"Man those cats were fast as lightning."
Karate was the big thing in the 1960s and Ninjas were huge in the 80s; but it was Kung Fu that kicked ass and took names in the 1970s. I couldn't even begin to cover the pop culture output of the genre in that decade - that's for an entire blog to deal with. A single post simply can't do it justice.
Before I wax on any further, let Carl Douglas set the background music....
No doubt, a big factor in Kung Fu's rise to prominence was the undeniable charisma of Bruce Lee. He was only in four films before his untimely death at 32; but in that short time, he was able to bring the genre to the mainstream. The fad was further encouraged by the fact that African Americans embraced it. Something about an outsider rising up against the establishment with his bare hands struck a chord in the black community. There's hardly a blaxploitation hero that doesn't demonstrate their Kung Fu moves.
The timing was perfect too. "Machismo" was big in the 70s. Men wore tight pants, drove muscle cars, and had lots and lots of sex. This wasn't the 90s with its neurotic metrosexuals (i.e. Friends and Seinfeld); no, this was the 70s, and men wanted two fisted action with lots of blood and bone breaking. Kung Fu delivered the goods.
As a kid, my experience with Kung Fu was largely limited to Hong Kong Phooey and Kung Fu Theatre and Samurai Sunday on TV. Plus, we all know about GI Joe's "Kung Fu Grip" in 1974. I remember the drive-ins and older movie houses always had titles like Shogun Assassin, but I never went. A lot kids my age got into David Carradine's Kung Fu, but I never watched it because it came on opposite Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart.
As with any big fad, comic books jump on the bandwagon. Tons of martial arts themed comics came out during this decade, and even some superheroes invented for the occasion (i.e. Shang Chi).
And let's not forget about when Billy Jack opened up a can of Kung Fu whoop ass on the those dumb hick policemen. Without question, this film is the most conflicted movie ever made: On the one hand, it's a preachy hippie propoganda about love and peace. On the other hand, its best scenes involve Billy Jack beating the living shit out of people. The Kung Fu kick he delivers to Mr. Posner is one of my favorite scenes in cinema: "I'm gonna take this right foot, and I'm gonna whop you on that side of your face... and you wanna know something? There's not a damn thing you're gonna be able to do about it." WHACK!
More Kung-Fu posts to come, for sure. Until then, BIONICPUNCH!