James Hong rides Nickelodeon’s ‘Kung Fu Panda’ to a whole new generation of fans
At 83, a familiar film performer is back as the voice of Ping in TV version of animation hit
BY Richard Huff
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Originally Published: Monday, November 7 2011, 6:00 AM
James Hong has gone from working alongside Groucho Marx to superstardom among viewers more likely to say, “Groucho who?”
Hong, a film and television veteran, is the voice of Mr. Ping, an animated character in the big-screen “Kung Fu Panda” movies. He also does the voice on Nickelodeon’s series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” launching Monday at 5:30.
“I’ve been a living actor through four eras,” says Hong, now in Boston working on “R.I.P.D.,” a film starring Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Bacon.
Only Hong and Lucy Liu are carryovers from the theatrical version of the animated tales of Po the Panda, who grows into a dragon warrior and is surrounded by friends and mentors.
Hong, 83, has hundreds of film and TV credits to his name. He attributes his wide vocal range, perfect for animated roles, to growing up as Chinese boy in Minnesota.
“Being a lonely child — I probably was the only Chinese guy in about 3,000 kids in high school — I talk to myself in the mirror a lot,” he says. “My talent for voiceovers started very, very early.”
Hong headed to Los Angeles in 1953 and landed on Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” He later worked with Clark Gable and appeared in “Blade Runner,” “Chinatown” and the classic “Big Trouble in Little China.”
Doing the voice of Ping for the theatrical version is a process that takes more than three years, with various recording sessions along the way. For the TV show, he says, it’s much faster.
The process of acting only with voice is much different than using voice and body together, Hong notes.
“In Hollywood, they have special classes for voiceovers,” he says. “It’s almost a different craft from stage acting. You don’t have a person to react to when you’re saying your lines.”
Likewise, he must envision what other actors might be saying or doing, without seeing them.
“For me, it’s relatively easy,” he says. “But it is a little bit harder, and maybe that’s why I get a lot of work doing voiceovers. I can express with my voice probably as well as I can with my voice and my body.”
He says there are a couple of episodes coming up that give Mr. Ping some fun story lines. The series, no doubt, will make Hong’s voice popular with a new generation of fans.
Indeed, most kids don’t recognize him in public, but their parents do.
“They say, ‘He does the voice of Mr. Ping,’ ” he says. “Then I have to do the voice.”