Kwai Chang Caine

Kwai Chang Caine (Chinese: 虔官昌; pinyin: Qián Guānchāng) is a fictional character and the protagonist of the ABC 1972–1975 action-adventure western television series Kung Fu.[2] He has been portrayed by David Carradine as an adult, Keith Carradine as a younger Caine and Radames Pera as the child Caine, and Stephen Manley as the youngest Caine.

Kwai Chang Caine
Kung Fu character
First appearanceKung Fu
Created byEd Spielman
Portrayed byDavid Carradine (adult)[1]
Keith Carradine (younger)
Radames Pera (child)
Stephen Manley (youngest)
OccupationShaolin Priest
FamilyDanny Caine (half-brother)

In the late 19th century China, Kwai Chang Caine was the orphaned son of an American man and a Chinese woman. He was raised in a Shaolin Monastery in Hunan Province, and was trained by the monks to be a Shaolin master. Kung Fu follows his adventures as he travels to the American Old West (armed only with his skill in martial arts) as he seeks his half-brother, Danny Caine. Although it was his intention to find his brother Danny in a way which would escape notice, the demands of his training as a priest in addition to the sense of social responsibility, which was instilled within him during his childhood, forced Caine to repeatedly come into the open to fight for justice. He would then leave his new surroundings in a further search for anonymity and security.

In the Shaolin arts, monks live in temples and most stay their entire life. Once they become masters and leave the temple, they are referred to as Priests. In real world Shaolin, both monks and priests shave their heads and remain celibate. Western audiences might have expected that such a character had taken a vow of chastity, but that was apparently not true in Caine's case as he frequently had intimate relations with women throughout the series.


Orphaned after his maternal grandfather's death, Caine eventually found himself outside the local Shaolin temple along with other hopeful candidates. After waiting patiently for several days, Caine and the few other remaining candidates were taken inside the temple where only Caine passed a subtle test in manners. Although taking a student of mixed parentage into the order was unprecedented, the head monk Master Kan (Philip Ahn) sagely noted, "There is a first for everything," and welcomed Caine.

Following his induction into the order, Caine then lived in the temple until adulthood, mastering many of the fighting forms and lessons taught by the Shaolin monks (Crane, Snake, Praying Mantis, Tiger, and Dragon). At one point during his training he was shown the various forms and Master Kan explained that it may take half a lifetime to master one of the forms. Later, while in the US, when asked by a student which forms he teaches, Caine's response was, "All of them" (a tribute to Master Kan, who had answered young Caine similarly when asked the same question).

One of his first instructors was the blind master named Po (Keye Luke). Po considered Caine his favorite pupil and behaved more like an elderly grandfather. Caine was given the nickname "Grasshopper" by Master Po; the reference was from an exchange where the still ignorant young Caine asked the old blind master how he could function without seeing. Po asked Caine to close his eyes and describe what he could hear. Caine explained that he could hear the water flowing in a nearby fountain and birds in a nearby cage. Po then asked if Caine could hear his own heartbeat or the grasshopper at his feet (Caine hadn't noticed the insect until that moment). Incredulous, Caine asked Po, "Old man – how is it that you hear these things?" Po's reply was, "Young man, how is it that you do not?" From that point on, Po affectionately called Caine "Grasshopper".

Years after his graduation, Caine traveled to the Forbidden City to meet Po, whose lifelong ambition had been to travel to a festival at the Temple of Heaven on that date, the full moon of May - the 13th day of the 5th month in the Year of the Dog. While they were talking together in the street, the Emperor's nephew and his entourage came along and an altercation ensued when a guard tried to push Po aside and was sent sprawling by the blind Shaolin. While defending himself from the other guards, Master Po was shot by the Emperor's nephew. Before the nephew could reload his pistol, the enraged Caine seized a guard's fallen spear and killed the Imperial nephew. With his dying words, Po gave Caine his pouch containing his few worldly possessions and instructed Caine to flee from China as there would be both no place to hide and a price on his head.[3] Before he fled China, Caine returned to the temple to confess his deed to Master Kan.[4] Later, Imperial guards attacked and stormed the temple, only to find it deserted (the monks having fled before the army's arrival); in retaliation, they burned the temple to the ground.

