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Retro : Kung Fu: Alive and Kicking

January 24, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Carradine is raising Caine again.

Kwai Chang Caine, that is, as the new syndicated series, "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues," premieres this week.

The one-hour action series, filmed in Toronto, is a sequel to the 1972-75 offbeat ABC Western series, "Kung Fu," which starred Carradine as the shaven-headed Buddhist monk who was born in China of Chinese and American parents. Caine was raised as an orphan by the monks of Shoalin Temple, who educated him in their philosophy of nonviolence and "the oneness of things" but also taught him the martial arts of Kung Fu for self-protection.

In "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues," Carradine plays Caine's grandson. And like grandfather like grandson, Caine (they have the same name) is Kung Fu master.

In the series, Caine is reunited with his police detective son Peter (played by Chris Potter). Fifteen years earlier, Caine and Peter had been living happily at a Shoalin temple in Northern California when it was burned down by a renegade priest. Caine thought Peter perished in the flames until Caine's travels took him to the city where Peter, who has a reputation of being trigger-happy, works. Every week, Caine will help Peter with his cases while trying to teach his son about nonviolence.

"The new series is my creation," Carradine said in a recent interview. "I have been working on it 12 years." Seven years ago, Carradine reprised Caine in the TV movie, "Kung Fu: The Movie." "They wanted to do it as a series then," he said, "but I didn't care for the material and bowed out."

That series also had a modern-day setting, but Carradine said it had too many car crashes and not enough of "the Caine values."

Carradine, a co-producer of the new series, believes "The Legend Continues" retains the philosophical spirit its forerunner.

"We have a little bible about what we do and don't do," Carradine said. "We steer away from car crashes. The closest we get to a car crash is somebody runs down an alley and tries to run me over in a car. I jump up and grab a ladder from a fire escape and kind of tiptoe over the car and drop down behind it. The show is about love and truth. It is not about action."

Carradine, the son of the late actor John Carradine and brother of actors Keith and Robert, walked away from the original series, which never ranked in the Top 25 series but had developed a strong cult following.

"It wasn't canceled," he said. "I thought it was time to leave, to stop it. I thought we were becoming like other (action) series, and it has always been so special. I also wanted to have a movie career. I thought if I would stay with it, I wouldn't get the chance. The fact that I did it the way I did, instead of letting it get canceled a couple of years later, actually gives it more power."

Carradine believes the original series caught the public's imagination because of the lack of machismo in the Caine character. "He was the person who really could beat up anybody if he wants to but doesn't want to," Carradine said. "More like Gary Cooper than John Wayne, and a lot like Michael Landon's stuff.

"The idea of kind of just helping people, not trying to get into fights. We do have a lot of fights (in the new series), but the fights are a lot less violent then they were in the old series. I really don't want to hurt anybody. That is very close to the essence of the series."

The actor said he has a lot in common with Caine. "If I hadn't had a lot of those qualities, I wouldn't have been hired in the first place," he said. "I ended up studying Kung Fu, which I didn't have to do, for the series. I ended up continuing to study it until this day. I think it is 21 years now. You can find anything you are looking for (in Kung Fu). Freedom is what I am looking for. I'm into freedom."

"Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on XETV and Wednesday at 8 p.m. on KCOP . It moves to its regular time slot the following week: Sundays at 5 p.m. on XETV and Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on KCOP.

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