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HTF REVIEW: Kung Fu - The Complete First Season.

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#1 of 94 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted March 16 2004 - 02:49 PM

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Kung Fu – The Complete First Season






Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1972-1973
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 780 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: Color
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $39.98
Package: 5 Panel gatefold Digipak with slipcover case





The Feature:
Though I only vaguely remember the show when it originally aired, I never watched it even during many of the syndicated runs. It’s one of those shows I heard many good things about and recall many of my friends discussing it, but just never took the time out to watch it. Needless to say, when it showed up for review, I was intrigued.

Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is an immigrant drifter on the lam, a Shoalin Monk who was raised in the spirit of mind-ways of the priesthood after receiving much care, attention and tutelage from Master Kan (Philip Ahn) and Master Po (Keye Luke). Though Caine is a man of very few words, the wise and humble young priest is a veritable hero through America's Old West, pursued by his past as the murderer of a royal in China, when the royal’s bodyguard killed his teacher in cold blood.

He flees to America, to escape retaliation with hopes of settling down in this new land. He can not help but continually run into trouble from desperados and other hooligans as they oppress the innocent, while bounty hunters pursue the price on his head. During his travels, each episode has Caine facing a new problem to deal with, and through a series of flashback sequences, he recalls how he trained for various scenarios which help him deal with current day dilemmas. Through his expertise of Martial Arts, the skill and wisdom he possesses, prove to be effective to those requiring his assistance.

The First Complete Season Set is comprised of 15 episodes as well as the original Pilot movie on three double sided discs in a five panel gatefold Digipak with the standard cardboard cover.

The episodes included are as follows:


Disc One:
Side A:

1. Pilot Movie
Airdate: 2/22/72

Side B:

2. King Of The Mountain
Airdate: 10/14/72

3. Dark Angel
Airdate: 11/11/72

4. Blood Brother
Airdate: 1/18/73


Disc Two:
Side A:

5. An Eye For An Eye
Airdate: 1/25/73

6. The Tide
Airdate: 2/1/73

7. The Soul Is The Warrior
Airdate: 2/8/73

Side B:

8. Nine Lives
Airdate: 2/15/73

9. Sun And Cloud Shadow
Airdate: 2/22/73

10. Chains
Airdate: 3/15/73


Disc Three:
Side A:

11. Alethea
Airdate: 3/22/73

12. The Praying Mantis Kills
Airdate: 3/29/73

13. Superstition
Airdate: 4/5/73

Side B:

14. The Stone
Airdate: 4/12/73

15. The Third Man
Airdate: 4/26/73

16. The Ancient Warrior
Airdate: 5/3/73

For purposes of the review, I watched the Pilot in its entirety and various episodes at random spots.



Video:
As I’m sure most of you are aware, this set has been presented in a modified aspect ratio (MAR). While there have apparently been several inquires sent to Warner Brothers, I’m doubtful that we’ll ever hear why the show was released in this manner. I have more to add regarding the MAR release, see my final thoughts.

I’ve always said reviewing television product is the hardest in terms of presentation, and this set is no exception. I find it ironic and irritating that many of these new shows with enormous budgets just don’t look, well… all that great. That is not the case with Kung Fu. I was however, concerned during the initial opening credits when Caine is walking through the desert, but that was rather short lived and seemed to be the most problematic area of the set. There was a great deal of what seemed to be artifacting, particularly during the many bright blue sky scenes. When the actual episode started however, it rarely became noticeable or bothersome although it did persist. Colors were for the most part, rather bright and nicely saturated but not what I would refer to as vibrant. Blacks were acceptable and conversely, whites were crisp and sharp.

Let’s talk about image detail. Sure there are many scenes throughout this set that are just “rather sharp” or what we might expect for a thirty two year old TV show. However, there were many many scenes that rivaled or exceeded many motion pictures from a similar period. During the railway track construction of the Pilot episode, there were examples of clarity and dimensionality that we don’t even see in some of today’s film releases, never mind vintage TV releases.

Unfortunately, with the good, also comes the bad. There was more edge enhancement here than I have seen in a long time (at least from a Warner Bros. product). Not too surprising, considering how much of this show is shot outdoors with extremely sunny backdrops.

There was evidence of scratches, dirt and some light shimmer but rarely did they persist for more than a moment or two and weren’t particularly bothersome. There was also light speckle, but again more of an observation than a criticism.

