James Hong, Everywhere man: Hollywood’s ultimate character has finally been staged

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OWith 672 credits to his name, James Hong has almost certainly appeared in more movies and TV shows than any other actor in Hollywood history. In an extraordinary career that dates back to the mid-1950s, the 93-year-old has played everyone from Faye Dunaway’s butler to Chinese district to a replicant eyeball designer blade runner.

He was the naughty wizard David Lo-Pan in Big problem in little China and Cassandra’s dad kicking her back Wayne’s World 2. He appeared in all the sitcoms of Seinfeld and Friends for king of queens and The Big Bang Theory. You heard his voice in Mulaneevery Kung Fu Panda movie and even Pixar’s latest heartwarming hit turn red. If acting can be seen as inhabiting another life, even briefly, then it’s safe to assume that James Hong has lived more lives than anyone else.

So it’s also entirely fitting and utterly remarkable that the nonagenarian has just made one of the best films of his career, and it just so happens to be a story of multiple lives. Everything everywhere all at once is a film difficult to describe succinctly. It falls somewhere between a martial arts film written by Douglas Adams, a particularly good film rick and morty episode, and this piece in The glass bell where Sylvia Plath writes about a young woman and a fig tree, where the protagonist’s many possible lives branch out before her as she sits there starving because she can’t choose one for fear of losing all the others.

It’s directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – better known collectively as “Daniels”, and even better known as the men behind Daniel Radcliffe’s Corpse Fart Adventure. Swiss army man (2016). They were also responsible for the viral face-melting, crotch-crushing video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” which gives you a sense of both their deranged sensibility and breakneck speed. to which it is delivered.

For what it’s worth, the director duo described Everything everywhere all at once like a movie about a woman who just can’t finish her taxes, which is true but obviously shy. When we meet the owner of Michelle Yeoh’s laundromat, Evelyn Wang, she is indeed struggling to get her affairs in order ahead of an impending tax audit. Part of the problem is that she keeps racking up expenses for half-pursued dreams and ambitions, never settling on any particular goal, like the young woman in Plath’s Fig Tree Tale.

From this seemingly mundane premise, the story turns into a frenetic, multi-dimensional fantasy sci-fi adventure when an alternate universe version of Evelyn’s husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, who played Data in The Goonies) teaches her to access every version of herself in every unlived lifetime across the multiverse. This leads to a lot of very fast, very funny and sometimes downright obscene martial arts sequences, like The matrix with anal plugs.

Basically, however – as The Sopranos and the Fast & Furious movies – it’s a family affair. The film’s sprawling plot ultimately revolves around Evelyn coming to terms with her controlling relationship with her daughter, Joy. Stephanie Hsu, better known as The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselFast-talking Mei Lin is having a blast as both Joy and her menacing multiverse alter ego Jobu Tupaki. His scenes with Yeoh crackle with both sci-fi pyrotechnics and heartfelt emotional intensity.

Where did Evelyn acquire her dominating tendencies as a mother? From his own parents, of course. They fucked you up, as Philip Larkin said. They may not want it, but they do. In addition to the stress of the audit, Evelyn also deals with the fact that her aging father has come from China. As doddery as Gong Gong initially appears, he ends up more than holding his own when all martial arts kicks off.

The filmmakers said Hong was “so perfect for the role of Evelyn’s father that no one else even auditioned”, and he brings his decades of experience jumping between lives in a performance that’s turn funny. , menacing, authoritarian and heartrendingly sweet. .

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It’s impossible to imagine anyone better suited to portray the idea that we all live multiple lives. He is, after all, one of the few people alive today who can honestly say they made Groucho Marx laugh. Hong was born in Minneapolis in 1929, the child of Chinese immigrants, and got his start in showbiz entertaining fellow soldiers at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

The camp general liked Hong’s performance so much that he requested that he stay on base rather than be sent to fight in the Korean War. Hong said the move may have saved his life, as he feared not only that the Korean military would try to kill him, but that US troops might assume he was an enemy in disguise. “I really think I would have been shot from one side and the other,” he said. Overview of China in 2009.

James Hong and Jack Nicholson in “The Two Jakes”

(Moviestore/Shutterstock)

Hong’s stage act involved a lot of celebrity impressions, and it was this knack for mimicry that won Marx over when Hong appeared on the comedian’s radio show. You bet your life in 1954. Marx joked that he wasn’t surprised to learn that Hong was from Minnesota, with him “a good old Scandinavian name.” Hong then won over audiences with perfect impersonations of Peter Lorre, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and – the main dish – Groucho himself. The appearance was such a hit that Hong got signed with Bessie Loo, the only agent in Hollywood then representing Asian Americans.

James Hong as an evil wizard in “Big Trouble in Little China”

(20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Leading roles were often stereotypical and demeaning – Chinese prisoners, laundry workers and railroad workers – and even winning heroic roles did not prevent him from experiencing racism. In 1957, Hong was cast as “Number One Son” Barry Chan in a crime drama The New Adventures of Charlie Chan. The eponymous detective was played by a white actor, J Carrol Naish, who got Hong fired after missing a single line of dialogue.

“He said, ‘What is it, a school for Chinese actors?'” Hong recalled in an interview with SCS earlier this year. “I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. He advanced on me. I had my fists clenched because I thought he was going to hit me or something. He walked past me and made me fire.

Hong refused to be discouraged. Throughout the ’60s, he built his career with roles on hit shows like The man from UNCLE, I dream of Jeannie and Five-O’s from Hawaii. After being thrown into Chinese district in 1974, Jack Nicholson enjoyed performing with him so much that he brought him back for his self-directed sequel The two Jacques in 1990. Over the years, Hong has brought an innate gravity to all of his characters, even roles as silly as Hoshi, the Ultimate Fighting trainer in Friends who shouts at Jon Favreau’s Pete: “No boom-boom before big fight!”

In his small but memorable role in the Seinfeld episode “The Chinese Restaurant”, Hong even found a way to make his dismissive butler persona worthy. “I read the script and it says Elaine puts a $5 tip on my desk and I ignore it,” Hong told the hometown publication. Pls St Paul magazine in 2020. “I said to the director, ‘How could a butler ignore a $5 tip? That’s not real. He says, ‘I don’t know, but you’re gonna make it work .’

So come to the scene, I say, ‘What am I going to do?’ And when she deposited the $5, I just flipped the page on the guest list and covered the $5 and said, ‘Yeah, what do you want?’ And she said, ‘No, no, no!’ – I made sense of nonsense.

Hong has the kind of presence that seems to lend weight to even the most implausible or mind-blowing scenarios, which helps explain the importance of his sublime performance in Everything everywhere all at once. It’s hard to think of many actors who could bring so many different versions of a person to life in one performance, but for Hong, it’s the role of a lifetime.

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ is out now in the US and in UK cinemas soon.

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