Family & Companions
Heavy-lidded Chinese-American character actor who brought his slightly puffy features and an assured, amiable playing style to a series of wizened film roles in the 1980s and 90s. Born in San Francisco's Chinatown to immigrant parents, Wong went to college originally intending to follow in his father's footsteps and enter politics, possibly back in China. When China became Communist, though, he moved back to San Francisco and fell in with the "Beat" movement of the early 60s. (He was one of Ken Kesey's "Merry Pranksters" and Jack Kerouac even wrote about Wong in "Big Sun.") Wong later became one of TV's first Chinese-American reporters when he worked for PBS Channel 9 from 1968 to 1974. A bout with the face-paralyzing Bell's palsy made him leave TV, though, and he went into stage acting instead.
After gaining experience in San Francisco's Little Theater and Asian-American theater scenes, Wong acted in New York in the David Henry Hwang plays "Family Devotions" and "Sound and Beauty." He also understudied on Broadway for David Hare's "Plenty" and did a TV stint on "Search for Tomorrow." Wong's film breakthrough came with his Uncle Tam in Wayne Wang's low-key "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart" (1985) and he was suddenly much in demand in features.
Some of Wong's best roles came in later Wang films: in the comedy "Eat a Bowl of Tea" (1989) he amusingly played a New York gambling club owner who goes after his cuckold son's rival with a meat ax. He appeared in "Life Is Cheap...But Toilet Paper Is Expensive" (1989) as the blind man, and in "The Joy Luck Club" (1993) as Old Chong. The latter role typified many of Wong's more standardized roles, as with his wise man in the strange Eddie Murphy vehicle, "The Golden Child" (1986) and the grandfather of "3 Ninjas" (1992) and its sequels. "The Last Emperor" (1987), though, enabled Wong to recreate part of Chinese history, as did the TV-movie "Forbidden Nights" (1990), set during the Cultural Revolution, and the PBS "American Playhouse" drama, "Paper Angels" (1986), which explored the treatment of Chinese immigrants to America.
Wong has also been billed as 'Victor K. Wong'; he is not to be confused with Los Angeles-born character actor Victor Wong (born September 24, 1906; died April 7, 1972), whose credits included "Son of Kong" (1933) and "Without Regret" (1935).
Cast (Feature Film)
Worked as a TV news reporter for the Public Broadcasting System; suffering from Bell's Palsy made him leave reporting; later took up acting
Feature film debut, "Nightsongs"
Served as an understudy for the Off-Broadway production of David Hare's play, "Plenty"
First film for director Wayne Wang, "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart"
Earliest TV appearances included a major role in "Paper Angels", presented on PBS as a one-hour installment of "American Playhouse"
First non-US feature credit, "The Last Emperor", an Italian-Chinese co-production
TV-movie debut, "Forbidden Nights"; received second billing to Melissa Gilbert
Received top billing in the US-South Korean co-produced martial arts comedy, "3 Ninjas"; also first played the role of "Grandpa", which he would recreate for several sequels
Suffered two strokes and retired from acting