Victor Wong (actor, born 1927)

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Victor Wong
Victor Wong (cropped).jpg
Wong in 1983
Yee Keung Victor Wong

(1927-07-30)July 30, 1927
DiedSeptember 12, 2001(2001-09-12) (aged 74)
OccupationActor, journalist, artist
Years active19841998
Spouse(s)Olive Thurman
Robin Goodfellow
Carol Freeland
Dawn Rose
(m. 19??; his death)

Yee Keung Victor Wong (traditional Chinese : ; simplified Chinese :黄自強; pinyin :Huáng Zìqiáng; Jyutping :Wong4 Zi6koeng4; July 30, 1927 – September 12, 2001) was an American actor, artist, and journalist. A fourth-generation Chinese-American, he appeared in supporting roles throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He portrayed Chinese sorcerer Egg Shen in John Carpenter's 1986 cult film Big Trouble in Little China , royal adviser Chen Bao Shen in the Best Picture–winning The Last Emperor , rural storekeeper Walter Chang in the comedy horror film Tremors , and Grandpa Mori Tanaka in the 3 Ninjas tetralogy.


Early life and education

Wong was born in San Francisco and lived in Chinatown near the Stockton Street Tunnel to Chinese parents. His father, Sare King Wong, was born and raised in Guangdong province, and later moved to Shanghai as a news journalist. His mother was a devout Christian who took the family to the First Chinese Baptist Church every week. Wong was the eldest of five; his siblings were Sara Wong Lum, Zeppelin Wong, Shirley Wong Frentzel, and Betty Wong Brown. He was fluent with both English and Cantonese, which helped lead his acting career to Hong Kong. [1]

Wong and his family moved to Courtland, California when he was two years old after his father took a job as teacher and principal at a school for the children of local Chinese laborers. The family would move back to Chinatown within three years and his father would be active in local politics. He would live in Sacramento, California for much of his adult life. [1]

Wong studied political science and journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and Theology at the University of Chicago under Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Buber. In Chicago, Wong joined The Second City comedy troupe and stayed with Langston Hughes. [1] Wong returned to San Francisco for the summer, taking part in a theatre production and never returning to Chicago; he resumed his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute under Mark Rothko, earning a master's degree in 1962. [2]

Acting career

Although he had acted in and staged productions with his first wife, Olive, who he had met after his return from Chicago, Wong was inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy to pursue a career in journalism, landing an on-air role for KQED's Newsroom from 1968 until 1974, when he was stricken with Bell's palsy. [1] During his tenure on Newsroom, Wong is credited with inventing the photojournalistic essay, covering stories with his still camera and returning to narrate them in the studio. [2] The palsy would give him his later distinctive appearance, but at the time, he felt his roles had diminished because he wasn't "pretty looking". [1]

Wong with Laureen Chew in Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart. Victor Wong and Laureen Chew in a scene from the 1985 film "Dim Sum, a Little Bit of Heart".jpg
Wong with Laureen Chew in Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart .

After his news career ended, Wong turned to acting, starting in the local Asian American theatre and later landing larger roles on the stages of New York City. In October 1980, Wong made his Asian American Theater Company (AATC) debut in San Francisco by appearing in their production of Paper Angels by Genny Lim. He was on Social Security Disability Insurance at the time due to his palsy. In New York, he acted in the plays Family Devotions and Sound and Beauty , written by David Henry Hwang. [3]

His stage work led to television work and eventually, into movies; his film debut was in 1984's Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart , directed by Wayne Wang. [3] In between film roles, Wong lived in Sacramento, California, where he supported the local performing arts. In 1992, he acted in the Hong Kong film, Cageman (笼民). He later starred as the grandfather, Mori Tanaka (strangely changed to Mori Shintaro for 3 Ninjas Kick Back), in the popular 3 Ninjas franchise, and the cult-classics, Big Trouble in Little China and Tremors .

I felt that Victor was my alter ego for a few years ... Victor was very experimental and had this innocent child-like quality that is a part of me. I felt very close to him.

   Wayne Wang,quoted in Asian Week , 2001 [2]

Film director Wayne Wang called Victor Wong his role model for living life.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci had trouble with Wong on the set of The Last Emperor amid arguments over historical authenticity and cut most of Wong's scenes in the film, which won the Best Picture Oscar for 1987.

