James Hong is a hero to many, he is a treasure to the Asian-American Diaspora and the actor behind many iconic roles. Born on the year of the Earth Snake in 1929 the man has since accumulated nearly 450 acting credits to accompany his other credits in writing, producing and directing; and we have yet to even touch upon the good works for his local community and his efforts to expand awareness and representation for a AAPI population as a whole.
Today is his 93rd Birthday!
I had the very good fortune of meeting him more than 20 years ago. At the time he was seeking to revive the Big Trouble in Little China property as a comic series. Thanks to my work at Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine, and its back page comic feature Tiger’s Tale he sought me out wanting to bring his story treatment into production. I, of course, jumped at the chance.
And so, as a part of a try-out he invited me to use his name and likeness for what would amount to a guest appearance in an episode of Tiger’s Tale printed in the pages of Kung Fu Tai Chi. iThat episode saw print in our April 2000 issue.
There was a larger pitch associated with this appearance. If we had succeeded in acquiring the rights to Big Trouble in Little China, then this appearance would set up a cross-over between Tiger’s Tale and this new project. AFter the rejection we began work on what would’ve been an original concept with James acting as a kung fu themed Stan Lee/ Rod Serling in a series we’d tentatively titled “King Hong.”
That project lost momentum, but Mr. Hong and I would cross paths a couple of more times. In 2002 he would generously act as Master of Ceremonies at Kung Fu Tai Chi’s 10 Year Anniversary Gala. It was a brief visit in the context of an ambitious production, but filled with memorable moments. A few of which we were fortunate to catch on video; like this demonstration I’ve mentioned before.
We would finally have the chance to collaborate an couple of years later in 2004. At the time he was developing an educational program called Animation for Education and I had been recruited to provide kid friendly art and some basic animation for the project. Alas, the animation was done using what was at-the-time called Macromedia’s FLASH software; now unplayable.
We saw each other too infrequently to form a bond. Still, I’ll never forget the afternoon when we first met, I couldn’t help but express my enthusiasm for some of the iconic roles I new him from. When he asked which of them was his favorite I had to admit that it was the eye engineer from Ridley Scott’s BLADERUNNER (1982). He paused, nodded and recited the line verbatim, and in characters – “I designed your eyes.”
I still get chills recalling it. Even standing at 5′ 10″ for that moment he truly made me feel like a towering Roy Batty: model number N6MAA10816. He sent me an autographed photo personalized and with that quote. But try as I might, I’ve been unable to locate it, even though I remember specifically thinking
“I should put this someplace safe.”
Well, it’s hidden away so safely even I couldn’t find it. I’ll keep looking for it and hope it’ll turn up for James’ 94th birth next year. Until them Mr. Hong; many happy returns.