As for the composition, like many who have posted in the ongoing Kung Fu thread, I too am torn. Sure, there are many scenes that look as though they suffer due to the cropping. Conversely, there are as many scenes that allow the show to look almost "epic like", as though it was almost intended to look that way, even though we know that’s not the case. Many great screen caps were posted in the Kung Fu thread by our own Randy Salas, which can be seen here. Remember, these are compressed and are not representative of image quality. As you can see, clearly some of the scenes suffer, however some do not. If I had to make a general comment on the overall look, I’d say that any one of us could find fault with a particular frozen frame of any given film. Throughout the fluidity of the show, rarely was I troubled with what I was watching and I spent a great deal of time looking for it specifically.

So, as you can see, this hasn’t been easy. On one hand it’s darn near impossible to condone WB for the MAR presentation, on the other hand, rarely are we treated to TV releases (particularly thirty year old ones) that look as good as this one does.



Audio:
Thankfully, I don’t have nearly as much to write in terms of the audio presentation…

Most importantly, dialogue was always clear and intelligible. There was only one exception during my viewing where it competed for attention, which occurred during the initial bar fight scene in the Pilot episode. In fact, that entire fight scene seemed to have a somewhat compressed sound to it becoming almost “shrill like” during the action sequences. That was really the only other time I observed any problems (per se) with the audio presentation.

As for dynamics and range, there were a few occasions which left me rather impressed particularly during the hammering scene in the Pilot episode. As the workers were hammering the spikes, it really sounded as though the railway track was being laid at the front of the theater. Sure the track could have used some help on the lower end of the scale, but not bad for a DD mono track! Obviously, we’re not about to experience the visceral impact during any of the action sequences that we hear in today’s Martial Arts films.

Obviously with a DD mono track, we’re somewhat limited as to what to expect and for the most part, this track did what it needed to do, no more - no less.

Good job.



Special Features:
There are only two special features located on the set. They are however, substantive and offer up a host of information relevant to the show and its creation. They are:

Disc One, Side A:
[*] From Grasshopper to Caine: Creating Kung Fu is a short featurette which includes a number of discussions with creator Ed Spielman and writer Howard Friedlander and how the concept was presented to Tom Kuhn, then VP of WB TV and his reluctance to approve the project. Also present is Radames Pera (young Caine) as well as David Carradine himself. Producer Jerry Thorpe and Mr. Kuhn go into detail as to why Carradine was selected over Bruce Lee. This is a solid little feature that ties up a lot of loose ends. Duration: 22:49 minutes.

Disc One, Side B:
[*] The Tao of Caine: The Production and Beyond features the same participants who discuss many of the special effects and the art director who converted the medieval castle which had been built for Camelot into a Shoalin monastery for the show. Also discussed are the numerous stars that appeared on the show throughout the years such as John Saxon, William Shatner, Harrison Ford and Jodie Foster. The remainder of the feature goes on to discuss various stories which took place while the show was still in production. Another solid little feature. Duration: 20:36 minutes.



Final Thoughts:
This is yet another example of a show I would probably have passed over, never having watched it when it originally aired. I quickly found myself immersed and I look forward to going back and spending more time with this show.

While I’m not advocating the MAR release of this set (nor would I ever), I do believe I have a pretty good grasp on what battles to fight and which ones to walk away from. I believe this one falls under the latter category. Let’s face it, considering the popularity of the show, this set is going to sell in droves. Similar to the Police Academy debacle, WB isn’t very likely to go back and revisit this set and spend umpteen dollars to release it in its OAR – especially when it’s going to sell regardless of what format it is released in. There are simply not enough of us out there yet to make that difference. And to take it one step further, I suspect many of those who are aware (at least the ones on our side) of the widescreen vs. fullscreen issue will look at this box and say, “Wow. Look at this and it’s in widescreen too”.

Even if we (the enthusiasts) were to make a difference, there’ll be no discernable way for WB to tell if lingering sales figures were simply due to a lack of interest in the show (and we all know what that means) or if it was in fact a statement from those of us who are truly are put off by the show having been modified. In this particular case, denying yourself of one of your favorites will accomplish only one thing…!

While I certainly can’t give the set any sort of a recommendation banner (and I would have at least recommended it based on the quality of the presentation and the value - at being able to pick it up for the price of a new release movie), I would say this; If you’re a huge fan of the show, purchase the set AND sit down and write WB a polite an informative letter outlining your concerns regarding the modified aspect ratio.




Release Date: March 16th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 94 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted March 16 2004 - 03:33 PM

Thanks for the review. I love this show and would love to buy it, but I can't. MAR is MAR. It's truly a shame. Perhaps when HD-DVD comes along they will release it in it's OAR, and I can buy it. Until, then, I'll just have to watch the thousands of OAR discs in my collection instead.
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

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"My films are not slices of life, they are pieces of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock"My great humility is just one of the many reasons that I...

