In San Francisco, David meets Li Sung, a Chinese philosopher who suggests that controlling the autonomic nervous system may be a way to subdue the Hulk.
After David (Bill Bixby) visited a Native American looking for an herbal potion that would rid him of his Hulk alter-ego (Lou Ferrigno) I was less than enthused when I read the next racial stereotype David would seek out was a Chinese philosopher. At this point in American culture we still were okay with Asians being portrayed as laundromat owners who used Calgon on laundry and claimed it was an “ancient Chinese secret.”
But my spirits were buoyed when I saw the writer was Nicholas Corea, a series producer at this time this man would go on to write the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns and had previously written the enjoyable, gonzo The Antowuk Horror. I hoped Corea could deliver another fun episode of Hulk.
And he did. Unfortunately the episode is littered with Asian stereotypes, but the way the episode is handled makes up for it. This episode isn’t about teaching acceptance and understanding of others, this episode is a mash-up between The Incredible Hulk and Kung Fu, two of the most popular action shows in the 70s. As the episode follows many kung fu tropes of the day and makes no attempts to be at all serious it makes the stereotyping of the Chinese characters slightly less offensive,
The episode opens with David hitchhiking in the rain, his tan jacket covered by a slicker. Not finding a ride, he comes across a stopped semi truck with a refrigerated trailer pulled to the side of the road. He asks the driver for a ride, but the driver wants nothing to do with hitchhikers. Desperate to get out of the rain David hops in the back against the driver’s wishes, but the driver is wise to him. He locks David in the trailer and turns on the cooling unit.
In the trailer David finds an another man taking shelter from the storm, Li Sung (character actor Mako, who I know best from his role as Kanemitsu in Robocop 3). Li Sung is meditating and does not respond to David’s attempts to rouse him.
David soon realizes that the trailer has dropped below 30-degrees, but David’s pleas for help fall on deaf ears as the trucker drives on. David gives up his tan jacket to keep the Asian man warm, and continues to yell for help. Accidentally clasping his hand around a frozen metal rod, David’s hand is burned from the cold and his eyes turn white.
Hulk-Out #1 The Hulk-out is very early this episode, and I was shocked that the transformation was happening right in front of Li Sung but the man, who’s eyes were now open, did not react with shock or even interest. I didn’t guess it then, but Li Sung is blind, thus he had no knowledge of David’s double identity. Yet.
Hulk starts to smash his way through the side of a semi truck. Sadly, due to the quality of DVD, I can see exactly where the false portion of the trailer wall was hung and knew exactly where Hulk would smash it.
The trucker had started to warm up the back, but it was too late. He comes to the back just as Hulk punches down the doors, knocking the driver flat. Then Hulk carefully helps the blind man out of the back of the truck and carries him to safety. This is when I first realized Li Sung is blind, as I notice him carrying a large white stick, looking like the cane of a blind man, while Hulk carries him.
Sitting under the hot California sun Hulk transforms back to Banner and it’s a well done transformation, with just an extreme close-up of David’s eyes, caked in green make-up with white contact lenses, the reverse-transformation sound plays, then David is sitting there half-naked. He pulls out the spare shirt he’s smart to keep in his knapsack and goes over to Li Sung who is making tea by a fire he had built.
Li Sung gives David a cup, and if you haven’t figured out Li Sung is blind you might be confused.. We get a close-up of Li Sung pouring the tea, his thumb in the cup. He pours the tea up to his thumb, submerging the tip. This is how Li Sung knows when the cup is full, but if you didn’t catch that you may just think “I don’t want to drink tea that the old man dunked his thumb in!”
As David cannot remember what happened while he was Hulk, Li Sung recounts the events. David is relieved when Li Sung says no one was hurt, but something about Li Sung’s description is off–he mentions that Hulk “The vehicle we were traveling in was damaged. At least it sounded damaged.” That is when David catches up to me and realizes the man is blind.
My fears of the portrayal of Asians in this episode is confirmed in this scene however. Li Sung is a caricature right out of the Kung Fu playbook, spouting Confucius-like wisdom, such as “Each question in time. We are where we are” and “Yes, I am blind, a physical disorder which fortunately has little to do with true seeing.” Additionally, immediately after revealing he is blind, Li Sung uses his super kung-fu hearing to smack a snake on the head with his stick, scaring it away from their camp site. I wish I could say that all portrayals of Asians in the 21st century are more enlightened, but Chinese mystics like Li Sung are far too common. Still, it did not ruin my enjoyment of the episode. Nor will I count the times the Asian mystic trope is used, lest this entire review be a list of Li Sung’s fortune-cookie dialogue.
Li Sung also reveals that, in his own way, he saw “the power” David possesses, and I am shocked that three episodes in a row someone has learned David’s secret.
Li Sung describes to David the process of his meditation, and that in the trailer he was meditating so deep that he was not feeling the cold. When David seems to doubt Li Sung’s ability the Asian man picks up a burning ember from the fire. Li Sung never shows any indication of pain, and after he sets it down David cannot find a burn mark on the man’s hand.
