After jumping ship from his track to become a doctor, Ken Jeong hit the comedy world with a bang. Over the past five years, he's escalated from a bit part in Knocked Up into a substantial player on both the big and small screens. This weekend, Jeong appears in The Hangover Part III, and while the marquee will tell you the comedy threequel stars Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms, its dominated by Jeong.
"This is the biggest role I've ever had and I think it's the best thing I've ever done as an actor," Jeong says. "I feel like this role is a culmination of everything I've done."
That's true on a comedy level: with a leading role intertwined into the misadventures of the Wolf Pack, Jeong's third outing as gangly crimelord Chow required a bit more pacing. He worked with director Todd Phillips to revive the manic character in a way that would be palatable over the course of an entire movie. "Todd is a great coach. He knows when to give me latitude and do my thing," he says. "He also knows when to rein me in. Having such an expanded part, it was really my first exercise in tracking the whole movie from beginning to end and where I'm at. It's not about maximizing being funny. It's a marathon and not a sprint."
The beefed up role also required more physicality than Jeong is used to. In the opening sequence, Chow escapes from the prison where we last saw him in Part II. To escape, the gangster finds himself leaping from the top of a mountain into the ocean — a stunt that required Jeong to jump from a sky high platform into a water tank over and over and over for a full day.
"That was the most intense stunt I've ever done. It was also, possibly, the greatest day of my career," Jeong says. As he puts it, Jeong has a "massive fear of heights" (he drops the word "massive" a few more times for emphasis). "I'm the kind of dude who cries on Ferris wheels. No joke — I was with my kid at Disney World on a Ferris wheel, and I was more scared than my kid."
To conquer his fears, Jeong worked with Jack Gill, Tom Cruise's stunt coordinator on Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. "I worked with him once a week, being in a harness, 10 feet. Just getting used to that. Then 15 feet. Next week 20 feet. Then 25, 30. And then moving in a harness at those heights," he says. As scared as he was, Jeong admits that being thrust into danger is what he believes an actor's job is all about. "Every actor says, 'Yeah, it was great because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone.' Well, I put my money where my mouth was."
Not all stunts come in the same shape and size. At one point, Jeong has to stick his nose in Ed Helms' butt. And not just once.
"We know what we're getting into when you sign up for a Hangover movie," Jeong says. "And knowing Todd Phillips so well and knowing the tone of his movies, which I love... I think what we all have in common, we have a love of comedy and a love of mayhem. Deep down inside. Subconsciously. What I love about this group of actors is there is no overlap. No one is a diva. There's no ego. The most grounded group of actors. That's what I'll miss the most."
So will Jeong return if The Hangover Part IV stars brewing? He would be there in a heartbeat — and wouldn't mind stepping up his game even more for a solo venture.
"I love Chow so much. I'd love to do a Chow spin-off," he says. "I'd love to do anything Chow related. It's so freeing. You can say or do anything."
Or maybe a TV spin-off... although weekly doses of Chow is an intimidating notion.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches | Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @Hollywood_com
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Hey, remember all those great films based on SNL sketches?
No, that’s because by and large stretching a three-minute comedy routine into a ninety-minute feature means padding the runtime with six different kinds of crap strung loosely together on celluloid. Films like Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, Stuart Saves His Family, It’s Pat, and The Ladies Man are all sterling examples of this tendency toward failure. One could make a strong case for Wayne’s World, but even that is not universally haled as a great film by any stretch the imagination.
The only real time that this adaptation process has been fruitful, the one time they actually managed to catch lightning in a bottle, was 1980’s The Blues Brothers—and it’s now on Netflix Instant.
Who Made It: The Blue Brothers was directed by none other than the great John Landis. If you aren’t familiar with this director, rectify this oversight immediately. Landis is a jack-of-all trades director who has proven himself to be dexterous in nearly every genres. He gave us the seminal comedies National Lampoon’s Animal House, Trading Places, and Three Amigos as well as horror classics An American Werewolf in London and The Twilight Zone Movie (he directed one of the segments). There is an appropriateness to featuring Mr. Landis this week as his An American Werewolf in London was screened as part of Fantastic Fest; which just wrapped yesterday.
Who’s In It: Saturday Night Live icons, and comedy legends, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi play the titular siblings. Between the two of them, these guys have amassed the most epic collection of hilarity imaginable. Their resumes boast more classics than we even have time to list. In 1980, the duo were in their comedic prime and the bizarrely stoic way they play off one another is the crux of what makes this film work.
What’s It About: Elwood and ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues are the greatest blues music act in the world. Unfortunately, Jake’s recent incarceration has derailed their dreams of making it big and left their backup band scattered all over the country. When Jake is finally released, Elwood is there to pick him up. The two end up visiting the Catholic school where they grew up and find out that it is in danger of being shut down. They realize that God has charged them with a mission to save the school. They drive around the country reassembling their band to hold a benefit concert.