At first, Caine tried to flee to Tibet but was unsuccessful. He then escaped to the American Old West and in the first-season episode "Dark Angel" discovered from his grandfather Henry Caine (Dean Jagger) that he had a half-brother named Daniel. While he searched for Danny, he was on the run from a steady stream of bounty hunters and Chinese agents, some of whom were also Shaolin priests like himself, searching for him. In the pilot episode when another priest arrived to take him into custody, telling Caine that he had been searching for him for many weeks and that it had long been known he had fled to the US, Caine said to him, "For money? A Shaolin monk does not sell himself for a handful of rice." The monk's reply was, "You are more than a handful of rice" (the price placed on Caine's head by the Imperial government being $10,000 alive, $5,000 dead). Caine's gi was seen as gold with a red belt and the symbol of an open hand on the back (indicating that he is a master of all five forms), while his opponent's was black with a maroon belt and the symbol of a snake on the back. In the ensuing fight, Caine killed the monk.

The conflict between a desire for anonymity and a sense of social responsibility is conveyed through the frequent use of flashbacks. In these flashbacks, the adult Caine (Carradine) recalls a particular lesson during his training in the monastery, taught to him by Master Po and Master Kan.

During the concluding four episodes of the third and final season, Caine found not only his brother Daniel, but his nephew Zeke as well.

Characteristics and skills

Caine's training involved both armed and unarmed combat. He was also tutored in eastern philosophy and herbal medicine. Upon graduation he attained the rank of Shaolin Master. Caine exited the school via a special corridor designed as a last test. Barring the exit was a hot iron cauldron with the figures of a dragon on one side and a tiger on the other. By lifting the cauldron with his forearms, the graduate branded himself with the figures. The newly initiated master thus bore an imprint on the inside of each of his forearms, signifying his new status. On several occasions these scars identified him as a Shaolin monk to those familiar with Chinese culture.

Caine is humble, intelligent, inquisitive, and usually very soft-spoken. His only known pastimes are the playing of a bamboo flute and meditation. Caine is fluent in both Cantonese and English. He is also skilled in herbalism and healing.

Love life

As Caine explained to his brother in the last episode of the series, "Full Circle", the Shaolin life "is not one of restriction". As a matter of fact, Caine frequently had romantic relationships with women and even contemplated marriage on at least two occasions.

In the first episode, "King of the Mountain", Lara Parker plays a widowed ranch owner with whom Caine finds employment. She offers him money for his labors, but he refuses saying that all he needs is food and place to sleep. She presses him and insists there must be more he needs (i.e., sex). It is subtly implied that she eventually supplies what he needs. It is also implied that she is attracted by the "tattoos" on his forearms.

In the episode "The Tide", Caine falls in love with Su Yen, played by Tina Chen, the daughter of a philosopher and author with whom Caine is familiar. The town Sheriff recognizes Kwai Chang from the Wanted Poster. While in custody Kwai Chang is wounded. He escapes and Su Yen hides him in a cave at the beach. There are scenes of passionate kissing afterwards, Su Yen wakes on the sleeping mat and reaches out for Kwai Chang not to find him there. The scenes strongly indicate that Kwai Chang and Su Yen had made love. It turns out that Su Yen, however, seeks to trade Caine to the Emperor in exchange for her father who is imprisoned in China.

In the two-part second-season episode, "Cenotaph", the Emperor's favorite concubine, Mayli Ho (played by Nancy Kwan) takes Caine's virginity and he falls in love with her, even contemplating marriage. It is because she truly loves him that Mayli ultimately rejects a devastated Caine, knowing her lifestyle and ways would eventually destroy him and all that he stands for. The third season episode "The Forbidden Kingdom" depicts Caine's first days on the run after killing the Emperor's nephew. In his efforts to flee China and escape the Emperor's men, Caine meets Po Li, played by Adele Yoshioka. At first, Po Li betrays Caine in order to save her brother who is the Emperor's prisoner. Eventually she redeems herself and aids in Caine's escape, telling him, "I will have much to remember". Caine will not learn until many years later that this brief, one-time union resulted in the conception of a son, Chung Wang, played by Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee's son) in the 1986 made for TV movie, Kung Fu: The Movie.

In the waning days of her relationship with David Carradine, Barbara Hershey appeared in a season three two-part episode, "Besieged". She played the role of Nan Chi, a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian woman who wanted to become a disciple of the Shaolin. She and Kwai Chang clearly fall in love, but the relationship is never consummated as Kwai Chang, still a disciple in this flashback episode, did not lose his virginity until after he had left the monastery, as previously depicted in the second season. Nan Chi is mortally wounded while saving Kwai Chang's life. As she lies dying, she asks Caine to pretend with her that they are married and have a child. He says, "Only live, Nan Chi, and it will be true."

