This is one of the most singular series ever produced. A person of mixed lineage espousing peace while dealing with assorted adventures and trials involving martial arts, most prevalent being the fact that he has a price upon his head for a crime he is wanted for in China, by the Emperor no less.
Throughout the the shows run, both the scripts and Carradine stay within the noble parameters set out by the tenets of his faith and discipline as a Shaolin priest. Though he may fight in self defense or for the protection of others, he doesn't succumb to the temptation of trying to kill his opponents despite the fact that he clearly has the physical capacity to do so.
The stories follow two lines, his wanderings in the American West and the recollections of his years in China:
The first is populated by an extremely wide variety of persons, each either entering his life as a threat or he entering theirs as a possible teacher, confessor or protector.
The memories mostly revolve around his interaction with the priests who reared him (mainly Masters Po [Key Luke]and Kan [Phillip Ahn]). Many times they go as far back as his childhood (portrayed by Radames Pera). Nearly always, the memories pertain to an event or lesson that sheds light on his perception of the adventure on hand.
The fact that Caine is presented with the full human experience - with multiple strengths, weaknesses, influences and what I find exceptionally important, the ability to reassess and alter his behavior - makes the show a rich offering. His teachings, parables and demonstrative actions would carry far less import if he did as most heroes are shown. As with most great characters it is hard to ignore Shakespeare's examples... and as we well know, though many might try to emulate or simply copy the Great Bard, few ever attain his depth of characterization. Because Carradine's performance rings true, making Caine believable, it is often easy to forget he is indeed acting.
Since his embodiment of the lead role is of the utmost quality, when coupled with such a full persona it lends credence to the ethic of the tales without being compromised by whatever violence occurs. Thus the stories and messages stay with you.
As is the general rule with classic television with involved plots, we are served numerous fine actors as guest stars. Perhaps my personal favorites are: John Saxon in the very first episode after the pilot (King of the Mountain) and Morgan Woodward late in season two in The Nature of Evil. Still there are dozens of others very good guest turns which upon reflection I might rate as high.
The only thing that keeps me from rating Kung Fu as perfect is the fact the the third season drifted from the lofty level of quality uniformly presented in the first two.