Why You Should Watch It: The Blues Brothers is an experiment in quiet absurdity. I believe the reason that this film succeeds where so many other SNL sketch adaptations have has failed is that The Blues Brothers sketch was so barebones. It wasn’t predicated on overly goofy setups or catchphrase-desperate dialogue. The whole conceit was that these two physically divergent comedians would dress up in suits and perform blues music. The film takes this concept and runs with it, but there’s never a point where they can jump the shark because they had established no other canon up to that point. Any story about their origins or even their life outside that studio stage was entirely up in the air.
And holy harmonica, do they create a weird life story for them. They ride around in reconditioned police cars, wear their sunglasses at night (much like Corey Hart) and are chased cross-country by a group of Illinois Nazis. If that’s not enough ridiculousness for your taste, they are also stalked by Carrie Fisher, Jake’s ex-lover who is trying to kill them any chance she gets. She goes so far as to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at them and blow up their apartment. The ending of the film is a triumph of farce when a squadron of police cars following them ends up in a towering pile.
But the best thing about The Blues Brothers is the innumerable cameos and spectacular musical numbers. Everyone from James Brown to Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin shows up and leads jaw-dropping song-and-dance sequences. Throughout all these sequences, no matter how out of place they may seem, Jake and Elwood remain straight-faced and enthusiastically executing their choreographed moves. I think my favorite is the Cab Calloway performance of “Minnie the Moocher.”
Overall, The Blues Brothers is one of the most entertaining and riotously funny musicals ever made. John Landis takes an esoteric piece of SNL lore and creates comedy gold. On top of all that, the movie is endlessly quotable. I defy you not to bat about the line, “we’re on a mission from Gaahd” whenever possible.
If nothing else, you have to respect Jake and Elwood’s sense of style.
S5: E10 Whereas its Thursday night buddy, Community, manages to tread that line between heartwarming moments and zany comedy, 30 Rock continues to succeed on its ability to deliver laugh after laugh – some of which come so fast that you don’t even notice them until you give it a second viewing. (This is why it’s become my practice to watch every episode at least twice, if not more.) That’s the 30 Rock schtick – non-stop laughs. That’s why many of us groaned when the show took its unwelcome dive into the personal lives of the characters last season and partially this season; we care about them, but as much as this year’s Christmas episode hoped we would. When characters on other shows spew lines about family and Christmas, we all breath a collective, contented little Christmas sigh, but when Liz or Jack do it, we take as a joke and only a joke. The characters on the show may not be incredibly deep, but that’s not why we watch. We watch to have ridiculous humor thrown in our faces so we can work off our dinners of cheesy blasters with a half hour of belly laughing.
“Christmas Attack Zone” served up plenty of killer one-liners, but in the end we expected to have a little Christmas revelation. This worked back in season 3 when Jack and his mother (Broadway legend Elaine Stritch) closed the episode with a side-by-side Broadway style rendition of “The Christmas Song” but now, the characters are so wildly comedic that it’s hard to reign the audience back in. Still, considering all the obstacles they had against them, I think in the end they pulled off the closest thing to heartfelt that they could manage.
The episode opens on Liz “Pie-thieving Grinch” Lemon getting an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner from Jack since his mother likes her and she’ll be around avoiding her family drama – really Liz? Your aunt’s friend Alcoholism sounds like a hoot. Yikes. Back on the TGS set, there’s even less Christmas spirit – Tracy’s new bid for a Golden Globe has him wearing all black and trying desperately to be as serious as possible (no “Merry Kristmas from Kabletown?”…sad) and Jenna can’t even stop crying long enough to relish in the fact that Tracy’s act makes her the sole star for the TGS promos. Sadness overcoming narcissism? No way. And the star on this Christmas tree of sadness? Pete gets word that NBC wants promos from every show except TGS. Merry effing Christmas, guys. I guess even that giant Christmas tree outside can’t spread the cheer around these parts.
A long awaited appearance from Jack’s darling Avery (guest star Elizabeth Banks) comes just in time for the holidays and her pregnant belly is beginning to show. She’s mostly been hiding it by holding objects in front of her to avoid suspicion – cut to the ham wearing a pilgrim hat she held in front of her body on Hotbox with Avery Jessup. Avery’s off to her own family’s Christmas celebration but not before the MentaLiz works her magic (thanks to a lost TV remote and reruns of The Mentalist) to discover that Jack hasn’t told Colleen about his lovechild. Whoops. Colleen’s the only person scarier than Jack, and now she’s going to be really pissed. Avery understands his need to keep feelings down – the Jessup family crest is a knight that refuses to express his feelings, yikes – but this whole baby thing is kind of a big deal. Avery reasons that Colleen did the same thing so she should understand and once again Jack’s caught in another lie, Liz works her Mentalist magic and outs him for not telling Colleen about meeting his estranged father, Milton (Alan Alda). Of course, Colleen screams at Jack when she hears that he “knocked up a Protestant,” so he quickly jumps on the phone to get Milton to the city so he can rub Colleen’s past in her face. See what I mean about all this personal drama? These characters just aren’t built for this much inner turmoil.
