Monday, March 20, 2023

Remembering Al Leong

If I told you there was one actor who had appeared in movies alongside a veritable Mount Rushmore of action movie stars -- Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keanu Reeves -- you'd say "That's impossible, such a person does not exist."

And yet you'd be wrong, because Al Leong does exist.

Yes that's in the present tense. Al Leong is still alive. I'm sorry if my title for this post gave you the opposite impression, especially coming directly after a genuine "in memoriam" piece yesterday.

But I doubt I'll hear it when the now 70-year-old former actor and stuntman does die, because his name is not going to make it to the top of the list for celebrity death notices. I reckon most people have never heard of him.

Well, my high school friends and I are not "most people." And that's really what I'm remembering today, two days after seeing him pop up in Big Trouble in Little China on my second viewing of it.

Sometime around 1990, when my friends and I watched movies we'd rented from the local Videosmith every Friday or Saturday night, we began noticing this one distinctive stuntman/henchman appearing over, and over, and over again. We wouldn't have had IMDB at the time, obviously, so we eventually searched out his name in the credits: Al Leong.

Why so distinctive? Certainly there were plenty of Asian stuntmen in action movies at that time?

Actually, no -- there may have been Asian stuntmen in movies made in Asia, but if you were talking about Hollywood movies, there tended not to be as many. And then there was the fact that Leong's trademark long hair -- at the back of a heavily receding forehead, no less -- made him stand out, even if others of Asian descent might have appeared in the cast. He wore his hair that way, as well as his trademark beard and moustache, no matter what film he was in and no matter what it might have otherwise required of him. 

I guess we also thought there was something funny about him, and we weren't the only ones. He also appeared in comedies. It's here where I admit I cheated a little bit by saying he appeared alongside noted action star Keanu Reeves, because this was long before anyone saw Reeves that way. Yes, Leong appears in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, possibly in his most prominent role ever, playing Genghis Khan.

Would you like a list of the other prominent movies from that era that featured Leong? It's pretty impressive.

Lethal Weapon
Action Jackson
Die Hard
They Live
Black Rain
Death Warrant
Hot Shots! Part Deux
The Last Action Hero
Beverly Hills Cop III
Escape from L.A.
Lethal Weapon 4
The Scorpion King

I'm going to assume he dies in Lethal Weapon, so I'm going to assume the continuity people weren't too worried about him popping back up in Lethal Weapon 4.

I suppose I could be reading the resume of any person who makes a career as a stuntman or henchman, but you'd never know it because you'd never notice those people. But how could you not notice Al Leong?

Here he is in Die Hard:

And here is in Death Warrant:

And here he is in Lethal Weapon:

And as Genghis Khan:

And because it was the movie I just rewatched, here he is in Big Trouble in Little China:

And though it turns out I've actually mentioned him twice on this blog before -- here and here -- I may not have had occasion to think about him since the second of those posts in 2015, even though I have of course seen Die Hard more recently than that. So that's another way I'm "remembering" him today, in addition to thinking fondly back on those high school Friday nights frittered away on dumb action movies.

Of course, even the friskiest and most unbreakable stuntman can't hang around forever, and by 2005 it was time for Leong to hang up his kicking shoes and fireproof jackets. He worked until he was 52, though, and that's pretty good for someone who basically has no acting ability. 

Someone did dust him off for the 2014 movie Awesome Asian Bad Guys, though, in which he plays, appropriately, "Al." I'm wondering if that's sort of like an Expendables, except for former Asian henchmen.

Maybe that needs to be next on my list.

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