Tag Archives: David Carradine

Friday finds


Richard Mosse has an online portfolio of photographs taken at Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq. The huge stone heads of Saddam shown above once glowered from the roof of the Republican Guard palace. 

Elmore Leonard on dialogue, literary genres, and ten tips for writing. Marcela Valdes on the new biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Elise Valmorbida on books about migrants and migration. Paul Muldoon on poetry past and present.

“Casey may be a Renaissance man, but in the 1970s he demonstrated an unsung talent for making children nearly soil themselves out of terror. For that, to some of us, he’ll always be truly medieval.”

Iggy Pop . . . Michel Houellebecq . . . Cafe Carlisle? Huh?

Beautiful, striking Japanese magazine covers from the early 20th century.

The late David Carradine once tried to get Ralph Bakshi to drop the idea of an animated version of The Lord of the Rings and go with a live-action epic, with Grasshopper as Aragorn. True story

“I played the tape of Tony Bennett and I with Count Basie in 1983, when I looked like some kind of animal caught in the headlights. I don’t even know what I was doing there, trying to sing ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).’ I couldn’t have swung if you put a rope around my neck at that time.”

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Him with his foot in your mouth

In American Shaolin, his highly entertaining account of months spent studying martial arts with the actual Shaolin monks of China, Matthew Polly describes the monks’ puzzlement when he showed them videotapes of the old Kung Fu TV series. Watching David Carradine klutz his way through slow-motion routines, the monks demanded to know if this laowai — white guy — was deliberately making fun of the art with his shoddy technique:

The monks were used to highly fictionalized portrayals of the Shaolin Temple, so they weren’t bothered by the fantasy version of Shaolin in David Carradine’s Kung Fu. They were, however, shocked by the casting of David Carradine.
“How can he be a Shaolin monk?” Little Tiger asked. “He’s a laowai.”
“Actually in the story he’s half-Chinese, half-laowai,” I said. 
“He doesn’t look like a hun xui,” Little Tiger said. “Mixed blood.”
Deqing cuffed Little Tiger across the back of the head again. “Don’t use bad words.”
“The actor is a laowai,” I said. “He’s pretending to be half-Chinese.”
“That explains why his kungfu is so terrible,” Little Tiger said, as he ducked to the back row to avoid another cuff.
For the rest of the movie I ignored the slights to David Carradine’s kungfu skills, which were admittedly poor. (To be fair, however, he did capture that California New Age, faux-Zen blankness perfectly.) I was waiting for the climactic moment that nearly every American male who as alive in the early 1970s remembers: the scene here Carradine lifts a burning chalice to pass the final Shaolin test, permanently branding a dragon on one forearm and a tiger on the other. I hadn’t seen or heard anything like this legend since my arrival, but I had to know.
“Is this story true?” I asked. “Did that used to be the final test for Shaolin monks?”
“No,” Deqing said. “Why would we want to burn our arms like that? You might end up a cripple, never be able to make a fist again in your life. What kind of kungfu test would that be?”
“Americans have excellent imaginations, however,” Little Tiger offered as a consolation. “Don’t you agree, Deqing?”
“They make good movies,” Deqing conceded.

I mention all this not to disparage Carradine, who was in many ways an underrated actor when he wasn’t pretending to be a kung fu master — a man doesn’t get roles with Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby if he’s spent his years mastering the art of suck. It’s just ironic to think that while last week’s news stories about Carradine’s death inevitably brought out references to Kung Fu and martial arts, the same week saw the death of Shek Kin, a legitimate martial artist in his own right and a film icon for generations of moviegoers throughout Asia.      
As Jean Lukitch points out in this extremely knowledgeable and detailed appreciation, Shek made some 500 movies in a career that stretched from 1940 to his retirement in the mid-Nineties. Only a fraction of them are available on video, and with many of them — quickie chop-socky flicks with miniscule budgets — that’s probably just as well. With his crinkly brow and sneering mouth, Shek (sometimes identified as Shieh Kien) was invariably cast as “the evil kung fu master, scheming in a throne room dominated by a giant mural of a skull or demon,” though when given the opportunity to show some range, Shek always came through with some interesting character touches.   
Shek had the distinction of playing opposite the genre’s two bona fide international superstars: Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Shek’s turn as the Ginsu-fingered Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon was a memorable bit of villainy, and even though he was Lee’s senior by some thirty years, Shek held his own quite nicely while filming the climactic fight in the mirror maze.  

. . . later in his career, Shek showed he was able to effectively play against type, using his devilish smile and eyebrows to charm. In fact, over the decades “Bad Man Kin” changed into “Uncle Kin” for Hong Kong film audiences. He became the ideal “cool” grandpa. Jackie Chan played off this persona when he cast Shek as his comic nemesis in The Young Master (at top). By 1980, Chan could get a laugh from the local audience by obscuring Shek’s face in their first shot together: he prattles innocently to the “old uncle” before letting the audience see the sinister smile on Uncle Kin’s face.

Let it be noted that Polly also screened Steven Seagal’s Above the Law and Jean-Claude van Damme’s Lionheart. Though they were impressed by Seagal’s fierceness and Van Damme’s flexibility, they concluded that neither man as truly playing a hero because neither man’s character dies. I’ll leave it to you to discover their reasoning on this point.

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Friday finds

I hope this doesn’t spoil your day, but the opening of the long-planned museum devoted to the Swedish pop group ABBA has been delayed for at least two years. ABBA fans will just have to console themselves by looking forward to a worldwide touring exhibit of ABBA-related paraphernalia, stocking up on ABBA hair-care products or ordering some ABBA stage costumes. Or they can rent out Muriel’s Wedding (above), the tale of how a young woman living in the Australian town of Porpoise Spit sets out to make her life “as great as an ABBA song.”    

Literary blogger starts her own Brooklyn bookstore. Go thou and buy books.

In memoriam, Steve Gilliard.

The new issue of The Biographer’s Craft is ready for your perusal. So, for that matter, is Ansible.

“. . . if he is your friend, you could call him to help you bury a body. He’d bitch about his aching back the whole time, but he’d still grab a shovel.”

It’s been a bad week for film actors associated with the martial arts. First David Carradine was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room, and now Shek Kin has passed on as well.

Biblical microfiction from Joe Z. Elisheva: “This angel sits here, silent, forever by my side. His head is bowed, but his eyes look up toward me, here as I lie on this soft stone bed of comfort. His wings, his feathers whisper without words in the gentle breeze that flows through this sealed room.”

Only a few hours left top hear Ian McMillan talk with poet Seamus Heaney.

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