#3 of 94 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted March 16 2004 - 04:46 PM

Quote:
Perhaps when HD-DVD comes along they will release it in it's OAR, and I can buy it.

I doubt that will happen. The reason we have this is because they had already done the high def transfer.

#4 of 94 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted March 16 2004 - 07:06 PM

I viewed the pilot episode this evening; and it really brought back some fond memories of viewing this show a little over 30 years ago. ( Has it been that long!?? ) Overall, I was very pleased with the image quality and given the age of the work thought that the detail ( as Herb noted ) was impressive. I picked the set up this evening at Best Buy for a little over 30 dollars which is a steal considering this is one of my most highly coveted TV releases.

Regarding the compositional aspects of the pilot, I am in complete agreement with Randy and Herb regarding the mixed bag result of the matted 1.78:1 A.R. Some shots simply look amazingly cinematic in the new format while some suffer from the cropping. For myself, there were more good moments vs. bad moments in the revised composition so I for one am pretty happy to have the set despite the absence of a 1.33:1 presentation.

George, I respect your opinion but I seriously doubt that this set will be remastered in 1.33:1. If you are as big a fan of the show as I am, you're only hurting yourself ( the compositional aspects aren't as compromised as you might first believe - at least in the pilot.) Regardless, it is your decision.

- Walter.

Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.

#5 of 94 OFFLINE   Chris A H

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Posted March 16 2004 - 07:40 PM

Herb,

Thanks for the thoughtful, honest, "big picture" view you brought to your review. Just getting this show on DVD is all I could have asked, as it was one if the shows my Dad and I would watch together every week like clockwork. Reliving some of those memories easily outweighs any OAR/MAR issues for me.

#6 of 94 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted March 16 2004 - 10:14 PM

If you are as big a fan of the show as I am, you're only hurting yourself
If by this you mean I'm not hurting the studio, then you're right (or at least I'm only hurting them very little). But it would hurt me more to watch a crop & drop version than not watch it at all. I would spend the whole time seething over the botched video, and that would just ruin it for me.

You guys may be right that this won't ever come out in 1.33:1. And if so, that's too bad. But there have been many dvd titles that came out in the wrong aspect ratio, and everyone said those will never be re-released in the proper aspect ratio, and while some still haven't, many, many, have (e.g., National Lampoon's Vacation, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc.), so I will at least hold out hope. But under no circumstances, will I ever buy a title that is pan & scanned, horizontally or vertically, and as a matter of fact, the more I like the title, the more it pisses me off, and the less likely I am to buy such an abomination.
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

"Subtitles good. Hollywood bad." - Tarzan, Sight & Sound 2012 voter.

"My films are not slices of life, they are pieces of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock"My great humility is just one of the many reasons that I...

#7 of 94 OFFLINE   Lou Sytsma

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Posted March 17 2004 - 12:53 AM

Herb this statement from your review sums up the MAR issue quite succintly:

Quote:
If I had to make a general comment on the overall look, I’d say that any one of us could find fault with a particular frozen frame of any given film. Throughout the fluidity of the show, rarely was I troubled with what I was watching and I spent a great deal of time looking for it specifically.


I agree the best approach here is to buy the set and communicate with WB our objection of a MAR'ed release.
Every man is my superior, in that I may learn from him.

#8 of 94 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted March 17 2004 - 02:41 AM

Although, I am not happy about them artificially making it a WS release. I am still getting it. Why? Because, if it doesn't sell Warner is going to look at the poor sales. And instead of saying because it's altered nobody is buying it. They will say that nobody wants old shows on dvd. And we won't get future seasons and possibly other shows. Our best bet is to buy it and when we have chat's like we did the other night. We ask the studio why they did this? And please not do it again. I am surprised this never came up from anyone during the chat. I was hoping that at the end maybe Ron would have made a mention.
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#9 of 94 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted March 17 2004 - 03:07 AM

One other thing to consider regarding the question of an eventual rerelease of Season 1 of Kung Fu in the correct A.R. -

Remastering a two hour film is one thing,
remastering an entire season of telecasts is another.

Hopefully season 2 will be released in 1.33:1

- Walter.

Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.

#10 of 94 OFFLINE   Zen Butler

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Posted March 17 2004 - 03:14 AM

I cannot believe how long I waited for this, and I just can't purchase it. I will not support a release such as this. This is a series that is just too close, and brings wonderful memories of my childhood. Heavy handed post, I know, but please let Warner Brothers know why you did not purchase this set.