Caine takes employment from Ellie, a widowed ranch owner who does not feel that food and a place to sleep is enough compensation for all that Caine has done for her. Thus, Caine has sexual relations with her. In this third-season episode, "A Small Beheading", Ellie is played by Rosemary Forsyth.


Known relatives

Kung Fu

  • Father: Thomas Henry Caine (Bill Fletcher)
  • Mother: Kwai Lin
  • Half brother: Daniel "Danny" Caine (Tim McIntire)
  • Uncle: American farmer
  • Grandfather: Henry Rafael Caine (Dean Jagger)
  • Grandmother: Elizabeth Hale Caine
  • Nephew: Ezekiel "Zeke" Caine (John Blyth Barrymore)
  • Cousin: Margit Kingsley McLean (Season Hubley)
  • Cousin: John "Johnny" Kingsley McLean (Edward Albert)

Kung Fu: The Movie

Kung Fu: The Next Generation

  • Grandson: Kwai Chang Caine (David Darlow)
  • Great-grandson: John "Johnny" Caine (Brandon Lee)

Kung Fu: The Legend Continues

  • Distant ancestor: Kwai Chang (the first of the line, 1500 years before the Old West time in which the show is set, about 350 AD)
  • Son: Matthew Caine
  • Grandson: Kwai Chang Caine
  • Grandson: Damon Caine
  • Grandson: Martin Bradshaw (half-brother of Kwai Chang Caine and Damon Caine)[6]
  • Great-grandson: Peter Caine (the last of the line; played as a boy by Nathaniel Moreau and Robert Bednarski, and as an adult by Chris Potter)[7]

Caine's name

In the fourth episode of season three ("A Small Beheading"), Captain Brandywine Gage (played by William Shatner) presents Caine with a scroll written in Chinese. As the camera pans down the scroll, the Chinese characters for Caine's name appear for the first time in the series:

Chinese English Zhangzhou accented Amoy (POJ) Mandarin (Pinyin)
CaineKhiân [kʰɪɛn]Qián [tɕʰjɛ̌n]
KwaiKoaiⁿ [kuaĩ]Guān [kwán]
Changchhiang [tɕʰiaŋ]chāng [tʂʰɑ́ŋ]
  • note: in Chinese, the surname is written first

The Zhangzhou accented Amoy pronunciation of the characters most closely match the English spelling of Caine's name. However, in the series, Caine attended the Shaolin Temple in Henan province, where the priests likely spoke Mandarin.


  • In 1986 Kung Fu: The Movie premiered as a made-for-TV movie. In reality, the movie was the pilot for a new series in which Caine finds himself hunted by the father of the royal nephew killed by Caine in the original pilot. The royal's primary weapon against Caine is a young man named Chung Wang - unknowingly Caine's adult son (played by Brandon Lee).
  • In 1987 a second series called Kung Fu: The Next Generation was supposed to be launched. It was set in the present day telling the story of Kwai Chang Caine's grandson (played by David Darlow) and great-grandson, played by Brandon Lee. Throughout this series, Caine would teach his rebellious son of the Shaolin ways. The series idea never took off beyond the pilot, however, and was not launched.
  • In 1993 a third series was begun, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, wherein Carradine played the grandson of the original Caine.[8][9] Identical in appearance to and named after the first Kwai Chang Caine, this Caine was reunited with his son from whom he was separated fifteen years ago (when both thought the other had died in an explosion). Raised by a Los Angeles policeman, the son is now a police detective who has long since abandoned his boyhood Shaolin training. This series ran for four seasons and 88 episodes.
  • David Carradine made one final appearance as Caine in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, part of Kenny Rogers The Gambler telefilm series. It also featured the final appearance of Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp and Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick.


  1. Weber, Bruce (2009-06-05). "David Carradine, Actor, Is Dead at 72". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-17.
  2. "Martial Arts Myths". Inside Kung Fu. Retrieved 2010-05-11.
  3. Kung Fu: Caine Kills the Royal Nephew
  4. Kung Fu: Caine Visits the Grave of Master Po After Killing the Royal Nephew
  5. "A Small Beheading". IMDb.
  6. "Retro: Kung Fu: Alive and Kicking". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-12.
  7. Storm, Jonathan (1993-01-27). "Still Alive and Kickin' David Carradine Is Back in 'Kung Fu' - 150 Years Older and a Little Wiser". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  8. Stanley, John (1993-01-24). "New Fu: David Carradine revives successful '70s series in 'Kung Fu: The Legend Continues'". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  9. "Identical grandson".


  • Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles A. Tuttle, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1826-6
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