Today I’m going to flip the script and write about a movie which I haven’t even seen yet.
I first learned of its existence while combing the horror bins at Amoeba in
The Vineyard (1989)
James Hong (Blade Runner) co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in this horror film as Dr. Elson Po, a mysterious winemaker whose wines are coveted for their supposedly age reducing qualities. Dr. Po, who has kept himself alive for hundreds of years with the help of a special potion, now finds that his concoction is failing him. Desperate to find a new fountain of youth, Dr. Po brings a group of young actresses to his secluded island.
So in other words, it would seem that The Vineyard is a horror film in the style of the old British Hammer films, starring not Christopher Lee in the role of Dracula for once, but instead, the great character actor James Hong.
James Hong, whom my generation knows best from his roles in Wayne’s World 2, Revenge of the Nerds 2, and that Chinese restaurant episode of Seinfeld, but who has been around since The Sand Pebbles, and was a bit player in CHINATOWN for Hong’s sake! The next generation coming up may have seen him in the standard wise-mentor role in Balls of Fury, but as hopeful as that role might have looked, it did not in fact deliver the whole Hong.
James Hong, equally at home in comedy or drama, in science fiction or horror, whether acting against Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, or even this guy.
James Hong, an actor whose very sneezes are unlike any other actor’s.
But a James Hong vanity project?!?! Really?
We’ve heard of Bill Murray vanity projects, of Dan Aykroyd vanity projects, of Eddie Murphy vanity projects, and most notoriously, of Mel Gibson vanity projects. When big stars get big enough, they are easier able to get financing for movies that they wrote, directed, and starred in themselves.
But since when does a veteran Asian-American character actor ever get his chance to make his vanity project? And how great is that that he did?
Though I know absolutely nothing of his off-screen life, I like to think of James Hong as the most prominent celebrity wine enthusiast since Francis Ford Coppola. In this fictional backstory, James Hong searched far and wide, for years and decades, to find the dream vehicle through which to capture cinematically his love of wine. But he did not want to disappoint his dedicated genre fans who knew him best as Dr. Chew from Blade Runner or David Lo Pan, the master heavy from Big Trouble In Little China. So James Hong merged his hiatus experience as an amateur vintner within the framework of a horror script. And then James Hong essayed the role, carelessly overlooked by Oscar, of Dr. Elson Po, the mysterious winemaker, who out-mysterious’s even Lo Pan.
Oh yes, Mr. David Lo Pan. One of the great cult movie villains of all time, in the opinion of yours truly. The cursed ghost warlord who spends half the movie in majestic ten-foot-tall Mandarin gear, the other half in his human prison, as a centuries-old husk of a man in a golden wheelchair. One of the most quotable midnight characters of the 1980s.
Was it Laurence Olivier as Othello, Shakespeare’s Moor of Venice, or James Hong as David Lo Pan who rhapsodized the following, when asked why he is so fixated on one girl out of a world full of them:
“There have been others, to be sure. There are always others, are there not? You seem to be one who understands the difficulties between men and women… how seldom it works out. Yet we all keep trying, like fools.”
Fuckin A-right it was James Hong! Celebrate! Only one man could have played the shocking dual-role to such perfection, inventing a unique physicality and vocal cadence for two characters within the same B-movie, skirting the line between uncomfortable stereotype and [almost] believable pathos and villainy. That man is James Hong, and I am one of his fans. To the point where I would absolutely watch a movie where he plays a mysterious winemaker. (At least the one time.)
Actually, it turns out that The Vineyard is only the first of two James Hong vanity projects, as I learned when I ventured into just the first page of a Google search.
As if timed to commemorate the release of the 20-year-anniversary of The Vineyard, Man of a Thousand Faces is a documentary with narrative segments, executive-produced and co-written by James Hong, exploring the storied career of one James Hong. Along with two other actors who play James Hong at various ages, James Hong plays himself.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to see this one either.