Know Your Role: James Hong
Most actors could only dream of having the career longevity that James Hong can lay claim to. With more than 6 decades of work in front of the camera, Hong has appeared in movies from every genre, he’s been on soap operas, sitcoms and dramas on television, he’s done voice work for animated movies and series, he’s even provided his vocal talent to video games.
In this edition of Know Your Role, I will take a look at some of Hong’s most memorable work in the world of action entertainment, as well as some of my personal favorites. But there’s really only one place to start…
Big Trouble in Little China
Hong’s most significant role in an action flick was playing the evil sorcerer David Lo Pan in the 1986 cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. The character of Lo Pan gave James Hong the chance to play a major character. Hong’s Lo Pan was the main antagonist in Big Trouble in Little China starring opposite, Kurt Russell. And while Lo Pan may not have been able to marry his green eyed girl, he was successful at getting his own action figure and that is not an accomplishment most of the character actors and stunt men we feature in our Know Your Role posts can claim.
While Bloodsport II may not be among his more well known films, I enjoyed Hong’s turn as Master Sun in the follow up to the Jean-Claude Van Damme hit. Van Damme did not return for this one, but Daniel Bernhardt, making his on screen debut, stepped in as the hero of the film. Bernhardt’s character benefited from Master Sun who taught him the “Iron Hand” fighting technique. And I have to believe a rookie actor like Bernhardt personally benefited from working with a show biz veteran like Hong. Hong would reprise his role as Master Sun in Bloodsport III.
The Cannon Family
Hong had another larger role in one of Cannon Film’s most successful films, the Chuck Norris vehicle, Missing in Action. Hong plays General Trau, a man looking to discredit Col. James Braddock’s claims that there were still United States soldiers being held prisoner in POW camps in Vietnam. Hong played the part of General Trau perfectly, coming across more as a slimy politician than a decorated military veteran.
Hong would have a smaller role in another Cannon movie, Ninja III: The Domination. In Ninja III, Hong (in the role of Miyashima) tries to exorcise the evil ninja spirit from the body of Lucinda Dickey’s character, Christie.
The Perfect Weapon
1991’s The Perfect Weapon allowed James Hong the opportunity to work with another up and coming action star in the form of Jeff Speakman, It also saw Hong return to the main villain role in a film. In The Perfect Weapon, Hong plays Yung, one of the four crime bosses in Koreatown. Yung makes the most of his limited screen time and if there was any doubt of how powerful he is, he has both Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Professor Toru Tanaka working for him! Any crime boss would be jealous of that kind of muscle.
Small Screen Action
If there was an action adventure or cop show in the 1980’s, James Hong was on it. The A-Team, Miami Vice, The Fall Guy, Airwolf, T.J. Hooker, The Equalizer, Hunter and Magnum P.I. all were honored with guest appearances by James Hong. The James Hong television tradition continues to this day as Hong has appeared on the hit show Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. with the lovely and talented Ming-Na Wen.
Hong would reunite with Kurt Russell in Tango & Cash, a film that also starred action icon Sylvester Stallone… He worked with Eddie Murphy in the 1986 action comedy The Golden Child… He was in Blade Runner with Harrison Ford… He played the evil Mr. Li in the 1992 Billy Blanks film, Talons of the Eagle… And he worked with Wesley Snipes in The Art of War.
In total, James Hong has more than 400 roles in his filmography. It is no wonder that Mr. Hong was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 World Asian Film Festival. No doubt a well deserved honor for an actor who has played a crime boss, a sorcerer, an exorcist, a mentor, a military man, an ambassador, a detective and so much more in his illustrious career.