While we all adore and root for the stars and starlets of Tinseltown, there is a treasure-trove of good men and women who have been integral to the success of all our favorite films. Bona fide, hard working and talented people who may never star in a film or see their name on a poster hanging in the local cineplex but will never escape our minds and imaginations when it comes to some good iconic and funny roles they play. This column is a tribute to the “Oh, That Guy” types, the common actor and the B-listers. They are the…
Number of Film & TV Roles: 387(!)
Notable Roles: Blade Runner; Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise; Big Trouble in Little China; Kung Fu Panda; every TV show ever made
Typical Role: Wise Asian Man
Why He’s Great: Need an old Asian guy in your film/cartoon/video game/wedding video? You call James Hong. He truly has the market cornered, as he’s literally been in every form of media involving Asians, and he’s great in all of them. And with his distinctive look and voice, he’s hard to miss, due to his awesomeness.
Biography (via Wikipedia):
Hong was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, Frank W. Hong, immigrated from Hong Kong to Chicago via Canada, where he owned a restaurant. Hong’s grandfather was from Taishan, China. For his early education, Hong moved to Hong Kong, and returned to the United States at age ten. He studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California, but later became interested in acting and trained with Jeff Corey. Hong was a road engineer for Los Angeles County for 7½ years, acting during his vacations and sick days. He finally quit engineering for good to devote himself to acting and voice work full-time.
James Hong has played in over 500 television and film roles. His career in show business began in the 1950s when he redubbed soundtracks of several Asian films. He dubbed the voices of characters Ogata (Akira Takarada) and Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) in the 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, as well as the title character in The Human Vapor.
In 1956, he was cast as Jimmy Ling in the episode “Red Tentacles” of the western aviation adventure series, Sky King, starring Kirby Grant. He guest starred in the NBC western series, The Californians.
In 1957-1958, he was cast as the “Number One Son,” Barry Chan, in the British-American TV show, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan starring J. Carrol Naish as Charlie Chan. The role of the Number One Son was played by Keye Luke in the predecessor films. However, Keye Luke’s character was known as Lee Chan.
In 1959, he appeared as a prince on an episode of Walt Disney’s ABC series, Zorro. He was thereafter cast as Chung Lind in the 1960 episode “East of Danger” in the David Janssen NBC crime drama series, Richard Diamond, Private Detective. From 1960 to 1962, he appeared four times on the ABC/Warner Brothers crime drama, Hawaiian Eye, twice each on the ABC series Hong Kong and Adventures in Paradise, and once on ABC’s related series, The Islanders.
In 1965, Hong was one of the original founding members of the East West Players, an early Asian American theatre organization. In 1962 he appeared on CBS’s Perry Mason as Dean Chang in “The Case of the Weary Watchdog,” and in 1963 he played Louis Kew in “The Case of the Floating Stones.” He also appeared three times on the NBC military sitcom, Ensign O’Toole. Also in 1965 he played the bar owner Mr. Shu in The Sand Pebbles.
Hong had a small part on a 1972 episode of CBS’s The Bob Newhart Show. He was a frequent guest star on the 1972–1975 ABC television series Kung Fu, joined the cast on the final season of CBS’s Switch, as Wang, and also played a flight attendant in the original 1979 film The In-Laws. He appeared as a doctor accused of performing an illegal abortion in the Blake Edwards movie The Carey Treatment in 1972. He also starred as a uniformed man in the 1980 comedy cult film Airplane!.
Hong has also directed such films as Teen Lust.
Hong is perhaps most widely known as the immortal ghost sorcerer Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China (1986), as the eye manufacturer Chew in Blade Runner, as Evelyn Mulwray’s loyal and vigilant butler in Chinatown and The Two Jakes, and as the low-rent private eye in Black Widow. He would then appear in the 1989 film The Vineyard.
