A cinematic adaptation of the cult 1970s TV series (and it subsequent televised spinoffs) Kung Fu has been in the works for many years. However, as we learned this past fall, the project could finally come together under the supervision of actor/director Bill Paxton and Black Swan co-screenwriter John J. McLaughlin – with the pre-production process moving along steadily enough to possibly make a Summer 2012 production start date.
In a recent interview, Paxton (who is currently working on a sci-fi thriller titled The Colony) admitted that he and McLaughlin handed in their “final” Kung Fu script draft this past January. At this point, the pair are essentially waiting to see if Legendary Entertainment heads decide to go ahead and greenlight the project as is.
The original Kung Fu series takes place in the 19th century and revolves around Kwai Chang Caine (Kill Bill‘s David Carradine), a martial arts master who frequently helps others as he journeys across America in search of his half-brother. Paxton told Twitch that his film adaptation will retain that central plot thread, while also further exploring the character’s backstory – like “how he ended up being orphaned, how he ended up at the monastery, how he was raised to be a Shaolin priest, and then how he had to leave under adverse circumstances.”
Paxton also indicated that he and McLaughlin re-watched the original Kung Fu series so as to better recapture the spirit of the show – though, the movie version will boast improved production values. To quote the Big Love alum directly:
“The original [‘Kung Fu’] series was shot so cheap and so low budget. They used the old ‘Camelot’ set on the redressed back lot of Warner Brothers. They’d be shooting a railway camp and there might be 15 extras, and we’re going to have 10,000 men on a hill building a trellis. We’re going to be bringing a scale and a grandeur that the story should have always had, but because of budget and time they were unable to.”
While that all sounds encouraging enough, what’s especially interesting is that Paxton will actually have to shoot his Kung Fu adaptation on location in China – as part of the film’s financing will come from a Legendary subset called “Legendary East.” Not only will the project therefore boast more of a culturally-authentic backdrop, but its director also intends to cast a martial arts-trained actor with actual Chinese ancestry (or, as Paxton puts it, someone who is “Chinese-something…Chinese-Irish, Chinese-Israeli, Chinese-American, Chinese-Canadian…”).
Such a move would help Kung Fu rank alongside (maybe even above) Carl Erik Rinsch’s upcoming 47 Ronin movie as a Hollywood flick that fully incorporates its Asian cultural influences. That’s not to mention, casting a leading man with Chinese heritage should help Paxton’s project to avoid those “white-washing” criticisms that’ve hounded such films as The Last Airbender and Warner Bros.’ currently stumped-in-development Akira adaptation. At the risk of pointing out the ominous, Keanu Reeves is an actor that fits Paxton’s stated criteria, as he is part English, Irish, Portuguese, Hawaiian and Chinese, with martial arts experience. Just saying.
Paxton also promises that his Kung Fu movie (no pun) will offer more grounded action, while also smoothly blending Western genre elements with more traditional Eastern martial arts genre tropes and themes:
“[‘Kung Fu’] is going to be more of a Western, with violence, sort of like what [the Coen Brothers’ ‘True Grit’] was, as opposed to a lot of wire work. To me to do a big martial arts film – God, there are so many great ones, and believe me the Chinese do great ones, to me it makes more sense to make it a Western with martial arts… What’s interesting about Caine is because he’s a product of both worlds is that even though he’s raised in China he comes to the West, by the time he goes back to China in the third act he’s picked up a bit of a Western thing. We’ve found some clever ways for East to meet West, and to resonate with the audience.”
Paxton has starred in many a big budget production before (Aliens, Twister, Titanic, etc.), but his two previous feature-length directorial efforts were both comparatively low-cost dramas that were more character-focused than spectacle-driven. Hence, it’ll be interesting to see if Paxton can manage a smooth transition into the realm of more expensive, action-oriented filmmaking – without loosing his footing as a solid actor-oriented director on Kung Fu.
How about it readers: does Paxton’s vision for the Kung Fu movie sound good? Who do you think would be an ideal candidate to portray the new screen incarnation of Kwai Chang Caine? Sound off in the comments section.