AKA Kung Fu Killer From SpikeTV

After Bruce Lee, no one man may be more responsible for popularizing martial arts in the West than David Carradine with his career-defining role as Kwai Chang Caine on Kung Fu in the 1970s. Playing a philosophical Shaolin monk travelling through the American Old West, Carradine’s performance helped nurture interest in the genre despite running only three memorable seasons.

White Crane Chronicles reunites Kill Bill co-stars David Carradine and Daryl Hannah in a martial arts adventure set in 1920s China. Originally a television mini-series made for SpikeTV, a now dissolved cable channel aimed at men, the two-part program was broadcast as Kung Fu Killer in 2008. Distributor Mill Creek has rebranded the series as White Crane Chronicles after Donnie Yen has since put out a completely unrelated Hong Kong flick titled Kung Fu Killer.

Starring alongside Carradine and Hannah are Jimmy Taenaka, Kay Tong Lim, and Osric Chau. An elderly Wudang monk named White Crane (David Carradine) is a feared martial arts master. When mercenaries storm his peaceful temple in an epic battle scene and slaughter his beloved female Grandmaster Myling, Crane goes to Shanghai’s underworld seeking vengeance. There he meets American cabaret singer Jane Marshall (Daryl Hannah), involved with a local nightclub owner.

White Crane Chronicles allows David Carradine one last chance to inhabit his popular Caine persona

The villain is a ruthless warlord named Kahn, trafficking in opium and plotting to use chemical warfare on anyone that dare oppose his operation. Jane’s brother is being held hostage by Kahn, forced to develop the villain’s deadly toxic gas. It’s a standard mix of tropes and cliches plucked from martial arts and Chinese history.

Obviously constructed as a riff and possible extension on Carradine’s role on Kung Fu, White Crane Chronicles is not directly connected to that show’s mythology and world building despite some superficial similarities. Released only a year before his bizarre death in 2009, the martial arts action is uneven and Carradine wasn’t getting any younger in his mostly lame fight scenes. Cast almost solely for her name recognition, Daryl Hannah doesn’t really work as the glamorous love interest.

The two-part structure is really two distinct telefilms joined together as one mini-series. Crane and friends defeat the villain in part one with a satisfactory resolution, leading to a completely different adventure for the group in part two when Jane gets kidnapped. It’s better to think of this set as Kung Fu Killer 1 and Kung Fu Killer 2.

White Crane Chronicles isn’t great martial arts entertainment. What the mini-series does is allow David Carradine one last chance to inhabit his popular Caine persona in a sprawling action adventure, which may be enough for long-time fans desperate to see him one last time.

White Crane Chronicles Blu-ray screen shot

Video

The 1.78:1 Blu-ray presentation resembles what Kung Fu Killer was in actuality, namely a low-budget television product made over ten years ago. Filmed with a Sony HDW-F900 camera, the 1080P video has decently sharp video with satisfactory clarity.

Exteriors exude more depth and definition, almost fooling viewers into believing this is a new production. Interiors are softer with less than perfect lighting. The contrast wavers, occasionally washing out some scenes. Muddy black levels jump around a bit, occasionally affecting interior shots.

Mill Creek places both parts, each running around 92 minutes, on a single BD-50. The AVC encode handles the mostly pristine transfer with faithful transparency. Technically this is a fine transfer likely taken direct from the master. White Crane Chronicles doesn’t shine on Blu-ray but looks good enough to deserve the format.

Audio

Mill Creek offers 2.0 DTS-HD MA English audio for both parts. The stereo mix on its own has excellent separation and imaging, useful for the numerous fight scenes and gun fights. The bottom-end is robust with convincing action. Dialogue is loud and clear, placed upfront over the underscore.

The issue here is that the disc is missing a 5.1 surround mix that was included on the German DVD. Mill Creek likely didn’t look for the surround mix since the original American DVD put out by Genius was also only in stereo.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Mill Creek Entertainment provides no special features beyond a digital copy good on the MovieSpree.com website.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

White Crane Chronicles
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2

Movie

An over-the-hill David Carradine and ragged Daryl Hannah reunite for a generic martial arts adventure set in 1920s China made for television.

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