Bill Koenig reports on

"Through a dozen adventures, which have had no resolution, we now come to an end to this, this morality play."
- Wo Fat to Steve McGarrett,
"Woe to Wo Fat," 1980

They had only 11 encounters in a television series that ran 278 episodes plus a pilot movie. Yet, for many fans, Hawaii Five-O was defined by the battle between Steve McGarrett, the no-nonsense head of a fictious Hawaii State Police agency (Hawaii has no state police of any sort) and Wo Fat, initially the top espionage agent for the Peoples Republic of China, later an independent operator.

Their meetings brought a escapist world menace sense to what most of the time was a down-to-earth police show. Indeed, for an outsider, it seems hard to fathom how a state police unit kept bumping up against such an international menace. But, more often than not, the clashes between McGarrett and Wo Fat were so engrossing it was easy enought to put that quibble aside.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrettAs McGarrett was Jack Lord, the screen's first Felix Leiter. He wasn't the first choice for the role and was hired only five days before the filming of the two-hour pilot TV movie (this was disclosed during a Five-O convention in the fall of 1996 in Burbank, Calif.). Yet, the role defined Lord's career, overshadowing all his previous work. When he passed away on Jan. 21, 1998, he was Steve McGarrett to most.

McGarrett's arch-enemy was Wo Fat, introduced in the pilot. The first draft of the script described him as a "little Budda," with thick glasses (I had a glance to see that script at the aforementioned 1996 convention). Series creator Leonard Freeman took the name from a Chinese restaurant in Honolulu.

However, actor Khigh Dhiegh (who wasn't Asian but could play the role without extensive makeup) took what could have been a stereotype and made Wo into a sinister, yet obviously intelligent, adversary. He had practice at this before, most notably in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where he played a Chinese brainwashing expert. At his best, Dhiegh made Wo Fat into a world-class adversary and made one imagine what he could do in a big-budget film.

What follows is an examination of the blood feud that would extend a dozen years.


Hawaii Five-O (pilot movie)
Originally aired September 1968

Writer/Producer: Leonard Freeman
Director: Paul Wendkos
Music: Morton Stevens

Plot: Story opens with a man, garbed in an orange wet suit, immersed in a pool of water. His head is covered, with some sort of mask. He has an oxygen supply. But wires prevent him from moving. A technician tells Wo Fat the man is ready. A shawdowy figure, a traitor in U.S. intelligence, tells the Chinese spy to "get on with it." The man is removed from the pool. When Wo Fat removes the mask, the man screams. Later, the man is revealed to be Hennessey, a member of U.S. intelligence and a friend of Steve McGarrett, head of Hawaii Five-O who reports only to "the Governor and God." He begins an investigation, much to the chagrin of Brent, the top U.S. intelligence official in Hawaii (Leslie Nielsen). But McGarrett pieces together the puzzle. Then, the top U.S. spymaster, Jonathan Kaye (James Gregory) comes to Hawaii, and brings McGarrett into his confidence. They plan a trap that, if successful, will plant disinformation witht he Chinese. But first, McGarrett must undergo the same torture in W Fat's "sensory deprivation" tank.

Review: A pretty strong plot, the scenes with the deprivation tank at the start are eerie. Leonard Freeman, though, isn't the smoothest writing dialogue with phrases like "Blanksville," apparently intended to show us characters are hip. McGarrett is a real hot head here, at one point barging into Brent's office and knocking down one of his assistants. Nancy Kwan is the love interest, playing a graduate student who was dating Hennessey. Khigh Dhiegh is excellent in a scene where, after having captured McGarrett, he explains how the torture works. As part of the trap, Wo Fat must be allowed to leave (with all the disinformation McGarrett provides; he has been hypotized to deliver false information under duress). Finally, Morton Stevens, besides delivering the wonderful Five-O theme, has a good dramtic score. One of his tracks (where a U.S. intelliegence man tails McGarrett) would be recycled throughout the first three seasons of the show.

Forty Feet High and It Kills!
Originally aired 1969-70 season

Teleplay: Robert C. Dennis Story: Dennis and Edward Lakso
Director: Michael O'Herlihy
Music: Richard Shores

Plot: Wo Fat arranges to send out a false tsunami warning. While there's general panic, his men kidnap Dr. Lochler (Will Geer), a leading genetic expert. Five-O tries to get the doctor back before Wo Fat can get off Oahu.

Review: Pretty simple and straight forward. Two sequences set this episode apart, however. There's bantering between Wo Fat and Lochler, who keeps insulting the Chinese spy. Wo, though, keeps his cool and ultimately prevails in a contest of wills. The second is the end where McGarrett corners Wo Fat. Ultimately, they strike a bargain neither fully likes. Wo Fat will be permitted to leave if he gives up Lochler. "We will meet again," Wo says. McGarrett indicates that's the only satisfactory aspect of the bargain. "You flatter me,"Wo says. McGarrett's reply: "It was not meant to be flattering."

A Bullett For McGarrett
Originally aired 1969-70 season

Teleplay: Anthony Lawrence Story: Jay Roberts and Lawrence
Director: Paul Stanley
Music: Richard Shores

Plot: Five-O investigates a "commie spy ring," which includes Dr. Paul Farrar (Eric Braeden), an expert in hypnotism. It turns out his superior is Wo Fat. When McGarrett sends in an uncercover policewoman, Wo Fat suggests Farrar hypnotize her to kill McGarrett.