He retired from acting in 1998 after suffering two strokes. Wong returned to art, and held a solo exhibition at the B. Sakata Garo gallery in Sacramento. [2]

Association with the Beat Generation

In the 1950s, while studying art under Mark Rothko, Victor Wong had his first art exhibition at the City Lights Bookstore. During this time, Wong befriended Lawrence Ferlinghetti. [2] He illustrated Oranges, Dick McBride's first collection of poetry, which was handset and printed at the Bread and Wine Mission in 1960. [4] He met Jack Kerouac in the early 1960s, who chronicled their meeting in his novel Big Sur (1962). In the novel, Wong is characterised as "Arthur Ma". [1]

Personal life

Wong was married four times: to Olive Thurman Wong (daughter of civil rights activist Howard Thurman), Carol Freeland, Robin Goodfellow, and Dawn Rose. He had two daughters, Emily and Heather, and three sons, Anton, Lyon, and Duncan. His children Emily and Anton were from his first marriage to Olive Thurman. [5] His son, Lyon Wong, died in 1986 after being attacked by a young man while walking home in Sacramento. Wong was asked to film the prologue scene for Big Trouble in Little China shortly after Lyon's wake; after shooting the scene, Wong suffered his first stroke. [1]

Upon learning of the events of September 11, 2001, Wong and his wife Rose spent the day trying to get news of Wong's sons, who lived in New York City (they were unharmed). After Rose went to sleep, Wong stayed up to continue following the news; he died of a heart attack at some point during the morning of September 12, 2001 at the age of 74. [1]


1985 Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart Uncle Tam
Year of the Dragon Harry Yung
1986 Big Trouble in Little China Egg Shen
Shanghai Surprise Ho Chong
The Golden Child The Old Man
1987 The Last Emperor Chen Pao Shen
Prince of Darkness Prof. Howard Birack
1989 Eat a Bowl of Tea Wah Gay
Life Is Cheap...But Toilet Paper Is ExpensiveBlind Man
Fatal Vacation GrandpaAlternative Title: An le zhan chang
1990SoloFrank Short
Tremors Walter Chang
1991 Mystery Date Janitor
1992 3 Ninjas Grandpa Mori Tanaka
Cageman SissyAlternative title: Long min
The Ice RunnerFyodor
1993 The Joy Luck Club Old Chong the Piano Teacher
1994 3 Ninjas Kick Back Grandpa Mori Shintaro
Ching hat yi!Johnny
1995 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up Grandpa Mori Shintaro Grandpa Mori Tanaka
The Stars Fell on Henrietta Henry Nakai
Da mao xian jiaUncle Nine
Jade Mr. Wong
1996The Devil Takes a HolidayChi Chi
Paper DragonsMaster Chang
1997 Seven Years in Tibet Chinese 'Amban'
My America ... or Honk if You Love Buddhaco-hostwith Renee Tajima-Peña [6]
1998 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain Grandpa Mori Tanaka (final film role)
19751976 Search for Tomorrow
1985NightsongsFung Leung TV movie
1988 Beauty and the Beast Dr. WongEpisode: "China Moon"
1989A Fine RomanceLon Mo WahEpisode: "The Tomas Crown Affair"
1990 Forbidden Nights HoTV movie
LegacyLarry ChowTV movie
Midnight Caller Phil WongEpisode: "Language Barrier"
1994 Due South Coo Episode: "Chinatown"
1996 Poltergeist: The Legacy Lee Tzin-SoongEpisode: "Fox Spirit"

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pulley, Michael (October 18, 2001). "The last days of Victor Wong". Sacramento News & Review. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
    • a "For much of the past two decades—in which he had appeared in nearly 30 Hollywood films—Wong had lived in Midtown Sacramento." — ¶ 3.
    • b "Unlike most Hollywood actors, Wong eschewed the fast life and glamour of Los Angeles and continued to live humbly in his unassuming Midtown Sacramento residence where he could be close to his children. — ¶ 23.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Chang, Lia (October 5–11, 2001). "Remembering Our Merry Prankster". Asian Week. Archived from the original on June 9, 2013.
  3. 1 2 "Victor Wong". Variety. October 2, 2001.
  4. McBride, R: Oranges - Illustrated by Victor Wong (Handset and printed at the Bread & Wine Press, San Francisco by Wilder Bentley, 1960)
  5. "Olive K. Wong Obituary". May 6, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
  6. Wang, Oliver (July 18–24, 1997). "On the Road Again". Asian Week. Archived from the original on September 6, 2001.