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James Hong Talks About His 70-year Career and Retirement at 93

In May of 2022, James Hong was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, being the oldest person to do so as well as the 19th Asian-American actor to do so.

The actor, who is 93 years old and has close to 700 film and television credits to his name, continues to be modest about his achievements even though recognition for his work has been long overdue.

In an interview for Talking Post conducted by South China Morning Post top news editor Yonden Lhatoo, Hong states, “As a young fellow, I never dreamed my voice would be anything.”

However, it is his expressive voice that has reached and impacted audiences all over the world, thanks to his performances as a voice actor in animated films like Mulan, Turning Red, and Kung Fu Panda, as well as gamers who play World of Warcraft.

When speaking to Po’s adoptive father, Mr Ping, Hong adds, “Everybody appears to recognise Mr Ping.” Kung Fu Panda’s protagonist, Po, was adopted by Mr Ping.

Hong returned to the role of the carefree goose in the new Kung Fu Panda series, The Dragon Knight, which was made available on Netflix in July. It is a role that he holds dear and is thrilled to have the opportunity to play “all the way through, from where it started to where it is now and where it will go in the future.”

He is regarded as “the man who works the hardest in Hollywood” by his contemporaries, and he has been a pioneer for Asian-Americans working in the film industry.

Around 1982, Hong was in Beijing to film scenes for the NBC drama Marco Polo. The photograph was taken by James Hong.

Hong has witnessed the progress that Asian-Americans have achieved as the entertainment industry has developed throughout his seven-decade career, even though Hollywood is still criticised for its lack of representation of actors from ethnic minorities and of women.

“I said to myself, wow, it took me 70 years to get this star put on the Walk of Fame – a certain recognition of my 600-700 roles,” Hong says. “It took me 70 years to get this star put on the Walk of Fame.” “The effort is more than justified.”

When Hong first began his career in Hollywood, Asian-Americans were at “ground zero,” meaning that they were severely typecast, and their jobs were frequently degrading. The only roles that were available to Hong made use of his heritage in some way.

According to Hong’s recollection, “it was all those little roles and cliché roles.” “Comedic gimmick roles,” which are intended to make the audience laugh.

These minor parts were intended to give comedic relief to moviegoers and relied heavily on the image of Asian Americans as immigrants from lower-class backgrounds who spoke English with a thick accent or in a stuttering manner.

When Hong thinks back, he realises that some things have gotten better, but that there is still a lot of work to be done. To start, there are still far too few roles that are written for Asian Americans or that are presented to them in the entertainment industry.

“Right now, there are not enough roles to sustain the livelihood of Asian-American performers. As a result, many of my close friends who are extremely good actors had no choice but to leave the industry,” said one of my acquaintances.

However, Hong is optimistic. Hong believes that the situation for Asian-American performers may improve in the coming years as a result of films such as Marvel’s Shang-Chi, The Legend of the Ten Rings, and Everything Everywhere All at Once, in which he has a role.


He predicts that it will develop into something beautiful.

Minnesota, in the United States of America, was the location of Hong’s birth. Growing up in Hong Kong highlighted the cultural differences between East and West for him when he moved back to the United States five years after spending his childhood there. His family moved to Hong Kong in the 1930s.

Hong recalls, “I remember being in Kowloon, but only in a hazy way.” He remembers getting scrapes and bruises on his knees while playing soccer when he was in elementary school. “It’s quite remarkable in the sense that I didn’t get into any violent situations or fights,” he recalls, “since I didn’t have to defend myself against anyone.”

When he got back to the United States, things changed dramatically.

The fact that Hong attended a Chinese school in another country exposed him to the risk of being bullied by his American classmates. “Because I didn’t speak English straight away at the age of nine,” Hong says, “I had to grow acclimated to the violence.”

“They picked on me, and I got beat up as a result.”

After completing his time in the military during the Korean war, he went on to earn a degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota and began performing stand-up comedy after having success with it (1950-1953). However, he was unable to avoid being subjected to discrimination in its many forms.

According to Hong, there is a lingering sense “that the Chinese are still second-rate citizens.”

Hong came to the conclusion that he had played more than his fair share of one-dimensional Asian characters, and that it was time for him to make a shift.

In 1965, he was one of the nine people who helped establish the Asian-American theatre company known as East West Players.

This company’s mission was to increase the profile of Asian-American actors in the entertainment industry. According to him, this is what caused the business to “discover that we are principal actors.”

The company is still active to this day, and Asian actors play the majority of roles (if not all of the roles) in its plays.

Even though Bruce Lee had to leave Hollywood to achieve worldwide fame and very few Asian and Asian-American actors and actresses received Academy Award nominations, let alone won Oscars, the number of leading roles that were given to Asian and Asian-American actors and actresses increased over time.

Actors of Asian heritage have enjoyed a lot of success in Hollywood over the past five years, thanks to movies like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Farewell,” and “Minari.”

According to Hong, he has the actor Daniel Dae Kim from the television show Hawaii Five-0 to thank for his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Kim, a friend of Hong’s who has worked with him in the past, established a GoFundMe campaign for him to recognise his film and television credits as well as his accomplishments.

The page quickly gained popularity and was able to meet its goal of raising $55,000 in only a few short days thanks to the contributions of more than 1,700 dedicated followers. This included the production of the star, as well as its installation and ongoing maintenance.

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When asked if retirement is in his future, Hong responded that he is keen to continue working. “Even though I’m 93 years old now,

I’m not going to give up. There are a great number of projects to work on and a great number of additional films. Everything that is going on in my surroundings is very exciting.

He continues by saying, “I suppose I best keep living and make the most of some of those things I had the opportunity to produce.”

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