The role denied to Bruce Lee: “John Wick” star leads remake of cult classic “Kung Fu”

The cult series “Kung Fu” is getting a film remake. This time, the decision-makers made the right choice for the lead role by hiring Donnie Yen.

An Eastern in Western attire? That was the US-produced series “Kung Fu,” which aired between 1972 and 1975 and was first broadcast in Germany on September 27, 1975, on the public broadcaster ZDF. In it, the half-Chinese Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) travels through the United States in the mid-19th century in search of his half-brother after killing a member of the imperial family in self-defense in his home country of China.

Three seasons and 62 episodes were produced of “Kung Fu” before it was discontinued. However, this was not solely due to dwindling success. At its peak, the series garnered fantastic ratings, occasionally struck critical notes, and also addressed the issue of racism. But the sometimes tough filming had taken its toll on lead actor David Carradine, who did not want to continue.

He later regretted this decision, as he revealed in interviews. Perhaps this was one reason why Carradine later reprised his role in “Kung Fu: The Movie” (1986). After “Kung Fu: The Next Generation” in 1987 and the follow-up series “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” from 1993 to 1997, a reboot series titled “Kung Fu” premiered in 2021 but was canceled after its third season.

Now, there is a new production, this time a film remake. The project, announced in 2020, is being produced by Universal Pictures and the production company 87North Productions, which has produced all the “John Wick” films as well as “Nobody” and “Bullet Train.” The screenplay has already been written by Stephen Chin (“War Dogs”). Additionally, David Leitch (“Atomic Blonde”) is reported to direct (via Deadline). This alone is promising. But hold on to your seats, because Martial Arts legend Donnie Yen is slated for the lead role (!).

The now almost unbelievable 60-year-old Yen is a household name in the Martial Arts genre. Thanks to his mother, Bow-sim Mark, a master of Wushu and Tai Chi, he was introduced to martial arts at a young age. After a stint in the Beijing Wushu Team, he met Master and action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The Matrix”) in Hong Kong. This was the beginning of an unparalleled film career.

Yen’s expertise also made him a sought-after martial arts choreographer and actor on the international stage. He worked on the pilot episode of the German martial arts action series “Puma – Fighter with Heart” and helped elevate the action quality of genre productions like “Blade II” and “Highlander: Endgame,” which still hold up today. After his spectacular appearances in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “John Wick: Chapter 4,” Yen is now known to audiences beyond the Martial Arts genre. Even those with little interest in physical conflict resolution shouldn’t miss his “Ip Man” films. For Matt Reilly and Tony Ducret of 87North, Donnie Yen’s involvement in the new “Kung Fu” is a blessing:

“Donnie Yen is both an extremely talented actor and an action film legend, and it is a privilege to have a true master of martial arts leading this great film. It will be exciting to work with him as the lead actor, our creative partners, and Universal to reinterpret this beloved story for the big screen.”

David Leitch has recently set up Ryan Gosling in another cinematic remake, “The Fall Guy.” You can watch the trailer for it here.

Bruce Lee’s involvement in the genesis of “Kung Fu” It’s almost an urban legend, if you will: Bruce Lee is said to have tried to sell his idea for a Western with a Chinese protagonist to Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In her memoirs, his widow Linda Lee Cadwell also recalled that his idea was stolen from him. However, the creators of the series “Kung Fu” have always denied this.

However, there is a quite well-known TV interview (“Be Water, my Friend”) with Pierre Berton on his “The Pierre Berton Show” from 1971, which was before the launch of the aforementioned series, where Bruce Lee discusses his idea for such a Western, which was never realized. Many decades later, his wish was fulfilled in the form of the series “Warrior,” co-produced by his daughter Shannon Lee. By the way, Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee had his first role in a film production in “Kung Fu: The Movie.” Was this a belated act of reconciliation by the responsible parties?

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