David Carradine worked with everyone from Ingmar Bergman to Quentin Tarantino, Charlton Heston to Chuck Norris, Paul Bartel to Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby to Walter Hill, in movies and TV series of wildly uneven quality, in just about every conceivable genre, during a screen acting career that spanned five decades. But it’s the role that made him a ‘70s icon – Kwai Chang Caine, the mystical martial artist adrift in the Wild West of Kung Fu – for which he remains, now and likely forever, best known. He seemed to be a good sport about being so closely identified with Caine, even to the point of more or less reprising the character in an updated ‘90s spin-off series (Kung Fu: The Legend Continues) and frequently spoofing it in various movies and TV commercials (most recently – to hilarious effect – in Big Stan, Rob Schneider’s under-rated direct-to-video comedy, which, no kidding, is well worth a spot on your Netflix queue). But he also demonstrated his versatility in an impressive variety of roles while amassing scads of credits as a steadily employed character actor. Of course, remaining “steadily employed” as any sort of actor often requires… well, taking employment where you find it. Much like his famous father, Carradine occasionally picked up easy paychecks while slumming through forgettable clunkers. But never mind: His best work greatly overshadowed his worst projects. And besides: It’s easy to forgive an icon almost anything. Especially one who walked the earth like Caine in Kung Fu.
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