Tracy is getting serious about his new thespian lifestyle – a.k.a. making people cry and stealing Steve Jobs’ favorite mock turtleneck. He’s purchased the rights to his second Chunks movie (nice dig at Eddie Murphy’s Norbit bad luck charm, writers) to avoid it interfering with his serious acting. Kenneth tries to convince him that laughter is important too, but Tracy’s not listening. It’s kind of like the comedy version of Clarence the angel from It’s A Wonderful Life…well, sort of.
Jenna is uncontrollably emotional, but Liz thinks it’s all because she missed Paul. They were supposed to think of a joint costume for Tom Ford and Elton John’s super gay New Year’s party, but now she’s left to go by herself. Of course Jenna is a delusional space cadet and has convinced herself that she’s illogically crying for no reason over a party that she’s invited to and plans on attending. MentaLiz swoops in to save the day, catching Paul at his roller skating tranny restaurant to get Paul to come back. The best part of Liz dropping by a transvestite bar? The Lemon lookalike rolling by on roller skates. Win.
Liz makes it to Jack’s Christmas dinner, which has since become a “Christmas Attack Zone.” Happy holidays, y’all. Jack is stoically stirring as he awaits the giant ambush he’s planned. Liz tries to prevent it all, spilling the secret about Jack’s plan to anger Colleen. Milton’s on board: he’s angered by Colleen’s hypocrisy. Avery shows up and she’s seeing red and she plans on giving Colleen a piece of her mind. Jack’s just received the best present he could hope for: a room full of people who hate his mother. Liz tries desperately to stop the whole process and she insists that this can’t happen at Christmas (says the women who wanted to spend it at the corner café at the Penn Station Kmart) and she heads off to find Colleen in the Escher wing of the house. (They may not be big on character development at 30 Rock, but there’s nothing quite like a well-placed shout-out to M.C. Escher.)
Colleen finds her way out of the Escher wing, and comes down to dinner in time to take a stab at Avery for carrying a bastard child. Milton surprises her and berates her for depriving him of hippie road trips with Jack (“Yeah…or other stuff.”) With that, Jack gets his second present of the year: Colleen’s total silence. Of course, like father like mother, Colleen’s got her own Christmas Attack Zone planned.
Jenna is still in pain, flipping through pictures in a photo album that looks suspiciously like the one my 12-year old self dedicated to Justin from *NSYNC, when she finds a picture that sets off an idea in her head. Of course, she has no one to share it with and Liz shoes her off the phone so she can deal with Jack’s drama, so she has no choice but to return to Paul. He shows up at her door to say hi, but he can’t stay for an absinthe enema and he just wants to get something off his chest (no not his fake breasts, he seems to have left those back at his apartment this time). They simultaneously announce their tandem idea to dress at Natalie Portman from Black Swan and Lynn Swann – two black swans, one slightly uncomfortable racial reference, and an excuse for Jenna to cross dress and offend some people by donning black-face make-up at the Tom Ford party.
Tracy is still on his serious warpath – ruining Ludachristmas with his Darfur slide show – and now he’s doing his Christmas Eve charity work: showing his film Hard to Watch to a group of battered women at a shelter while donning a diamond encrusted chain with the word “Poverty” dangling from the bottom. Pardon my language, but holy shit. Kenneth his hiding behind a doorway and whispers about laughter being the best medicine and just like that Tracy changes his mind and shows the sad women his DVD of The Chunks 2 instead. All is well again.
Back at the Christmas Attack Zone, Colleen fakes a heart attack to win everyone over again and it works. Avery melodramatically pleads with her to hang on so she can meet their daughter, little Colleen. (Enjoying this little taste of General Hospital?) They all join around Colleen at the hospital and determine that they should share all their secrets (sorry, Liz, your crush on The Mentalist wasn’t that much of a secret). Avery and Jack decide to have a wedding with family instead of eloping, Liz decided to hop on a bus so she can handle the misery of Christmas amongst her own family, and Jack basks in the glory of both his parents yelling at him at the same time. Jack places some carefully chosen insults to inspire even more joint berating as Liz retreats to New Haven. (See, even the writers are uncomfortable with letting this end with too much sentimentality.)
A befitting end to a 30 Rock Christmas comes as Jenna and Paul sing “Night Divine” – a decidedly religious Christmas carol – while donning their cross-dressing and slightly inappropriate swan costumes. And where they should have ended on that high note, the tag takes it too far, giving us more of Tracy’s Chunks at the Christmas dinner table. If I wanted to see more of that, I would have gone back to the original Eddie Murphy movie that inspired it all.