The Monk Goes Hollywood

Jane Naomi Iwamura

in Virtual Orientalism

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738601
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894604 | DOI:
The Monk Goes Hollywood

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This chapter looks at the figure of Kwai Chang Caine and his Shaolin monk teachers in the popular 1970s TV series, Kung Fu. At this moment, a fictional Monk takes his place alongside representations of historical figures, making the hyperreal effect discussed in previous chapters complete. Kung Fu also marks the rise of a new generation into cultural power, whose attempts to selectively wed their parents’ ideals with their own counter-cultural values are clearly seen in America’s first “Eastern Western.” The racial politics of the show are specifically discussed, from the casting of David Carradine as the “half-Chinese, half-American” fugitive priest to the storylines that often feature minority characters. The way in which racial minorities are scripted into each episode reveals a potent commentary on contemporary race relations in the early 1970s. Ultimately, the show individualizes the politics of race and ideally configures a spiritual approach to social oppression.

Keywords: Kung Fu; David Carradine; television; the Western; Shaolin; counterculture; hegemony; gender; China; race relations

Chapter.  18483 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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