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#11 of 94 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted March 17 2004 - 04:45 AM

Even if my not buying this doesn't help get an OAR Kung Fu, it might very well help give the studios pause about doing this to the next show they put out. Widescreen Andy Griffith anyone? Leave it to Beaver in Cinemascope?
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

"Subtitles good. Hollywood bad." - Tarzan, Sight & Sound 2012 voter.

"My films are not slices of life, they are pieces of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock"My great humility is just one of the many reasons that I...

#12 of 94 OFFLINE   Ken Wilson

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Posted March 17 2004 - 06:26 AM

Like Herb says in his review, you have to choose your battles. It's too late to whine about the MAR release of this series' first season. It is a TV series with limited audience appeal and not a super popular 2.35:1 widescreen movie that has been severely chopped-up into 1.33:1.
I am not going to "OAR-or-death" Martyr myself over this particular release. The MAR'ing of this tv show is not so distracting as to ruin it for me. I have purchased it.

However, I have sent my complaint to Warner Bros. about it, and I would suggest that the preaching be sent in their direction instead of being directed at members here, who for the most part, agree on the OAR issue, but can decide for themselves where to spend their money.

#13 of 94 OFFLINE   Zen Butler

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Posted March 17 2004 - 07:14 AM

Ken, I agree, I'm glad you're another who has sent your complaint to WB. To clarify my point, whether you buy it or not, please do complain. Trust me, I'm very intrigued by this review too and would not blame a single one for jumping on the release.

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#14 of 94 OFFLINE   Randy Gray

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Posted March 17 2004 - 03:14 PM

Or we could not buy it and STILL send WB a letter telling them why we're not purchasing this particliar release, which is what I'm going to do.

- Randy

#15 of 94 OFFLINE   Jenna

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Posted March 17 2004 - 11:03 PM

Quote:
...it was one if the shows my Dad and I would watch together every week like clockwork. Reliving some of those memories easily outweighs any OAR/MAR issues for me.

Ditto. This was my father's favorite TV show. It inspired him to get into martial arts and I have many memories of watching my father practicing and clowing around before the show. It brought him so much enjoyment.

Everything comes full circle. My dad is now gone, I'm into martial arts, and now I have the opportunity to own/relive a very precious memory of my time with my dad. My son and I will practice our forms tonight, then settle in to watch the show. Occassionally, some things do outweight the OAR/MAR issue. I rarely budge for MAR, but in this case, I'll make that exception. Just this once.

My Collection

#16 of 94 OFFLINE   Al.Anderson

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Posted March 18 2004 - 12:08 AM

I am really impressed with the review overall and the treatment of the MAR. Very clear, very fair, and not a holy war. I also avoid MARs, but I'm not fanatical about it. If it's a marginal purchase, this makes the difference. (I bought Kung Fu.)

I'd like to follow the advise and send my opinion/complaint to WB, but I'm also very lazy. To those who have done this, what is the address of the department to send this kind of complaint to?

#17 of 94 OFFLINE   Zen Butler

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Posted March 18 2004 - 04:58 AM

Quote:
...it was one if the shows my Dad and I would watch together every week like clockwork.


Quote:
Everything comes full circle. My dad is now gone, I'm into martial arts, and now I have the opportunity to own/relive a very precious memory of my time with my dad.


How strange, me too a tee. There are obviously some 30 somethings in here who have fond memories of watching this show with their father too! +tear+

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#18 of 94 OFFLINE   Ken Wilson

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:24 AM

Mr. Anderson,
(Where have I heard that before? :wink:

In the December thread about this issue (click on the "here" in Herb's review, in the paragraph about Randy Salas's photos, to get to it, someone posted a link to get to Warner Bros. Customer Support.
I'm going blind trying to get to the proper place at the warner Bros. site, but they don't make it easy! (figures)

#19 of 94 OFFLINE   Jeff Pryor

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:45 PM

I always used to watch Kung Fu with my Uncle Craig, who passed away last month. He was a teen and I was just a boy when the show originally aired, and I've watched it sometimes over the last decade but it's been a while. I'm buying this DVD set on Saturday, hoping to introduce it to my 15 year old son Michael. I hope he likes it as much as I still do.

I'm not happy about the MAR of this release at all, but like so many others opinions here, this show is just a must-have in any form I can get it on DVD.
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#20 of 94 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted March 18 2004 - 11:31 PM

I'm not happy about the MAR of this release at all, but like so many others opinions here, this show is just a must-have in any form I can get it on DVD.
This is obviously a very common feeling, and one that must be filling studios who do MAR releases with glee.
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

"Subtitles good. Hollywood bad." - Tarzan, Sight & Sound 2012 voter.

"My films are not slices of life, they are pieces of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock"My great humility is just one of the many reasons that I...


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