You probably know longtime Hollywood character actor James Hong as either David Lo Pan in Big Trouble In Little China or Cassandra’s Dad in Wayne’s World 2 – but the man is a prolific icon in the biz, working well over 500 roles in his 50-year-plus career, spanning from the original Godzilla movie in 1956 to Blade Runner to Call of Duty: Black Ops and beyond. He was almost Sulu in Star Trek and 40 years later faced off against the actor who won the role, George Takei, in an episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
Hong was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, Frank W. Hong, immigrated from Hong Kong to Chicago, Illinois via Canada, where he owned a restaurant. Hong’s grandfather was from Taishan. For his early education, Hong moved to Hong Kong, and returned to the United States at age ten. He studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California, but later became interested in acting and trained with Jeff Corey. Hong was a road engineer in Los Angeles County for seven and a half years, acting during his vacations and sick days. He finally quit engineering for good to devote himself to acting and voice work full-time.
His career in show business began in the 1950s when he redubbed soundtracks of several Asian films. He dubbed the voices of characters Ogata (Akira Takarada) and Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) in the Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), as well as the title character in The Human Vapor.
In 1956, he was cast as Jimmy Ling in the episode “Red Tentacles” of the western aviation adventure series, Sky King, starring Kirby Grant. He guest starred in the NBC western series, The Californians.
In 1957-1958, he was cast as the “Number One Son,” Barry Chan, in the British-American TV show, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan starring J. Carrol Naish as Charlie Chan. The role of the Number One Son was played by Keye Luke in the predecessor films. However, Keye Luke’s character was known as Lee Chan.
In 1959, he appeared as a prince on an episode of Walt Disney’s ABC series, Zorro. He was thereafter cast as Chung Lind in the 1960 episode “East of Danger” in the David Janssen NBC crime drama series, Richard Diamond, Private Detective. From 1960 to 1962, he appeared four times on the ABC/Warner Brothers crime drama, Hawaiian Eye, twice each on the ABC series Hong Kong and Adventures in Paradise, and once on ABC’s related series, The Islanders.
In 1965, Hong was one of the original founding members of the East West Players, an early Asian American theatre organization. In 1962 he appeared on CBS’s Perry Mason as Dean Chang in “The Case of the Weary Watchdog,” and in 1963 he played Louis Kew in “The Case of the Floating Stones.” He also appeared three times on the NBC military sitcom, Ensign O’Toole. Also in 1965 he played the bar owner Mr. Shu in The Sand Pebbles.
Hong had a small part on a 1972 episode of CBS’s The Bob Newhart Show. He was a frequent guest star on the 1972–1975 ABC television series Kung Fu, joined the cast on the final season of CBS’s Switch, as Wang, and also played a flight attendant in the original 1979 film The In-Laws. He appeared as a doctor accused of performing an illegal abortion in the Blake Edwards movie The Carey Treatment in 1972. He also starred as a uniformed man in the 1980 comedy cult film Airplane!. He has also directed such films as Teen Lust.
Hong made a cameo appearance in the television series Las Vegas as a presumed cheating monk. James Hong also lent his voice to the Cartoon Network animation Chowder as Mung Daal’s mentor in the “Won-Ton Bombs” episode. In 2006, Hong voiced the character Mayor Tong in Avatar: The Last Airbender in the second season’s episode titled “Avatar Day” in addition to his previous role as Monk Tashi in the first season episode “The Storm” in 2005. In 2006 he also voiced the character of The High Lama in the film Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!
Hong’s voice also appeared as Colonel Zhou Peng in the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, Dr. Chang in 2007’s Def Jam Icon, Ancient Wu in True Crime: Streets of LA, and reprising his role as Chew in the Blade Runner video game. His most recent appearances were in the films Balls of Fury and The Day the Earth Stood Still. In 2008, he voiced Mr. Ping in Kung Fu Panda, the adopted father of Po and was nominated for an Annie Award for his performance, he later reprised this role on Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special and won an Annie Award for Voice Acting in a Television Production. Furthermore, he and Lucy Liu have been collaborated in the feature film series and in the television series adaptation, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.
He appeared in the 2012 film Safe. He also provides the voices for the jeweler NPC Covetous Shen in Diablo III, Master Bruise Paw in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, Bucky (for two episodes) from the TV series Archer, and Uncle Po in Sleeping Dogs. In 2013, he recently appeared as Ogisan, the gift shop keeper from the Incredible Crew sketch, “Magical Video Game Controller”, alongside Jeremy Shada and Shauna Case. He also appeared in the 2013 film R.I.P.D.