Review: Unfortunately, only a one-scene cameo for Khigh Dhiegh. Too bad, more of him might have enlivened the rest of the episode. McGarrett is practically Superman. He gets shot in the chest by the hypnotized policewoman, yet engages in a knockdown, drag- out fight with Ferrar, including a judo throw.

And a Time to Die
Originally Aired 1970-71 season

Writer: Ken Pettus
Director: Charles Dubin
Music: Richard Shores

Plot: A spy for U.S. intelligence arrives in Hawaii with knowledge of Chinese missile silos. But Wo Fat's men shoot him before he can talk. When the wounded spy is taken to the hospital, Wo Fat kidnaps the daughter of the surgeon who will operate on the dying man. Wo Fat will kill the girl if the spy survives. The surgeon won't kill the spy, but the patient dies anyway. The Hawaii station chief (Gerald S. O'Laughlin) wants to put out disinformation that the U.S. now knows all the missile silo locations. Five-O tries to get to the daughter in time.

Review: Wo Fat provides a hint of his past while playing chess with the kidnapped girl, hinting at a loved one killed during tumult in China. Lots of headbutting between McGarrett and the station chief. Once again, the need to provide disinformation to the Chinese forces the authorities to let Wo Fat get away.

F.O.B. Honolulu (two-part episode)
Originally aired 1970-71 season

Writers: Jerry Ludwig and Eric Bercovici
Director: Michael O'Herlihy
Music: Stock (music from previous episodes), part I;
Don B. Ray, part II

Plot: A U.S. serviceman turns up dead in the Ilikai hotel, killed by two men who are revealed to be agents for Wo Fat. They bring him a cheap Budda statue, which Wo shatters. Inside, there are two plain pieces of metal. Wo throws them away angrily. Five-O is investigating the murder when once again U.S. spymaster Jonathan Kaye Steve McGarrett in Navy Dress uniform(played by Joseph Sirola here) comes on the scene and requests McGarrett's help. It turns out China developed plates that will produce perfect counterfeit $20 bills -- which China plans to use to print counterfeit money en masse and wreck the U.S. economy. However, the plates got away from the Chinese, with various criminal and espionage types looking for them. Kaye says the U.S. knows the plates are coming to Honolulu but little else. What Wo Fat had were fakes and the dead serviceman was really Leo Price, a criminal who had killed someone else for the plates. At the end of part I, a friend of McGarrett who is in U.S. Navy Intelligence is revealed to have been seekin the plates for his own gain. He's in cohoots with international criminal Nicole Fleming (Sabrina Scarf). But Nicole, unknown to her lover, is offering the plates to Wo Fat and Soviet spy Mischa (Roger C. Carmel). Various twists occur before the final fate of the plates is known.


Review: You wouldn't guess that counterfeiting would be this big a deal, but the briefing scene where Kaye explains everything to McGarrett is handled quite well. You come away believing this really be disastrous if Five-O fails. The various contestants for the plates are quite a colorful bunch. Nicole, described "as deadly as she is female," is the amoral femme fatale. Mischa is a big, gregarious Russian who had been lied to by Wo Fat concerning the existence of the plates. Highlights include a helicopter assault by Five-O on Wo Fat's Honolulu headquarters and a climatic sequence at the Byodin temple where Wo Fat appears to be mortally wounded but gets away to cause McGarrett trouble another day.

The Ninety-Second War (two-part episode)
Originally aired 1971-72 season

Teleplay: John D.F. Black Story: Leonard Freeman
Director: Bob Sweeney
Music: Morton Stevens

Plot: McGarrett puts in a typical long day at work, leaving around midnight. Three hours later, he's found in an upside down car, sitting next to a dead gangster and holding a briefcase full of money. When he's extracted from the car, the Big Kahuna is temporarily paralyzed and the briefcase is also found to contain a book full of coded entries -- indicating deposits of more than $2 million in a Swiss bank account. Who could pull off such a frame? You needn't even ask. Five-O makes it appear McGarrett is fleeing the country before he's sent to the pokey. We cut to Switzerland, where McGarrett seems to be withdrawing his money -- until the real Big Kahuna shows up. A bank guard mortally wounds the bogus McG, but not before he says, "Wo Fat stole my soul for 90 seconds." In part II, Jonthan Kaye (Tim O'Connor here) deputizes McGarrett to find out why Wo Fat has spent millions of dollars and three years building the frame and what he intends to do with the 90 seconds. A German-born scientist (Donald Pleaseance) at a key U.S. installation holds the key to the mystery.
Review: Part I moves very quickly and disguises its "villain creates a double for the hero" plot surprisingly well. Also, the sequence where McGarrett is found in the car is engrossing and there's a bit of suspence regarding whether McGarrett's paralysis is permanent. In Part II, we get a little tired of Kaye's overbearing ways. Also one wonders how the representatives from the Army, Navy, CIA, FBI et al feel when they have to report to a state cop. We learn that the Governor's real name is Paul Jameson via a nameplate at a big meeting of hounchos at the start of part II.

One nagging question: If Wo Fat spent three years setting up the frame, why did he have Dr. Farrar try and kill McGarrett back in "A Bullet for McGarrett"? At the end of "The Ninety-Second War," Wo Fat again is at large. But real life would soon cause a major effect on the fictional McGarrett- Wo Fat blood feud.