David is astounded and immediately thinks if meditation can prevent an ember from causing flesh to burn it surely can allow him to control his Hulk-outs. He asks Li Sung to teach him how to meditate to control his “disease” and he even reveals to Li Sung how his wife Caroline (from Married) tried to help him find a cure before she died–the second Married callback this season and I’m again impressed by the continuity. After bonding over a love of jazz music Li Sung agrees that David can travel with him and Li Sung will instruct the man in meditation techniques.
Li Sung tells David he is returning to San Francisco where the old man used to run a school teaching meditation to Americans. The school became a huge success and Li Sung ran away leaving the business in the hands of his student Steve Silva (played by Tom Holland who would go on to direct Fright Night and Child’s Play). Having been gone for two years Li Sung is now returning to his school, and takes David with him.
But Li Sung is unaware that Silva has turned the school into a protection racket, extorting the residents of the Chinatown-dressed backlot out of their savings. Silva tells the residents he does it in the name of Li Sung so none of the residents oppose him.
Li Sung and David arrive in a beat-up pick-up truck. Li Sung rides in front while David meditates in the back, sitting cross legged with his thumb touching his middle finger. I am reminded of Edward Norton’s meditation scenes in the recent Incredible Hulk film and wonder if they drew inspiration for Bruce Banner’s meditations from David Banner’s travels with Li Sung. David had been sitting in that position for six hours, and Li Sung must work to bring him back to consciousness; David is a fast learner.
Returning to Chinatown Li Sung discovers his old friends are now afraid of him, thinking Li Sung is the mastermind behind the protection racket. Li Sung takes David to the school’s original location in a humble building, but finds the school is now in a glitzy high rise. Entering a receptionist tries to sell Li Sung a membership saying they take credit cards. When Li Sung is recognized as the face on the wall he is quickly shown to the classroom where Silva is teaching students.
But he’s not teaching the Americans to meditate, he’s teaching them kung fu! And he’s teaching it aggressively, calling his students “weak willed”. It is much like the scenes of John Kreese teaching the Cobra Kai in The Karate Kid.
The Mr. Miyagi like Li Sung interrupts class and takes Silva to task over his teachings. Li Sung had used martial arts as a minor part of his teachings, whereas Silva has it as a primary focus. In conversation Silva makes his rationale seem reasonable, that it works better for Americans who need more discipline, but David and Li Sung both see the school’s focus is far different than it was under Li Sung’s watch.
That night Li Sung and David begin to snoop around the school but before they make it far they are attacked by a girl with a knife. Li Sung starts to fight her off, but when she realizes she is attacking the famed Li Sung she turns and flees. Then Silva, Silva’s goon Simon Ming, and many other students come out for their midnight workout. Silva says the girl, May, should be arrested for trying to kill David, but David thinks the attack was a case of mistaken identity. He points out that Silva himself may have been the target as May seemed to be awaiting his midnight training.
We then get a scene that shows us Tom Holland is a better director than an actor. He is talking to Simon, explaining he has the power to decapitate a bust made of solid plaster. His kung fu is slightly more believable than Loni Anderson’s karate, but not much. At no point do I believe Holland is a kung fu master, nor that he is dangerous.
Meanwhile Li Sung tries to convince David to leave, saying it took half a lifetime for Li Sung to find how to control his small anger, let alone a rage as long as David’s. But when David pushes Li Sung admits if David stays Li Sung will use him selfishly to find out what is going on with his school. David smirks, wanting to know himself, so Li Sung’s partner in crime heads to May’s house to find out why she attacked the two.
May explains that when Li Sung left Silva showed his true nature, changing the school’s regimen and using business skills to build an empire–all done in Li Sung’s name. May’s father knew Li Sung had no part in Silva’s plans, so Silva had him killed. May’s attack was to kill Silva for revenge. David asks why May doesn’t go to the police but she says that the people there don’t trust police.
That night Li Sung comes to May’s apartment where several locals tell Li Sung of the crimes, including extortion and murders, Silva orchestrated to promote the school and Silva’s business interests. Hearing this, Li Sung says “Silva must come down. He’s twisted the power I gave him. It’s my responsibility,” but David still advocates police involvement.
Li Sung says “great strength can be summoned and controlled” through meditation and I wonder if Li Sung is suggesting David can control the Hulk but it is actually Li Sung saying he can summon the strength needed to stop Silva.
We also see Silva is no meditation master. He tries to use meditation to put his hand in a flame, but cannot muster the concentration and overcome his fear. When Simon brings word the people are gathering around the returned Li Sung Silva says he will defeat the meditation master in public combat to destroy the local’s faith in him.
David knows that Li Sung plans to fight Silva, and believes the old man cannot win. He says he’ll go to the police with or without Li Sung, so Li Sung touches David’s shoulder and does a Vulcan nerve pinch. He pinches David’s shoulder and David slowly passes out. When David awakens he’s tied in bed, being fed tea by May’s grandmother.
