In the mid-1970s martial arts were booming. On the big screen Bruce Lee had become a legend. Kung Fu was a hit series on prime time. There were even some made-for-TV movies cashing in on the craze. Comic books were filled with ads for karate and kung-fu courses. Marvel created Iron Fist as well as Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. DC had the lesser known Richard Dragon and Bronze Tiger characters. It was no surprise then that Hanna-Barbera would come up with a kung fu related character for Saturday morning TV.
On September 7th 1974 ABC, the same network airing Kung Fu, premiered Hong Kong Phoeey. Sixteen original episodes aired until December 21st, 1974 and were rerun until 1976. Each half-hour episode was broken up into two different stories. It was popular enough that they brought it back for more reruns in 1978 and again in 1981. Hong Kong Phoeey was also made a member of the Scooby-Doobies on Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics (He replaced Jeannie after legal issues arose in getting the rights to use her for the show).
The title character had a secret identity of Penrod (Penry for short) Pooch, a janitor at the police station. When a call came in about one of many wacky criminals wreaking havoc on the city, Penry changed into his super heroic Hong Kong Phooey identity. To do this he employed an elaborate set up which found him going into a secret room behind a vending machine. There he jumped into the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet, got stuck, and with the aid of his sidekick, Spot, came out of the top drawer in costume. He then slid behind an ironing board to the next floor where he bounced off of a sofa through an open window into a dumpster. From the dumpster he burst forth in his Phooeymobile which was able to transform into various other vehicles and different shapes much like the previous idea they used for the Amazing Chan Clan.
He uses The Hong Kong Kung Fu Book of Tricks to learn his trade and come up with amazing moves to fight off his zany rogue’s gallery. Iron Head the Robot, the Batty Bank Mob, the Voltage Villain, the Giggler, Professor Presto, Dr. Disguiso, The Claw, and Goldfisher are some of the nutty crooks he combats.
The other series regulars are his supporting cast Spot, his sidekick cat, Sergeant Flint, and Rosemary. Rosemary is the one who takes the calls that Penry overhears. She also has a crush on Hong Kong Phooey. Sarge thinks Hong Kong Phooey is more of a menace and a hindrance to the police doing their job. Spot is the true hero of the show as he is there to make corrections on Hong Kong Phooey’s consistent bungling. The cat is always cool as a cucumber and finds a lot of humor in Hong Kong Phooey’s failings.
The look of the show was a little different than previous Hanna-Barbera shows, just as their style changed along with the times and the different designers they used. Lorraine Andrina and Richard Khim were credited with designing the more stylized backgrounds.
The voice artists as usual were top-notch. Hanna-Barbera veterans Daws Butler, Lennie Weinrib, Frank Welker, Casry Kasem, Jean Vander Pyl, Paul Winchell, and Janet Waldo were among many actors providing additional voices which was a big change from the tradition of using very few actors per show. Scatman Crothers provided the voice of the title character. He did a lot of voice over work including Meadowlark Lemon in the Harlem Globetrotters show, Jazz the Autobot, in The Transformers, and Scat Cat in The Aristocats. He did plenty of on screen acting as well appearing in The Shining and Chico and the Man. Kathy Gori played Rosemary. She was also a radio personality and a screenwriter besides being a voice over actor. Joe E. Ross, with his trademark “Ooh! Ooh!” expression played Sarge. Besides voice over jobs he did sitcom work such as Car 54, Where Are You? and The Phil Silvers Show. Prolific Hanna-Barbera veteran Don Messick performed Spot as well as being the narrator.
Hong Kong Phooey was one of those popular shows that managed a lot of different merchandising. With mentions in other TV series and songs over the years it has remained in the public consciousness. As such there are many figures and toys still being made of the character. A movie was planned with Eddie Murphy providing the voice but leaked CG footage was underwhelming and the project was shelved. The show did get a DVD release so if you want to see a kung fu dog that’s quicker than the human eye you can check it out and see if it’s as good as you remember from Saturday mornings past.