The latest instalment in the beloved Kung Fu franchise has been on an epic quest of its own over the past few years. A present day sequel to the classic 1970s TV series was first announced in 2017. Since then, the idea has changed plots, characters, networks, and key personnel. But the core idea of a new Kung Fu lived on. Now we’re finally one step closer to seeing it on TV. The CW just picked up a pilot for the show.
What is Kung Fu?
The Kung Fu universe began with the original Kung Fu TV series. The show, which was set in the mid-19th century, starred David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a half-American and half-Chinese man who was taken in by a Shaolin Monastery as a youth and grew up to become a martial arts master and Shaolin priest. Following the death of his mentor, Master Po, in the first episode, Caine flees to the U.S. to find his American family. Caine originally intends to keep a low profile, but his strong moral code prevents him from ignoring people in need. Armed with his extensive martial arts teachings, Caine soon becomes a fighter for truth and justice. The series follows Caine as he travels through America, meeting and helping people along the way. It also features flashbacks to his Shaolin training and the wisdom he received from his masters.
The Kung Fu Legend Continues
Kung Fu debuted on October 14, 1972 and ran for three seasons. It won two Emmys and remains a treasured cult classic to this day. Its enduring success eventually inspired a number of spin-offs. The first was Kung Fu: The Movie, a TV movie that aired in 1986 and featured Caine (Carradine) and his son, played by Brandon Lee. After the movie, CBS made a pilot for a show called Kung Fu: The Next Generation which also starred Brandon Lee. It was never picked up. CBS aired the pilot as part of a summer showcase series in 1987. Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, a modern day continuation of the Caine family saga which starred David Carradine as the grandson and namesake of the original show’s Kwai Chang Caine, was more successful, and aired in syndication from 1993-1997.
There was an attempt to make a feature film prequel to the original Kung Fu series in the mid-2000s. The famously visionary and eccentric filmmaker Baz Luhrmann was in talks to participate at one point. But the project doesn’t appear to have made it past the negotiation stage.
Kung Fu, The Legend Continues Again
In 2017, Deadline reported that Fox was working on a Kung Fu reboot. The hourlong drama, featuring a female lead, was to be written by Wendy Mericle of Arrow fame and produced by Greg Berlanti (Riverdale).
“The new Kung Fu follows the adventures of Lucy Chang, a Buddhist monk and kung fu master who travels through 1950s America armed only with her spiritual training and her martial arts skills as she searches for the man who stole her child years before,” Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva wrote. “When she teams with JT Cullen, a charming Korean War vet with his own secrets, the two form an unlikely alliance that allows Lucy to continue her search while also coming to the aid of people in need. (It is unclear whether Carradine’s character and Lucy Chang are related.)”
In 2018, Deadline reported that a new Kung Fu pilot was in the works at Fox. Like the 2017 version, it was also a one hour drama with a female lead produced by Greg Berlanti. But this Kung Fu was written by Albert Kim (who worked on Sleepy Hollow) and featured an entirely different plot and characters:
“Kung Fu is an action-driven procedural about a young Chinese-American woman who inherits her father’s kung fu studio, only to discover it’s actually a secret center dedicated to helping members of the Chinatown community who have nowhere else to turn. With the help of a former star pupil — a smart and driven ex-Marine — she vows to continue the school’s mission. In the process, she discovers things she never knew about her cultural background and family’s heritage, including a connection to a legendary ancestor. That legendary ancestor presumably is Carradine’s character from the original series, Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine.”
Is the third time a charm for Kung Fu?
In late 2019, a new hope for a new Kung Fu series emerged, this time at the CW. Last November, Deadline reported that that youth-oriented network was working on a reimagining of the original Kung Fu series. This version also had a modern day setting and a female lead, and Greg Berlanti was still attached, but it had a new writer (Christina M. Kim, who has written for shows like Blindspot and NCIS: Los Angeles), and a whole new vision.
“Inspired by the original series created by Ed Spielman, in the reimagined Kung Fu, a quarter-life crisis causes a young Chinese-American woman to drop out of college and go on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China,” Nellie Andreeva and Denise Petski wrote. “But when she returns to find her hometown overrun with crime and corruption, she uses her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice…all while searching for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and is now targeting her.”
This version of of the Kung Fu reboot received a pilot order from the CW on January 30, 2020. There’s no news yet on when we might get to see the show, but we’ll keep you updated!