David starts to become irate, demanding Gramma Loo cut him free, and when she refuses his eyes turn white.
Hulk-Out #2: David transforms and, with his hands tied to the bed frame, the frame splinters as his clothes rip. Gramma Loo was discarding of a broken tea cup, but when she returns to find her furniture smashed, David gone, and a large topless green man climbing out her window she starts to scream and slap Hulk with a fan. It’s the Chinese stereotype combined with the funny grandma stereotype, and it actually could have been funny if Ferrigno had given a good reaction. As it is Hulk gives Gramma Loo a look and just shakes his head “no.” Hulk climbs out the window to go save Li Sung and runs through the backlot, roaring at locals and flipping furniture.
The old meditation master is entering the tower to attack Silva. Silva and Simon hide in Silva’s office, with Silva’s students poised to take down the old man. Silva is not worried, saying “If Li Sung gets this far he’ll see that the student has now become the master.” Not even Simon believes this bull as he makes a disbelieving scowl behind Silva’s back. The look the actor playing Simon gives is priceless.
Li Sung enters the school and I’m watching, a TV version of Enter the Dragon as the evil white man’s students attack the kung fu master. Li Sung holds his own, the blind man taking out four of Silva’s students. Li Sung moves on, but the it’s now Enter the Hulk as the green giant enters the dojo! The students attack Hulk with sticks and Hulk doesn’t even move. He throws one student across the training room, and when another attacks Hulk with a bo staff, hulk pins the man to the wall with the weapon, then lifts him up to the ceiling, wedging the staff to keep the man trapped in the corner.
Li Sung continues to take out Silva’s students with ease, averaging about five seconds per student. Hulk follows in Li Sung’s wake, finishing off the students the kung fu master had already beaten. Hulk throws one student over a stair railing, and I’m thinking that student may be maimed or killed. We know the Hulk never really hurts anyone, but a fall down a cement staircase can lead to a broken back or worse. We never see that student’s fate.
Li Sung finally reaches Silva’s office and the two start their fight. Li Sung easily knocks down Silva, hurting the younger man’s hand in the process.
Hulk eners, and Simon attacks the green man with a spear. Hulk grabs the spear and knocks Simon down with a sumo belly bump. Hulk then throws the spear into the ceiling where it cannot hurt anyone.
Li Sung doesn’t need Hulk’s help after all as unaided he bests Silva in combat, eventually grabbing Silva’s shoulder and doing the Vulcan nerve pinch again.
The locals enter to see Li Sung standing victorious over Silva’s unconscious body, but Li Sung does not rejoice for while he’s freed the neighborhood he knows he’s lost not one but two students, and tears well up in his eyes over David’s loss of control.
After the final commercial break David and Li Sung walk down the streets of backlot San Francisco saying goodbye. Li Sung says May will assist him in rebuilding the school. Li Sung says David can stay as well but David says he has to go. Bixby finally verbalizes David’s rationale for running: “Now that the creature has shown himself I think it’s better for everybody if I get out of town.” Li Sung says he understands,though I’m not sure I do. But for skeptics like me, Li Sung also mentions National Register reporter Jack McGee called from Miami and is coming to San Francisco to investigate the reports of the Hulk sightings. This is a reason for David to run that I understand.
Sung Li says he wished they had more time to work on David’s problem, and David says he’s learned a great deal, enough to give him hope. But Sung Li won’t let David go so quickly, saying “if we don’t have the years necessary to cure you perhaps we could afford a few hours. We could go someplace, listen to some jazz.” With a big smile David agrees and, tan jacket in hand, he walks Li Sung down the backlot street as a jazz version of The Lonely Man theme plays.
While full of Asian stereotypes I found myself enjoying Another Path. It’s story was a bit of a retread of Terror in Times Square but mashed-up with Enter the Dragon, a hit 5 years earlier, and David Carridine’s Kung Fu. The combination is fresh and original, and it’s fun to see the Hulk as a fish out of water.
That said, Hulk was pretty useless this episode. He saves an old man from a truck that was about to be heated up anyway, and then he follows in the old man’s wake fighting people Li Sung had already defeated. It’s likely that without the Hulk’s intervention the end result would have been the same. But even though Li Sung’s power made Hulk useless I’m actually glad the episode stuck to its guns and made the old man competent, not needing to be rescued by the all-powerful green man.
Also I would have liked the episode to try and tell us that kung fu is really powerful, and a kung fu master can possibly hurt or defeat the Hulk. Would Li Sung have been able to Vulcan nerve pinch Hulk? That’s a fight I would have liked to see. But what we get is a blast in its own comedic way with Hulk fighting kung fu masters. With the stylize black dojo as the background, the fight scenes were fun even if they were unnecessary.
I recommend Another Path.
Additional note: IMDB and many other sites incorrectly list Tom Holland’s character as “Frank Silva”. Having watched the episode twice for this review I can say clearly he is referred to dozens of times as “Steve”.