Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Han Soo Ong

After years cast as villains and anonymous opponents for white heroes, skilled martial artist Han Soo Ong got his first starring role. He followed in the footsteps of Sonny Chiba and shared the screen with Roddy Piper in Last to Surrender (1999).

In the decade that preceeded his first and only starring role, Ong could be seen in bit parts of both big and small budget films. His career often followed Jean-Claude Van Damme’s; his first role was as “Tong Po Opponent” in Kickboxer (1989), a few years later he had an uncredited appearance in the flop Street Fighter (1994) and then he was in The Quest (1996) too. He even co-starred and fought with Van Damme-alike Daniel Bernhardt in Bloodsport 2 (1996).

Ong had begun his career in Thailand, according to a review of Last to Surrender in an old issue of Impact magazine, he was a fitness instructor at a Bangkok hotel and won his first speaking role, in King of the Kickboxers (1990) because it was noticed he had a grasp of English. These small roles eventually led to a showdown with Bruce Lee, or rather Jason Scott Lee, playing the role in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993). The two square off in a fantastically memorable sequence.

Last to Surrender (1999) cast Ong as Wu Yin, a character with no dialogue for the first 20 minutes and even from then on words are sparse. He and Piper play two law enforcers, one a brash, unkempt American (played by a Canadian), the other a smartly dressed and quiet Chinese guy, form an uneasy alliance in order to take down a one-dimensional villain in Burma (actually Indonesia).

Though he shares top billing, Ong is mostly just playing second fiddle to Piper. The film is a combination of Red Heat (1988) and Rush Hour (1998), but whereas Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan could hold their own against the mouthy James Belushi and Chris Tucker respectively, Ong was no match for Piper’s charisma and well delivered one-liners and never emerged from his shadow.

Cast purely to add some martial arts amongst the usual car chases, shoot outs and explosions, Ong only gets to show off his martial arts skills in a couple of mediocre fight scenes. He doesn’t have much to do and spends much of the last act in captivity waiting to be rescued before the climactic showdown.

Following The Killing Machine (1995) with Jeff Wincott, Mask of Death (1996) with Lorenzo Lamas, Last to Surrender was the last of three consecutive action pictures from David Mitchell. Not to be confused with the British comedian, he’s a B-movie director with a penchant for snowy comedies such as Copper Mountain (1983), Ski School 2 (1994), Downhill Wille (1995), Shred (2008) and Revenge of the Boarding School Dropouts (2009).

The film was apparently plagued with production problems. According to the imdb “A traffic accident caused three trucks carrying film equipment to flip over and almost fall off a cliff, a legitimate anti-government riot halted the filming of the city harbor scene, a flash flood in the jungle destroyed a military encampment set, and a plane filming aerial footage crashed into the jungle, resulting in the death of the pilot.” Although according to an article on the film by Dianne Naughton in a magazine called Hong Kong Action, the pilot survived but spent some time in a hospital in Singapore.

Last to Surrender is low on budget and thin on plot, but it’s not light on action. Running a fairly standard 95 minutes, it’s an enjoyable jungle romp and one of the last decent vehicles for Roddy Piper. Sadly because Han Soo Ong didn’t make much of an impression his Hollywood career seemed to hit a dead end. Surprisingly, he then disappeared from screens entirely. There is not a single imdb credit beyond 1999. If anyone knows what happened to him, please leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. At one point he was working at the Four Seasons in Bangkok. You can find him on Facebook.