James Hong has been turning heads for several weeks since the veteran character actor arrived in town to work on "Safe," an action thriller that wraps filming here on Friday. Hong, 81, whose hundreds of credits include "Blade Runner," "Chinatown" and "Big Trouble in Little China," plays the leader of the Triads, the Chinese mafia. He speaks Mandarin in his several scenes in the film starring Jason Statham.
The Minneapolis-born actor spent time sightseeing with local businessman Alex Wong, who served as a liason to the local Chinese-American community and organized a Sunday afternoon lecture that Hong gave about his career at Joy Tsin Lau (1026 Race).
Hong enjoyed touring the Liberty Bell, lunching at the Reading Terminal Market and dinner at the City Tavern (138 S. 2nd).
He moved to Hollywood in 1953 and graduated from USC with an engineering degree that he put to use building roads for Los Angeles County. His first taste of show business was appearing as a contestant on a 1953 episode of "You Bet Your Life," in which he got a great response for his impression of host Groucho Marx. He soon appeared in "Soldier of Fortune," with Clark Gable, and "Blood Alley," with John Wayne and Lauren Bacall, and, he said, "They kept calling me.
"Doing comedy is still in my veins, that's my first love," Hong said when asked if he prefers comedy to drama. His comedic roles include "The Chinese Restaurant" episode of "Seinfeld, and "Revenge of the Nerds 2."
The octogenarian has no plans to retire.
"As long as I have the talent and there's a demand for the old Chinese man - whether he's a philosopher, or a master, or an old-time restaurant owner, or a villain, or a so-called good guy - I will always be working," he said.
"And nature, God, Buddha - someone has given me this health," Hong told us. "I can breakdance still, I can run, I can play basketball. In my mind I can do anything. As long as I have that spirit I'm going to keep doing it."