Farewell David Carradine

Word comes this morning that, tragically, actor David Carradine was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room this morning, possibly a suicide. He was 72.

Carradine first rose to fame in the ’70s TV series Kung Fu as wandering monk/martial artist Kwai Chang Caine (a role originally sought by Bruce Lee). He’s as well or better known to later generations as the eponymous villain in Quentin Tarantino’s epic revenge saga Kill Bill. As Caine, a soft-spoken, hard-bodied Carradine helped form the culture’s idea of a martial artist, to the extent that many fixtures of the role have now become cliche.

Less remembered, unfortunately, are his turns as Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory or a rabble-rousing train robber in Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha. Also, if you haven’t seen Death Race 2000, do so now.

Carradine struggled with alcoholism and personal issues his entire career. In that time, he got saddled with a lot of dreck. Fortunately, he persevered and survived to get a role, in Kill Bill, that allowed him to show off his considerable talents. Managing to bring both seething villainy and world-weary gravitas, Carradine’s performance was a key factor in turning the movies into something more than a simple bloody rampage. In the pitch-perfect scenes like his initial entrance (at 5:10) or the grand finale below, he manages to add a hollow note to the fulfillment of The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) long, brutal quest.

Post-Bill, Carradine’s career enjoyed a bit of a revival and I’d hoped that in the autumn of his life he’d end up with juicier roles. Sadly, we’ll never know what the years to come might have had in store.

10 Responses to “Farewell David Carradine”

  1. Tequila Says:

    Barely joining the waking world, so this is a kick in the gut. I’ve many good memories of watching re-runs Kung Fu as a kid and his stint on the History Channel’s Wild West Tech had a great charm to it.

    He’ll be missed but man it sucks to see him pass on in such a tragic way. Hope he’s found some peace though.

  2. john colby Says:

    Farewell Grasshooper…

  3. Ruby Says:

    Actually had a cry about this…that dude really is too cool for school

  4. Fifa Says:

    It’s too bad he was involved in that awful, awful movie Hell Ride just before going out. He was much too good for it.

  5. Infamous Amos Says:

    ^^He redeemed himself by being in Crank: High Voltage, though. Opinions may differ, but I say that movie kicked all asses in every way.

    The man was a treasure. Sad to see him go.

  6. celestyna Says:

    Gotta love Hollywood’s longstanding tradition of casting white actors for most lead Asian roles, and critics subsequently calling it groundbreaking.

  7. Tequila Says:

    @celestyna…in the case of Kung Fu it was. Sure it would have been groundbreaking on epic levels with Bruce Lee but Hollywood and more importantly American television audiences of that era were not seen as ready for it. A minority actor in a lead TV role? Good luck. It took the family comedy/drama to really bridge that misconception. What Kung Fu did well however was not present Asians in the old skool Hollywood manner most audiences had known. It wasn’t perfect by any means but it was a compromise in the right direction.

    The fact so many of multiple generations have such great memories of that show is a testament to not only Carradine’s portrayal of the lead character but the tone of the show itself.

  8. R. Says:

    I’m deeply saddened by this news mainly because I loved him in Kill Bill. He, in all honesty, made that movie what it was. Besides Lucy Liu, Gordon Liu, and Sonny Chiba.

    @celestyna- for the time the show came out that was groundbreaking. As Tequila pointed out the Asians depicted in Kung Fu weren’t done in the old form, but in a different way. That in and of itself is groundbreaking.

  9. Alicia Says:

    celestyna, I agree with you. @Tequila, it wasn’t just Kung Fu. He built a lot of his career over this sort of stuff. The article I’m posting is a little extreme, but it captures the unease I have with his career.


  10. Tequila Says:

    @Alicia…Legacy of Shame…a little extreme? It’s a badly written, ill informed, brutally naive rant. That’s not an article. It misses the key point that much of what was considered Asian Culture in that era came from two main sources…Chinatown districts and martial arts cinema. To lay so much on Carradine’s shoulders about the era, it’s policies, its expectations is not only morally wrong but misreads the entire era.

    A bit surprised how easily it left out the strides made in films of the era like Tora! Tora! Tora!, tossed out M.A.S.H, and happily ignored factual history.

    a basic rundown can be found here: http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Academy-Awards-Crime-Films/Asian-American-Cinema.html

    I get the frustrations coming from it though. I have issues with Hollywood’s continued portrayal of anyone from a Spanish speaking country…but Hollywood isn’t static and the studio system is much more to blame for what happened in that era than Carradine ever was.

    This wasn’t the Hollywood of myth as it likes to think of itself. This was the Hollywood of raw business. The Hollywood were Latin American actors Americanized their names or developed over the top accents, where white actors were routinely used to fill in minority roles. Not only out of established racial & social policy but because there was no serious inroad for minority actors even on a talent agency level to get big Hollywood leads. Look how hard it was for African American actors. Nearly every major actor of Carradine’s era played a minority role as he did on some production. Many of those are largely forgotten now or have not been screened since that era. Yet that was STANDARD practice. Actors were expected to play characters beyond their own race since social concerns, taboos, production codes, and expectations made it “safer” to explore stories that for example had a mixed race couple. Thankfully some like filmmaker Sam Fuller didn’t particularly give a damn about that and pushed many social taboo’s in his films with a few featuring Asian Americans in unique roles. Plus sometimes it was just simple economics…cast an obscure Asian actor or big name star and just make him look Asian?

    Sure much of what Carradine later did was cash in on the camp value of his era as much as his role. Poor choice? Maybe, but one can’t read so much into it either. His legacy didn’t supplant what Bruce Lee and other Asian actors, directors, and performers would later push forward not long after Kung Fu faded into memory.