Hong appeared as a host in a Chinese restaurant on All In the Family’s 1975 episode “Edith Breaks Out” as well as on the well-known Seinfeld episode “The Chinese Restaurant”. Hong also played a similar role in several episodes of The Big Bang Theory during its first season, as well as in the “Color Blind” episode during the first season of Alias. Hong portrayed Chow Ting, a dry cleaner with the power to wash sins and guilt from a person’s conscience in the 1985 Tales from the Darkside episode “It All Comes Out in the Wash.” Hong appeared as a villain in a season three episode of The X-Files. He appeared in two episodes of The West Wing (Ep. 1.11; 3.15) as the Chinese Ambassador to the US. He also played Mr. Soo on The King of Queens, an Asian restaurant owner again who rents Doug Heffernan and his friends a loft apartment above his store, in the episode “Apartment Complex” (2006). Additionally, Hong had guest-starred on Friends, playing Hoshi, the former paid assassin and boxing coach for Monica’s boyfriend Pete (played by Jon Favreau) in the episode “The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion”.
Hong played Jeff Wong, Cassandra Wong’s father (who happens to be a martial arts expert), in the 1993 comedy sequel Wayne’s World 2. In 1994, he, his wife Susan and daughter April appeared as a family riding mountain bikes beneath the Hollywood sign in the mountain-bike travel-adventure documentary, “Full Cycle: A World Odyssey.” He had a small role in the 1998 independent film Broken Vessels. He played the role of Mr. Takato in the movie Chasing Zoey, the final episode of Zoey 101. His character taught Michael Barret how to operate a manual transmission, and it was revealed at the end of the episode that he did not exist. Hong also voiced the character Daolon Wong, an evil wizard in the Jackie Chan Adventures television series, and was the voice of Chi Fu in Disney’s Mulan, A.N.T. Farm, Mandarin in Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, and Professor Chang in Teen Titans. He made a cameo appearance in the television series Las Vegas as a presumed cheating monk. James Hong also lent his voice to the Cartoon Network animation Chowder as Mung Daal’s mentor in the “Won-Ton Bombs” episode. In 2006, Hong voiced the character Mayor Tong in Avatar: The Last Airbender in the second season’s episode titled “Avatar Day” in addition to his previous role as Monk Tashi in the first season episode “The Storm” in 2005. In 2006 he also voiced the character of The High Lama in the film Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!
Hong’s voice also appeared as Colonel Zhou Peng in the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, Dr. Chang in 2007’s Def Jam Icon, Ancient Wu in True Crime: Streets of LA, and reprising his role as Chew in the Blade Runner video game. His most recent appearances were in the films Balls of Fury and The Day the Earth Stood Still. In 2008, he voiced Mr. Ping in Kung Fu Panda, the adopted father of Po and was nominated for an Annie Award for his performance, he later reprised this role on Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special and won an Annie Award for Voice Acting in a Television Production. Furthermore, he and Lucy Liu have been collaborated in the feature film series and in the television series adaptation, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.
He appeared in the 2012 film Safe. He also provides the voices for the jeweler NPC Covetous Shen in Diablo III, Master Bruise Paw in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, Bucky (for two episodes) from the TV series Archer, and Uncle Po in Sleeping Dogs. In 2013, he recently appeared as Ogisan, the gift shop keeper from the Incredible Crew sketch, “Magical Video Game Controller”, alongside Jeremy Shada and Shauna Case. He also appeared in the 2013 film R.I.P.D.
Hong currently lives in Los Angeles with wife Susan (née Tong), whom he married in 1977, and is planning to produce and direct his own films. He coached and supported his daughter April with her acting career since she began showing great interest in acting, singing, and dancing at the age of 4. Since then she has trained in various acting techniques originating from not only her father, but also Uta Hagen, Constantin Stanislavski, Yale School of Drama, and Viola Spolin. As a child actor she has appeared in leading roles in Kidsongs videos, award winning documentarian and director Arthur Dong’s film Lotus; television shows China Beach and General Hospital; animated TV shows The Real Ghostbusters, Slimer, Captain Planet, and more. Her most recent credits include TV shows such as Desperate Housewives, 90210, ER, and Numb3rs. She’s also voiced in interactive games The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, and appeared in national commercials for Microsoft and Chrysler. James and April regularly conduct acting workshop classes at the Hong Acting Workshop in Beverly Hills, California. Hong was formerly married to actress Pearl Huang, from 1967 to 1973.