Quick–who’s your favorite Asian American actor? How about who’s your favorite Chinese-Minnesotan actor? This dude, I’ll bet.
James Hong turned 93 this year, and he’s been acting since before the Korean War. In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, it seemed only fitting to celebrate a gentleman who has had to play That Chinese Guy for seven decades. He only just got the star he deserved.
Number One Son
Hong was born in Minnesota in 1929. His father owned a restaurant. James spent a few of his early years in Hong Kong but came back home and completed high school in the land of golden gophers, making pies and serving coffee at dad’s business. Apparently, he hung out with the drill team helping with their sets and props. While he studied civil engineering at USC initially, his interest was more in their acting school.
I must interject to point out that my mother was born in 1930 in the Midwest and also went to high school less than a hundred miles away. She was a cheerleader before she got a Ph.D. in American Studies. Maybe they saw each other across the football field! Cheerleading and being part of the drill team were clearly handled by different cliques by the time I was in high school.
James finished the engineering degree, which sounds more like his parents’ idea than his, and worked as a road engineer in LA, acting on the weekends. He then went into the army during the Korean War (my father, same age, was sent to Germany during the Cold War). While he was in basic training, the army assigned him to Special Services, the entertainment division. They realized, as he did, that the Korean troops would likely shoot at him in a U.S. uniform, and that his own troops might as well. Better to have him tell jokes, do skits. Something tells me he always played the hapless Korean.
Tony Soprano, Walter White, Iago–Satan himself–and now the Roy Family. Stories about devilish characters and reprehensible behavior always seem so hard to resist. HBO’s Succession is the latest version of a cringe-worthy but binge-worthy show, full of wealthy rogues backstabbing each other as they scramble to the top of a multimedia empire. I’m embarrassed to love it. Why is such villainy fascinating?
Lifestyles of the Spoon-Fed and Conniving
Succession debuted as a drama in 2019, sliding in under the radar between the ignominious end of Game of Thrones and the rise of The Crown. It won a slew of Emmys, though I’d never heard of it when I was flipping channels at my brother’s house last month on vacation, when I had extra time on my hands. The story circles around 83-year-old Logan Roy (Brian Cox), head of the Waystar media conglomerate, who ought to be aging out of his role and passing the torch on to one of his children. But he refuses to go, even though the shareholders clamor for a succession plan and he experiences episodes of physical and mental frailty. Logan is vicious, duplicitous, domineering, and as vulgar as a recent ex-President, full of quips like: “Would you like to hear my favorite passage from Shakespeare? Take the fucking money.”
Logan’s favorite word is money, but his second favorite word is family, which is the problem. He’s one of those people who constantly espouses family values while in the next breath belittling, snarling, and smacking down–literally–his adult children. He’s raised them in his image, so none of them has the right combination of intelligence, courage, or work ethic (never mind integrity) to run an $18 billion dollar enterprise. Waystar is a unique entity: think Fox plus Disney, Republican-leaning jingoistic news combined with theme parks and cruises. Someone has even created a real twitter account for the fake theme park with bizarre but hilarious tweets:
Denis Villenueve may have finally reached the mountain top. Solved the mysterious Poincaré conjecture, created the Philosopher’s Stone, discovered the ruins of Atlantis. That is, as a movie director, he may have finally made a version of Dune that doesn’t need to be remade.
Fourth time’s the charm? Or maybe it’s twelve, if you count all the games, sequels and such–there are apparently fourteen books. (I read five, back in college). Let’s stick just the cinematic versions here: the Bad one, the New one, the Forgettable one, and the Psychedelic one. My fellow Frank Herbert dorks, I promised a review in my last blog (about the Roots of Dune). Links will be attached. Shade will be thrown. Sleeves are being rolled. Let’s compare Dunes.
Whose Idea Was THAT? The Bad, the Forgettable, and the Psychedelic
Why did Dune need so many remakes? Well, there was this one:
Patrick Stewart has always been one of the greatest actors on the planet… (see I, Claudius, Episodes 5 & 6). But Gurney Halleck wielding a 20th century rifle, carrying a pug into interstellar battle? Just say no.