Hong was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, Frank W. Hong, emigrated from Hong Kong to Chicago via Canada, where he owned a restaurant. Hong's grandfather was from Taishan, China. For his early education, Hong moved to Hong Kong, and returned to the United States at age ten. He studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California, but later became interested in acting and trained with Jeff Corey. Hong was a road engineer for Los Angeles County for 7½ years, acting during his vacations and sick days. He finally quit engineering for good to devote himself to acting and voice work full time.
His career in show business began in the 1950s when he redubbed soundtracks of several Asian films, including the re-dubbing of characters Ogata and Dr. Serizawa in the 1956 Japanese film Godzilla, King of the Monsters! as well as the title character in The Human Vapor. Hong was one of the original founding members, in 1965, of the East West Players, one of the first Asian American theatre organizations.
He has played in over 500 television and film roles and the list continues to grow. In 2008, he appeared in The Day the Earth Stood Still and Kung Fu Panda where he played the voice of Ping, the father of Jack Black's Panda character. He was nominated for an Annie Award for his performance of this fatherly Goose.
Hong was a frequent guest star on the 1972–1975 television series Kung Fu, joined the cast on the final season of Switch, as Wang, and also played a flight attendant in the original 1979 film The In-Laws. He also starred as a uniformed man in the 1980 cult comedy film Airplane!. He is perhaps most widely known as the immortal ghost sorcerer Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986), as the eye manufacturer Chew in Blade Runner, as the low-rent private eye in Black Widow, and he also starred in the 1989 film The Vineyard. He appeared as a host in a Chinese restaurant in the well-known Seinfeld episode “The Chinese Restaurant”, and played a similar role in an episode of The Big Bang Theory and the seventh episode of the first season of Alias, "Color-Blind". He also guest-starred on Friends, playing Hoshi, the former paid assassin and boxing coach for Monica's boyfriend Pete (played by Jon Favreau) in the episode "The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion". Hong played Jeff Wong, Cassandra Wong's father (who happens to be a martial arts expert), in the 1993 comedy sequel Wayne's World 2. Hong had a small role in the 1998 independent film Broken Vessels. Recently, he played the role of Mr. Takato in the movie Chasing Zoey. He was a "not existing" man in the television series Zoey 101 who taught Michael Barret how to operate a manual transmission.
Hong was the voice of Daolon Wong, an evil wizard in the Jackie Chan Adventures television series. He was the voice of Chi Fu in Disney’s Mulan, Mandarin in Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, and Professor Chang in Teen Titans. He made a cameo appearance in the television series Las Vegas as a presumed cheating holy monk. James Hong also lent his voice to the Cartoon Network cartoon Chowder as Mung Daal's mentor in the episode Won-Ton Bombs.
Hong's voice also appeared as Colonel Zhou Peng in the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, Dr. Chang in 2007's Def Jam Icon, Ancient Wu in True Crime: Streets of LA, and reprising his role as Chew in the Blade Runner video game. Once again, his most recent appearances were in the films Balls of Fury, Kung Fu Panda, and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
James Hong also has a daughter, April, whom he coached and supported in her acting career since she began showing great interest in acting, singing, and dancing at the age of 4. Since then she has trained in various acting techniques originating from not only her father, but also Uta Hagen, Constantin Stanislavski, Yale School of Drama, and Viola Spolin. Her experiences have led her to discover her own approach to the art and business of acting.
As a child actor she has appeared in leading roles in Kidsongs videos, award winning documentarian and director Arthur Dong's film Lotus; television shows China Beach and General Hospital; animated TV shows The Real Ghostbusters, Slimer, Captain Planet, and more.
Her most recent credits include TV shows such as Desperate Housewives, 90210, ER, and Numb3rs. She's also voiced in interactive games The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, and appeared in national commercials for Microsoft and Chrysler.
- Pilato, Herbie J. The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV’s First Mystical Eastern Western. Boston: Charles A. Tuttle, 1993. ISBN 0-8048-1826-6
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