Chinese immigrants are exploited by greedy railroad men. Again, an old story, but told so well in Jerry Thorpe’s film that it seems fresh. And the kung fu is shot in vintage ‘70s super slo-mo.

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