Birthdate: February 22, 1929
Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Enjoying his 70th year as an actor, James Hong (Chinese birth name in pinyin: Wú Hànzhāng) is perhaps the most recognizable Asian American character actor in Hollywood movie history, and, still working in his eight decades, among the most durable of all actors.
Hong boasts an astounding total of over 650 acting credits. At age 93, James Hong remains extremely active, with three credits in 2022 including a feature role in Disney-Pixar’s Turning Red, Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once with Michelle Yeoh, and will appear in a starring role in Zack Ward’s Patsy Lee & The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms, for which Wong wrote the story, and is part of the vocal ensemble for Wendell and Wild (2022) directed by Henry Selick and written by Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, and Clay Chapman.
James Hong was a U.S. Army soldier during the Korean War when he further developed his performance abilities. After his engineering studies at USC and working in the public engineering department of Los Angeles County, he studied with a renowned acting teacher and actor Jeff Corey. Hong then gained a wide range of experience in lead and supporting roles on television during the 1950s and 1960s, from The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957-1958) to The Outer Limits (1963).
He founded East West Players in 1965, the most important Asian American theater company in America, with the actor Mako, with whom he joined the cast of Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles (1966). Other major films in which Hong made an indelible presence are Chinatown (1975) and its sequel, The Two Jakes (1990), as Chew in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and sorcerer Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
Hong is one of the only actors to have performed in TV series across seven decades—or nearly the entire span of the medium’s history of narrative entertainment, ranging in recent decades across such disparate landmark series as The X-Files and Seinfeld. For many American moviegoers and TV viewers in decades stretching from the 1950s to the 2000s, Hong was literally the face of Asian characters, so meager were the roles and opportunities for Asian American actors, and so reliable and prolific was Hong.
In recent years, James Hong has performed as a voice actor in dozens of animated features for film and TV, including Disney’s Mulan (1998) and Kung Fu Panda (2008). At age 93, James Hong is one of the oldest working and longest-running actors in Hollywood history.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Chinese emigrants, father Ng Fok Hong (Frank W. Hong) and mother Lee Shui Fa, James Hong was raised in Hong Kong and Minneapolis before studying engineering at the University of Southern California. Hong’s first marriage was to Peal Huang, from 1967 to 1973. His current wife is Susan Tong, with whom he has been married for 44 years. They have one daughter, April. His height is 5’ 10’’.
Lost role: Hong was beaten out for the role of Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series by George Takei.
Wartime service: Rather than being sent to the front lines during the Korean War—where he was concerned that he might have been shot as a traitor by one side or the other—James Hong honed his talents performing for fellow soldiers at Fort McClellan and Camp Rucker.