Fads #14: Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

"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!


  1. AnonymousJuly 13, 2010

    The Street Fighter series with Sonny Chiba is always good. And the early (1978) Drunken Master with Jackie Chan is always a good call.

  2. OMG, that topless Pro-tect ad has been bouncing around in my head since the early '80s. I salute the guy who got her to take her shirt off and actually got the ad published.

  3. AnonymousJuly 13, 2010

    Gil, ya didn't really have to watch Kung-Fu, you just had to tune in at 25 after the hour and about ten minutes till. That's when the two kung-fu fights per episode almost always took place. The same timetable applied to the Incredible Hulk every week.

    As for movies? You can't go wrong with "Master of the Flying Guillotine."

  4. I think it would be a sad, sad day if you got your ass kicked by Englebert Humperdink.

  5. I remember being blown away at that line from Billy Jack also. One of the most bada** lines ever. We never watched Kung Fu, but my wife's family did.

  6. AnonymousJuly 13, 2010

    Billy Jack used Akido.

  7. The Billy Jack films really were a conflict of genres. Just my personal opinion, I think "Born Loser" (the first, though arguably not really a true "Billy Jack" film) was the best, with Tom McLaughlin playing a morally ambiguous, conflicted hero. Then, each film got to be progressively worse, ending with the wholly unwatchable "Billy Jack Goes to Washington." To be fair though, it takes real talent to make a film even sappier than the Jimmy Stewart original.

    I WAS going to suggest that you watch another Tom Laughlin film, The Master Gunfighter (1975). It's kind of a hokey film (but they all are), with all the cowboy gunfighters also carrying large samurai swords.....but I enjoyed it. The bad news is that when I looked the film up on IMDB, I found out the movie was "made for television" (which is where I saw it), so it's unlikely to be available on dvd, VHS, or laserdisk.....Bummer dude!

  8. Great post. I loved Kung Fu! Hell, I still love Kung Fu! I think a great post would be about all of the different Bruce Lee impersonators during Kung Fu theatre. You remember the "Le's, Li's, Lu's etc..." Good Times!

  9. I would suggest the "Five Deadly Venoms","the Prodigal Boxer",and anything w Angela Mao in it.There's also a compilation called "The Greatest Fights of Martial Arts";It completely dispenses with dialogue or plot, so you can just enjoy the violence!

  10. Jhoon Rhee! Nobody bodda me with jhoon Rhee, I just found out these commercials are still on 35 years after I left dc