WWith 672 credits to his name, James Hong has almost certainly appeared in more films and television shows than any other actor in Hollywood history. In an extraordinary career stretching back to the mid-’50s, the 93-year-old has played every one of Faye Dunaway’s butlers Chinatown to a designer of replicant eyeballs in Bladerunner.
He was the rogue wizard David Lo-Pan in Big trouble in Little China and Cassandra’s high-kicking, backward-leaping father Wayne’s World 2. He’s appeared on every sitcom His field and friends to The king of queens and The big Bang Theory. you heard his voice mulanall the kung fu panda movies and even the latest heartwarming hit from Pixar To redden. If acting can be considered living in another life, if only for a short time, then it’s reasonable to assume that James Hong has lived more lives than just about anyone else.
It is therefore fitting and absolutely remarkable that the ninety-year-old has just directed one of the best films of his career and that it is a multi-life story. Everything everywhere at once is a difficult film to describe. It’s somewhere between a martial arts film written by Douglas Adams and a particularly good one Rick and Morty episode, and that bit in The bell jar 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 and starves, unable to choose one for fear of losing everyone else.
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – better known 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 face-melting and crotch-crushing viral video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What.”
For what it’s worth, the directing couple has described Everything everywhere at once as a film about a woman who just can’t pay her taxes, which is true but obviously shy. When we meet Michelle Yeoh’s stressed-out laundromat owner, Evelyn Wang, she’s actually struggling to get her affairs in order ahead of an upcoming IRS audit. Part of the problem is that, like the young woman in Plath’s fig tree story, she keeps spending on half-realized dreams and ambitions, never committing to a specific goal.
From this seemingly mundane premise, the story unfolds into a fantastical, frenetic, multidimensional sci-fi caper, as an alternate universe version of Evelyn’s husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, who played Data in The Goonies) teaches her how to access every version of herself in every unlived life throughout the multiverse. This leads to many very fast, very funny, and occasionally downright obscene martial arts sequences such as: The Matrix with butt plugs.
In the heart, however – how The sopranos and the Fast & Furious movies – this is a story about family. The film’s sprawling plot ultimately revolves around Evelyn coming to terms with her controlling relationship with her daughter Joy. Stephanie Hsu, best known as The wonderful Mrs. Maisel‘s fast-talking Mei Lin has hilarious fun as both Joy and her multiverse-threatening alter ego, Jobu Tupaki. Her scenes with Yeoh sizzle with both sci-fi pyrotechnics and heartfelt emotional intensity.
Where did Evelyn get her dominant tendencies as a mother? From her own parents, of course. They’re kidding you, like Philip Larkin said. They may not want to, but they do. In addition to the stress of the exam, Evelyn is also struggling with the fact that her aging father has come to stay from China. As treacherous as Gong Gong initially appears, it ends up more than holding its own when all the martial arts kick off.
The filmmakers have said that Hong was “so perfect for the role of Evelyn’s father that no one else auditioned,” and he brings his decades of experience jumping between lives to a performance that is by turns funny, menacing, overbearing and is heartbreakingly gentle .
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It is impossible to think of anyone better suited to represent the idea that we all live many lifetimes. After all, he’s one of the few people alive today who can honestly say they made Groucho Marx laugh. Born in Minneapolis in 1929 to Chinese immigrants, Hong began in showbiz entertaining his castmates at Fort McClellan in Alabama.
The camp general liked Hong’s performances so much that he asked him to stay on the base rather than go to the Korean War. Hong said that decision may have saved his life, as he feared that not only would the Korean army try to kill him, but American troops might mistake him for an enemy in disguise. “I definitely think I would have been shot from one side and the other,” he said China insight in 2009.
Hong’s stage performance was associated with many prominent impressions, and it was this talent for imitation 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 hear that Hong was from Minnesota, as he had “a lovely old Scandinavian name.” Hong then wowed the audience with spot-on impersonations of Peter Lorre, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and – the piece de resistance – Groucho himself. The performance was so successful that Hong signed a contract with Bessie Loo, who was then the only agent in Hollywood representing Asian Americans.
Early roles were often stereotypical and demeaning – Chinese prisoners, laundry operators and railroad workers – and even winning heroic roles didn’t stop him from experiencing racism. In 1957, Hong was cast as “Number One Son” Barry Chan in a crime drama series The New Adventures of Charlie Chan. The eponymous detective was played by a white actor, J Carrol Naish, who had Hong fired after missing a single line of dialogue.
“He said, ‘What is this, a school for Chinese actors?'” Hong recalled in an interview with CBS earlier this year. “I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. He walked towards me. I had my fists clenched because I thought he was going to hit me or something. He came over and had me fired.”
Hong was undeterred. In the 1960s, he built his career with roles in hit shows like The Sun UNCLE’s husband, i dream of jeannie and Hawaii Five-O. After he was thrown in Chinatown In 1974, Jack Nicholson enjoyed playing with him so much that he brought him back for his self-directed sequel The two Jakes in 1990. Over the years, Hong has infused all of his characters with an innate gravitas, even roles as silly as Hoshi, Ultimate Fighting’s trainer friends who yells at Jon Favreau’s Pete: “No boom-boom before big fight!”
In his small but memorable role in the His field In the episode “The Chinese Restaurant,” Hong even found a way to honor his dismissive maitre d’ character. “I read the script and it says Elaine puts a $5 tip on my desk and I ignore her,” Hong told the hometown newspaper MPs St Paul Magazine in 2020. “I said to the director, ‘How could a maitre d’ ignore a $5 tip? That’s not real.’ He says, “I don’t know, but you will make it work.”
So come on to the scene, I say, ‘What am I going to do?’ And when she put the $5 down, I just turned 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 out of nonsense.”
Hong has the kind of presence that seems to lend weight to even the most implausible or bewildering storylines, which helps explain the importance of his magnificent performance Everything everywhere at once. It’s hard to imagine many actors who could bring so many different versions of one person to life in a single performance, but for Hong it’s the role of a lifetime.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is out now in the US and coming to UK cinemas soon.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/james-hong-everything-everywhere-b2043046.html James Hong, Everywhere Man: Hollywood’s ultimate character actor has finally gotten a showcase