Kung Fu, Season 1, on DVD

Today while grocery shopping at Carrefour I discovered a rather extensive collection of non-pirated DVDs. It was really kind of shocking. I’m not talking about just Roman Holiday or Charlie Chaplin or whatever; I’m talking about movies that were in theatres in the States in the past year. Most were priced at about 20 RMB. While that’s still close to triple the pirated price tag, it’s moving into the affordable range. With DVDs priced at 20 RMB, many Shanghai consumers could still afford them (although they might have to get choosier) if the police were ever to really crack down on DVD piracy instead of just pretending to.

Kung Fu (1st Season) DVD

Kung Fu, Season 1

But anyway… this post is about the old TV series with David Carradine, Kung Fu (Chinese title 功夫, not to be confused with the Stephen Chow movie of the same name). I found Season 1 on DVD at Carrefour priced at 118 RMB for the 6-disc set. Anti-piracy saint that I am, I plunked down all that cash for the official version.

When I think about it, the TV show Kung Fu was probably my first exposure to “Chinese culture” growing up, aside from the occasional Chinese restaurant. I was never very interested in China until about two years before coming here, so it’s kind of interesting to revisit one of my earliest sources of Chinese cultural input to see what I think of it now. I remember watching bits of the TV show with my dad as a child and finding it pretty boring. So now, about 20 years later, I have a chance to see what I missed.

I was also curious what Chinese people think of this TV show… I mean, it’s a story about a Shaolin monk in the American Old West, but it was written in the 70’s, mainly by Americans Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman. I’m just going to take a wild guess here and say that they’re probably not eminent sinologists. The chances of massive cultural gaffes are great. You have tons of flashback scenes of the young protagonist at Shaolin Temple, and you can’t watch 5 minutes without someone spouting some sort of Eastern philosophy. Bruce Lee was co-creator, though, so maybe he made sure they got it mostly right?

Not being a journalist, I’m not bound to do any real research about this kind of thing, so I simply asked Xiao Wang (my ayi). She was very familiar with the show, and though it was great. Well, cool… at least some Chinese like it. She didn’t erupt into spontaneous laughter, anyway.

Three little details I noticed after watching the first episode:

1. The main character of the showed is called Caine. His name is written in the Chinese subtitles as 凯恩. This is also the Chinese name of Ken Carroll, co-founder of ChinesePod, as well as of his Kaien English School. Coincidence??

2. In one scene there are two clear references to Shaolin Temple as being in Hunan. But it’s not. It’s in Henan. The Chinese subtitles got it right.

3. Caine’s full name is Kwai Chang Caine. Apparently the Chinese translators couldn’t make any sense of that as a Chinese name, so they called him 凯恩· 张.

If you want English audio, the DVD won’t let you turn off the Chinese subtitles. It’s not a big deal except that I can’t help reading the subtitles. So I end up nitpicking the translation even though I don’t want to. On the plus side, though, I’ll learn how to say things like, “when you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave” in Chinese. And living in China, you know that’s going to come in handy.

UPDATE: Once upon a time, Prince Roy offered insight into the issue of Kwai Chang Caine’s real name and the location of Shaolin Temple.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.”

    A while ago I was wondering how I’ll know when I actually do become “fluent” in Chinese. That seems as good an indicator as any.

  2. And then there is the dubious sequl series from the 90’s – “Kung Fu the Legend continues”, where David Carradine is rather geratric and all his moves in the fight scenes are shot in slow motion since he couldn’t move so fast himself.

  3. Steve,

    Let us not speak of “Kung Fu the Legend Continues.”

  4. Da Xiangchang Says: November 13, 2006 at 11:22 am

    I’ve never seen this show before, but I always thought that Bruce Lee thought of the concept but nobody in ’70s Hollywood wanted a Chinese guy to headline a TV show. Now, Wikipedia’s saying an “Ed Spielman” created it? I’d believe that as much as Guntenberg inventing the printing press.

    From the descriptions of the show, I wouldn’t want to see it, all that mystical Chinese mumble-jumble that Western writers think ancient Chinese use whereas in reality, ancient Chinese people probably said such mystical stuff like “How much is that fish?” or “Damn, my wife’s driving me nuts.”

  5. “I’m not my father. I don’t do kung-fu. I’m a cop. That’s who I am. That’s what I do.”


  6. A little known fact, you have to snatch a pebble out of the hand of a gnarly old 保安 to get any service at 交通银行 (says I who just wasted 2/3 of a lunch break there).

  7. Greg Pasden Says: November 13, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    Ok, So what is an average price for buying a pirated DVD? Can anyone answer that. I’m paying about $0.75 USD while in Shanghai. But I’m also only getting about 50% that work. Any help on pricing?

  8. @John: Cheers for the “pebble” thing, I was actually beginning to wonder when it was that I’ll know I can leave the country. Now to find an old wise man with a pebble…

    @Greg: From John “The Anti-Pirate”‘s comments, I think Shanghai is a bit more expensive than most of the places I shop. In both Dalian in the north and Suzhou here in the middle-south-east (I don’t know, you tell me)… it’s about 5 or 6 kuai per disc. The trick to getting ones that work is to not get greedy. If it’s not on DVD in the US, it’s not going to be on DVD here in anything other than handycam format.

  9. Greg — for getting DVDs to play, you might want to take a look at what player you’re using. Chinese-made DVD players tend to have “super-strong error correction features,” which is a euphemism for “features designed to make shitty pirated discs playable.” I had a lot of things not work in my computer and then play just beautifully on my old Qisheng player.

    DVD pricing varies depending on the format of the disc (DVD-9 is more expensive) and sometimes the quality of the packaging. For regular-quality DVDs coming in an envelope, anything over RMB8 is a rip-off.

  10. How do we know that Carrefour’s DVD’s at 20 kuai per are not pirated? They could just be expensive, pirated goods! They certainly have a lot more overhead than the guy standing on the highway overpass who’s selling them from a cardboard box, and would have to pass that on to the consumer.

    I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth from Carrefour after buying a (relatively) expensive DVD player with speakers for more than 1,000 yuan that broke down after just a few months of service. My g/f insists that I can return the unit to them with receipt and they will sort me out.

    I’m skeptical…

  11. John,
    Amazing. I wrote about this very topic a while back, in which I reveal Caine’s real Chinese name.

  12. JohnS writes, ” 凯恩. This is also the Chinese name of Ken Carroll, co-founder of ChinesePod..l. Coincidence??”

    I think not. At an early Cpod mixer I met Master, but I thought he was offerring me nuts. Little did I know the pebble in hand. I will study harder, and suffer more bitter.

  13. I saw they sell this Kung Fu, Season 1, on DVD at Beijing’s Yinxiang Dashijie a few days ago too.

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