In the miracle of science fiction action that spans many universes All Everywhere Simultaneously, 93-year-old James Hong plays Gong Gong, the strict father of the protagonist Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). She tried to please him all her life, obviously with little success, and his disapproval was one of the defining pressures that shaped her many possible schedules. During his nearly 70 years of acting experience, Hong has taken on hundreds of roles and has become one of the most recognizable character actors in the world. But he says one of these roles stands out above all others for him, and Gong Gong brought back memories of that role.
“It’s not a problem for me to go from good-natured grandfather to bad guy, which is kind of a Lo Pan version,” Hong tells Polygon. “I always remember Big problem in Little China and Lo Pan. It was great for me to be in that movie with John Carpenter and do what I did. This character, of course, is repeated in my mind and the creation [of him] jumped on other characters. “There is almost always a Lo Pan aspect to the other characters I play.”
On the surface, old grandfather Gong Gong does not seem to share much with the evil wizard who controls the Hong Demons he played in 1986. Big problem in Little China. But both films gave Hong two dual roles: Just as Gong Gong manifests differently in different universes, Lo Pan manifests himself in different environments and moments as a powerful malicious magician and a seemingly weak, harmless old man.
It is disgraceful to say that Hong has played a wide variety of roles in his decades-long career. Most likely you have seen him in something, probably without realizing that he was. His first roles were anonymous background characters, but he played everything from comedian thieves, such as the restaurant host in an unforgettable Seinfeld episode, to dramatic roles, such as loyal butler Khan in Chinatown and copy designer Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner. He has starred in major science fiction projects, police proceedings and action movies and has lent his voice to some iconic animated roles, such as Po the Panda’s experienced father, Mr. Ping in Panda Kung-Futhe adviser of Emperor Chi-fu inside Mulanand in fact a wise ritualist Mr. Gao at Pixar’s It turns red. He has been in the industry long enough to see the types of roles in film and television offered to Asian Americans change significantly.
“In the early years, either criminals or submissive Asian Americans always needed help,” Hong said. “And we were never heroes. Of the approximately 500 roles I have played, I would say that maybe 10 of them were key people in American society, like doctors or lawyers and so on.”
In 1965, Hong founded the East American Players Asian Theater Company to help increase representation in the acting industry. Gradually, the industry began to recognize Asian American actors and more roles began to open up. He invokes Lost the protagonist Daniel Dae Kim, which was also his title Hawaii Five-O restart, as an example of this success as well All Everywhere SimultaneouslyMichelle Yeoh. Hong wants every aspiring Asian-American actor to have a chance at roles like Evelyn Wang.
“I hope in my life, to see them all, eventually, in much bigger roles,” he says. “Like Stephanie [Hsu]the leading lady [in Everything Everywhere]and Ke [Huy Quan, who plays Evelyn’s husband], who returned to the industry. He stayed away for a long time, because there were no roles. Now there are! I’m so happy. “He is such a good actor.”
The entertainment industry is not yet close to perfect representation. But he has come a long way from Hong Kong’s original anonymous characters. Hong’s first major role was in 1957 as Barry Chan, the son of Chinese detective Charlie Chan in The new adventures of Charlie Chan – a character played by the white actor J. Carrol Naish (who by the way also played a Chinese caricature in the first live Batman series). Now, in 2022, Hong plays the patriarch of a Chinese family, in a story specifically about generations of expectations, cultural change and struggles. At the same time, this family is confused by an exaggeration of martial arts. Movies like All Everywhere Simultaneously are proof of how far this representation has come.
“We are on the same level as all SAG players,” says Hong. “This movie proves it!”
All Everywhere Simultaneously will be available in cinemas across the country on April 8.