And with that, I present to the Cinapse readership my 2016 New Year’s resolution.
I will watch all of Victor Wong’s feature films this year. Stop by each month to follow this great journey through comedy, drama, horror, fantasy, and adventure.
“There’s Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoist alchemy and sorcery. We take what we want and leave the rest… Just like your salad bar.” – Egg Shen, Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
This first month of Wong began with a pair of 1986 fantasy adventure films that featured our old friend Victor prominently, Big Trouble in Little China and The Golden Child. These two films served as wonderful complements to each other, the former being an example of genre film brilliance featuring on of my favorite Kurt Russell protagonists and the latter being one of the better entries in Eddie Murphy’s glory days (along side Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and Coming to America). Both of the films are fantastical and fun. Both feature great acting from top to bottom. Both feature amazing epic battles. And, of course, both feature Victor Wong as a wise old man that presents the needed mythology and lore to drive the fantastical plots of these 80s adventure gems.
Big Trouble In Little China
It’s unlikely that Cinapse readers are unaware of Big Trouble in Little China. In the past year, there have been a few pieces on the site about this wonderful film. But, just in case, I’ll give you the quick and dirty recap: There’s this guy Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) who wins money from a friend of his while gambling. His friend needs to make a stop on his way home to get the money. During that stop, shit goes down. Then, ancient Chinese gods that kinda look like Raiden from Mortal Kombat get involved and said shit hits the fan. Through all types of amazing craziness, poor Jack Burton just wants his truck back. And, a wise old Chinese man, Egg Shen (Victor Wong), plays a vital role in introducing the ancient gods, explaining the concept of magic, advancing the plot in many different ways, and just being totally awesome.
This film is one of the Wong films (if not THE Wong film) that inspired my journey through his entire filmography. It’s perfect from beginning to end and Wong is a very big part of why. It’s hard to picture anyone else as Egg Shen. His dual role as ninja master and crazy old man is one he performed like none other. I’d be surprised if Disney didn’t draw inspiration from Egg Shen (and as the old man/”Monty Hall” in The Golden Child to some extent as we’ll dive into next) in the creation of The Lion King’s Rafiki.
The Golden Child
The second of this pairing is the Eddie Murphy vehicle The Golden Child, in which Victor Wong also plays a similar character. In this case when we first meet him, he’s a crazy homeless man, but we later find out that he’s much more. This film’s plot centers around Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy), who finds out he’s the chosen one and has to save a child that is the only hope to save the world from certain doom. He is sent on a journey to Tibet, where he must obtain a majestic blade. Of course, a crazy old homeless man (played by our beloved Victor Wong) swindles him once he gets there… only to soon be revealed as a wise man that must aid Chandler in his world saving trek.
For the remaining 3 films I watched in January, I stuck to revisiting films I’d previously seen: the first two films (sort of, but I’ll explain below) of the 3 Ninjas franchise and Tremors. The former provided good choices for some family movie time with my boys, the latter provided a great evening in front of the fireplace with my wife.
3 Ninjas and 3 Ninjas Kick Back
My sons, ages 4 and 7, had not yet been introduced to 3 Ninjas, so it was a perfect opportunity to share Grandpa Mori’s sage wisdom and the ways of the ninja with them. Whenever I revisit films from my youth that I haven’t watched in a decade or more, I get a little nervous that my memory of the film is much greater than the movie truly is. I’m happy to say that this is not the case for this film. 3 Ninjas holds up as a solid family film with good use of sentiment, comedy, and action. It’s part Kung Fu film and part Home Alone.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the second installment, 3 Ninjas Kick Back. In the words of another fine film I got into at a younger age (that sadly does not feature one Victor Wong), this film is “a study in moppishness”. Unlike the film protagonist the aforementioned quote is referencing, John Cusack’s teenage Romeo with a half-assed deathwish, this film’s miscues and ineptitudes are without any redemption (maybe next year I’ll have to tackle a year of John Cusack, but I digress).
This sequel was released second in the series, but actually filmed third. Thus, there are some unexplained references and 2 of the 3 actors have been replaced. Nevermind the fact that the actors are older in this installment than the third, obviously. The out of order nature of the releases is not nearly the biggest problem with this film. One of the few things that is not a problem, however, is Victor Wong as Grandpa Mori. In this sequel, he’s on point… but that’s to be expected with such a consummate professional at Mr. Wong.
Having yet to tackle the third and fourth installments fully (though since obtaining copies of the entire series, my kids have had them on quite a bit, so I’ve seen moments in passing), I’m left with little optimism for the series outside of Wong. Since the third was meant as the true sequel, has most of the cast returned from the first, and has a young Crystle Lightning (pictured below along side a picture of her now), I may be pleasantly surprised by it. The fourth involves Hulk Hogan, so there’s also the chance that it’s so ridiculous that it holds up as a solid bubblegum flick.
Before forging ahead to February, where my Wong-sploration would begin to take me to new places with films yet to be discovered, it was imperative that I would end on a strong note. This is where Tremors came in. One of my all time favorite creature features, Tremors features strong performances by Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, the dad from Family Ties, Reba, that girl from How I Got into College, and (of course) Victor Wong.
If someone were to ask me what genre Tremors falls into, I couldn’t answer with an simple or contrived label. It’s funny, but it’s not just a comedy. It’s got some scares, but it’s not just horror. There are some great action sequences, but it’s not just action. And there are cool monsters, but it’s not just science fiction or fantasy. It’s a little bit of all of those, with some other ingredients thrown in as well. While Fred Ward is probably my favorite part of this film as a whole, Wong’s performance as a money grubbing shop owner is fantastic. His hair-brained schemes are fun and comical, such as using the monster as an opportunity to make money by offering photos with it in the store. He is quirky and endearing, like most of the characters in the small town setting of Tremors. Once again, it’s a role that I’ve grown so fond of Wong in that I can barely picture anyone else in the role.
Spoiler Alert: Victor’s character doesn’t make it in this one!
Familiar territory to start the journey, but an enjoyable month of Wong, January was. There was only one poor entry, in which the venerable Mr. Wong still turned in a fun performance. Next month, the cuts get a bit deeper and the risks get a bit larger, with only a handful of his remaining films being ones I have had the opportunity to see before.
Please join me on this journey: suggest which films to watch next, comment on the ones here, post favorite quotes or moments, and enjoy the films of Victor Wong along with me.
And remember never to fight unless you’re sure you can win.