Saturday, February 13, 2010


Uncle Kim earned his keep mostly by wearing a dress and being flown on wires.

Wearing a dress: Kim, a character actor, played a monk several times.

(Kim opined that the difference between Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism lay in the colors of the robes.)

Flown on wires: Flying by Foy, wire fu.

Kim and my mother were related in some way, maybe distant cousins. Nosey Parkers insist that it was wrong for me to call him my uncle and for him to call me his niece.

Sometimes, influenced by Johan Huizinga’s famous book of cultural history The Waning of the Middle Ages, I refer to Kim as The Old One.

Long ago, I declared myself to be a pacifist. But I often find stage combat fascinating, even thrilling.

It was good to see Kim beating up villains.

And when people made fun of him, I wanted to kill them.

No one can say that Kim skipped paying his dues. He sweated in laundries and restaurants just like other immigrants. Just not all his life.

In 1992’s One of the All-Time Greats, he played an opinionated waiter. A group of people involved in a floundering Broadway play huddle at a Chinese restaurant, trying to figure out how to fix their show. Their waiter suggests that Asians be included in the cast.

The character of the waiter had no name.

After appearing in that Off-Broadway production (at the Vineyard Theatre), Kim landed a steady job on television.

He originally auditioned for the minor role of a shopkeeper. But the casting people, as well as the star, David Carradine, took one look at those box-cutter cheekbones (catching the light!) and knew that this old guy was destined to be their old guy.

The steady job actually consisted of two roles: Lo Si (also called The Ancient), an apothecary; and Ping Hai, a monk from another time.

Kim was already past what many would consider retirement age, but he could never be sure by how many years. He had no birth certificate.

Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993–1997) was a spin-off of the series Kung Fu, and it continued the debate over whether viewers could or would tolerate a Caucasian (Carradine) playing a biracial person.

Some Asian-Americans, mostly young and college educated, insisted that Kim should have turned down that decent-paying job. They felt that Carradine had cheated Bruce Lee, and that The Old One was an accomplice.

Two non-Asians who I thought were friends shared their particular take on Kim’s newfound glory. “So what? Even if your uncle becomes really famous, it’s not going to do him any good, because he’s old, and he’s just going to die before he even gets to enjoy it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment