Coming to Bluray on June 28 from DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is everyone’s favorite Dragon Warrior in “Kung Fu Panda 3.”
In 2008, “Kung Fu Panda” introduced us all to a loveable Panda named Po who lived in the Valley of Peace. Son of Mr. Ping the noodle maker, Po’s one dream was to meet his Kung Fu heroes in the Furious Five! Little did he know that his little dream would become a life changing big dream when he is chosen as the Dragon Warrior.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” followed in 2011 with Po and the Furious Five bring down the evil peacock Shen. He also learns more about how he came to be with Mr. Ping and the noodle shop learning that love comes in many guises.
Now, in 2016, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is coming to Bluray to again delight us as Po discovers his panda family, where they live and teach them how to protect the village from the supernatural villain Kai!
In the third installment as Po finds his Panda-Dad, you can be sure that Mr. Ping isn’t about to let his son just go off into this new world without him! Voicing this protective and loving feathered father is actor James Hong who has over 60 years of experience in Hollywood. From comedy to drama, this versatile actor has done both the big screen and small.
On the smaller screen, Hong has been a part of some of the most iconic television shows such as “The Man Called X,” “The Millionaire,” “General Electric Theater,” “Playhouse 90,” “Dragnet,” “Peter Gunn,” “Bonanza,” “Wagon Train,” “The Outer Limits,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “Kung Fu” just to name a few (and trust me there are dozens more!).
Hong also stood out on the big screen in films such as “Big Trouble in Little China,” “The Golden Child” (my personal favorite), “Wayne’s World 2,” “Blade Runner” and “Balls of Fury,” again to name just a few. Animation isn’t new to this fine actor either playing Chi-Fu in the 1998 animated film “Mulan.”
So imagine how pretty jazzed I was to have the opportunity to speak with one of Hollywood’s coolest to talk about being the voice and heart of Mr. Ping and what the two share in common.
Jeri Jacquin: Thanks for speaking with me today James!
James Hong: Hi Jeri, how are you?
JJ: I’m doing good thanks! I have to tell you that I’m actually a huge fan of yours.
JH: Well, that’s always a good start.
JJ: When you originally read the part of Mr. Ping, what did you think?
JH: Let me see, going back now because it’s been so many years since we did the first, it was close to me because I was practically born in a restaurant. My father put me to work washing dishes and cutting celery in a Chinese restaurant and so I watched the cooks doing their things and learned to make noodles. We made hand made noodles in those days along with my brother. We started with it all on the table with the flour and making circles, putting the water and milk kneading it by hand. We didn’t have a machine in those days. So I grew up making noodles and of course in order to make the noodles taste good in a Chinese restaurant you have got to make good soup. In that sense I learned how to make soup from the bones of pork and chicken, I was born into it all. It wasn’t hard to do Mr. Ping after all that and of course I’m a father as well. I would say Mr. Ping is a cross between a Jewish Mama and a Chinese waiter.
<We both break out laughing which happens quite a few times during the interview and, of course, I am more a fan than before>
JJ: I can see that because the relationship between Mr. Ping and Po is so endearing and I have to say it is because of you.
JH: Thank you very much, for that you get one free wonton.
JJ: Hey, I’ll take a free wonton anytime!
JH: The Chinese waiter part I mean all you have to do is go to San Francisco, there was once this three story restaurant where there was a waiter there that would say ‘whachuwant’. It’s famous! All the Chinese waiters I have met in my life all go into the character of Mr. Ping.
JJ: You pretty much based your character on that?
JH: Yes, the impressions of them. It’s like a popular song where the melody keeps popping into your mind. As an actor, all these images play in my head and I get to the studio to say my lines and they all come out.
JJ: Where you excited to come back each time to expand on your loveable character?
JH: Yes, they were all different with different directors and direction but Mr. Ping, he stays the same. Finally in number “Kung Fu Panda 3” he gets a bigger role following Po and watching over him. It is very endearing and Mr. Ping makes sure he is safe and eating correctly. All of that is close to my heart and I pour it all into the role of Mr. Ping. It is very easy for me to do that. DreamWorks is a great bunch to work for.
JJ: In “Kung Fu Panda 3” you were saying Mr. Ping gets more play, even though Po finds his birth father your character never gives up or changes. No matter what anyone says Ping is going to protect Po.
JH: Of course, to me as Mr. Ping, Po is part of me therefore how can you cut that out or make it any different. It is a part of your soul, your being and you treat it as it’s a part of you by protecting it. That’s the way I treat Po, he is really part of me. Forget this father thing, it doesn’t matter if he’s his real father or adopted father, Po is part of Ping.
JJ: That’s what makes the film so special, you show how it is about heart and soul. As Ping you let us know that in your own unique way. You have had such an amazing career, how did you start?
JH: Believe it or not I came here one summer as part of a comedy team called Hong & Parker and that summer we thought we would break in show business. Finally I got on Groucho Marx’s television show You Bet Your Life (1950) and somebody said, “There is this Chinese kid who does impressions and he does one of you Groucho” and he said, “Put him on!” I got the second biggest fan mail ever on his program. That opened all doors and I decided to stay in Hollywood. Movies came rather easily for me with the first with Clark Gable, the second one with John Wayne and the third one with William Holden. The roles came pouring in ten at a time. It was both television and movies. In the early days it didn’t matter I did them all from comedy to quirky films like BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA to iconic films like BLADE RUNNER. I did them all. That’s the story.
JJ: Do you have a favorite genre or are you up for anything?
JH: I throw myself into all the roles so it doesn’t matter. I love them all, “Blade Runner” was a huge role and people remember me in roles like that for some reason. That’s my award, I don’t get nominated for an Academy Award but I think my fans have nominated me in a sense.
JJ: When you are reading the script for the next film do you have the character already planned out in your head?
JH: Yes, when I read the script I always ask myself ‘what precedes my scene and why is my scene here?’ and then I analyze what I will be doing. You have to or otherwise the story will be out of place. If you can see the character and call upon your talent to portray that then it will be good.
JJ: You make the role of Ping sound a lot easier than other roles you have played.
JH: He is part of me but I do that with every character. I think the most important thing is that you can’t let any of that go to your head. You can’t walk around thinking “I’m great”, no, you can’t do that as an actor. You are hired to be an actor and play a role and do your best. You don’t go off the deep end, you have to stay level and keep your head above water. Do that and you’ll have 60+ years and more in this business.
JJ: That’s a wonderful attitude to have towards your work. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone I’ve spoken to actually come out and say that.
JH: It’s true.
JJ: My family and I enjoy you so much and I’m really honored to talk to you. I think you’re an amazing actor and I love you as a noodle making Dad!
JH: Oh, thank you!
A sense of humor and a sense of character-self is what I have come away with talking with James today. His talent is absolutely undeniable hitting icon status in film and now in the KUNG FU PANDA series. There is no one better suited to bring us joy, laughter, care, concern and love than James Hong as the nervous noodle making feathery father of the Dragon Warrior.
On June 28 from DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is a chance to re-experience James Hong’s talent as the ever loveable Mr. Ping along with son Po as “Kung Fu Panda 3” is available on Bluray, DVD and Digital HD.