After fan-casting Doctor Strange last week, it seemed only natural (or, maybe supernatural?) to then fan-cast two allies that are integral to the sorcerer’s life and career — namely, Wong and the Ancient One. So, without further ado…
Wong (full name unknown) comes from a long, family line of firstborn sons pledged to serve the Ancient One. However, when he finished his training and came of age, he was instead sent to New York to serve the Ancient One’s protege, Doctor Strange. He has been with Strange for many years, loyally and faithfully acting as cook, butler, research assistant, and whatever else Strange needs. Wong is not formally trained in the mystic arts, but he has picked up a few things over the years with his “master”/employer. For example, he has apparently learned a spell to magically teleport, and he has wielded a few defensive spells, as well. His training at the monastery where he grew up included studying a local martial art discipline at which he was highly adept and became a master. He does not actively train in it anymore, and he is not on the level of someone like Daredevil or Iron Fist, but he is more than a match for most common threats.
Wong is a generally calm and patient person (as per his training), but he can be a bit sarcastic and has been known to get annoyed, particularly with people whom he sees as bothering or disrespecting his master or his master’s home (i.e., the Sanctum Sanctorum). He is a thoughtful manservant, often anticipating his master’s needs. Marvel’s wiki lists him at 5’8”, 140 lbs., so he is of roughly average build. As far as I can tell, he is always bald and has never worn facial hair. If a movie or TV series sticks to the source material, Wong would probably be about 20 when he first enters Strange’s employ. If the production takes place well afterward, he could be closer to 30. On the other hand, I think an older Wong — even by 10-20 years — would be an acceptable change and would only mean ruling out a couple of potential Wong-centric storylines from the comics.
I looked at several Asian actors, but I didn’t come across any in the 20-something age bracket, so my top 3 are all a few years older. (Frankly, I was pressed for time while putting this together, else I might have been able to find a couple younger ones.) In fact, two of them have the last name “Wong”. (Hmmm…) I considered Byron Mann (5’11”,b.1967), Byron Lawson (5’11”,b.1968), Rick Yune (6′,b.1971), Sung Kang (6′,b.1972), Tim Kang (5’8″,b.1973), Karl Yune (6’1″,b.1975), Brian Tee (5’11”,b.1977) — all decent actors. But, they were each rejected for being too tall (6′ or more), too pretty, or just not having the right look/vibe. Which leaves us with…
Emerson Wong (5’8″,b.1979) is no stranger to genre series & films, having performed stunts for several and occasionally taken a small (sometimes uncredited) acting role. The latter include “Rookie Blue”, “Nikita”, “Transporter: The Series”, “XIII: The Series”, and Pacific Rim. Emerson is the youngest of my candidates, he is well-trained in martial arts, and I’m sure he would do a fine job as loyal manservant Wong.
Terry Chen (est. 5’10or11″,b.1975) has been doing genre work for several years, and you may recognize him from recent roles in “Continuum”, “The 100”, and “The Returned”. But, he has also appeared in the recent Godzilla remake, Elysium, “Arrow”, “Nikita”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Sanctuary”, “V”, “Defying Gravity”, I, Robot, The Chronicles of Riddick, and a host of others. Another great choice for Wong, if’n ya ask me.
Now, B.D. Wong (5’5″,b.1960) is a bit on the short side and already in his mid-50s, but he easily looks 10 years younger. Plus, he is arguably the most talented and accomplished of our three candidates. As for genre work, BD had early roles in The Karate Kid, Part II and Jurassic Park; then he appeared in Men of War, “The X-Files”, Executive Decision, “Oz”, Jurassic World, “Mr. Robot”, and has been a “Law & Order: SVU” regular for years. He has also done voice work in such productions as Mulan & Mulan II, “Jackie Chan Adventures”, “Kim Possible”, and the “Lego Jurassic World” game. Needless to say, Wong would be an excellent Wong.
Yao, the Ancient One
Yao began life as a simple, 15th-century farmer in the mystic city of Kamar-Taj in what is now known as Tibet. His earliest forays into the use of magic led him to seek out and join an ancient order called simply “the Ancient Ones”, dedicated to combating evil sorcerers. Yao eventually surpassed the others in power & skill, becoming the first Earth mortal to meet with Eternity, the sentient embodiment of the universe, who presented him with the Amulet of Agamotto and charged him to become the Earth dimension’s first Sorcerer Supreme. Having already attained an extremely slow rate of aging, he also outlived most of his colleagues.
Five hundred years later, he began looking for someone to train as his replacement. Potential candidates included Dr. Anthony Druid and Baron Karl Mordo, but ultimately it was Dr. Stephen Strange who was given the honor and title of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. The Ancient One effectively retired, but from time to time he either had to fend off attempts on his life (e.g., by Mordo) or aided his successor in fighting off particularly powerful, evil entities. In one such battle, the Ancient One’s body was possessed by a powerful demon, so he willed his consciousness to become one with the universe, thereby trapping the extradimensional demon in his dead body. When Strange later “fell from grace”, the Ancient One’s spirit used the Eye of Agamotto to appear to the Drumm brothers and grant them the title and position as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. (Daniel Drumm later went a bit over the edge, but Strange proved himself in battle and was awarded the Sorceror Supreme honor once again.)
The Ancient One was wise and noble, sometimes inscrutable, but in his later years he could also be cranky and irritable. (Most humans over 500 are.) Marvel wiki lists him as 5’11”, 160 lbs. Being that many Asians are shorter than this, I would not mind if he was cast shorter. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to go much over 6′. An average-to-slender build would be best, too. Since he is quite old, it is not surprising that the Ancient One doesn’t have much hair, and what he does have is stark white. He always appears with some facial hair, but the amount and style varies.
To be honest, I didn’t reject many actors, because the first “older” Asian actor I thought of was perfect for the job. (See below.) To be honest, not a lot of Asian actors are on my radar — probably since I don’t watch much Asian cinema — so that limits my choices. Of course, I considered a small handful in their 50s & up. For example, Chow Yun Fat (6’1″,b.1955), Ken Watanabe (6’0.5″,b.1959), and even B.D. Wong. I’m sure any of them would do a fine job in the appropriate makeup. But, I would prefer that the part went to…
The terrific James Hong (5’10”,b.1929) is an Asian-American icon, appearing in genre and non-genre productions dating back to the 1950s. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell at first, any fan would recognize him. Here is a small handful of the stuff Hong has been in: “The Man Called X”, “The New Adventures of Charlie Chan”, “Peter Gunn”, “Zorro”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “I Spy”, “Kung Fu”, “Wonder Woman”, Blade Runner, “Manimal”, “The A-Team”, The Perfect Weapon, Red Corner, “Millennium”, “Alias”, “Charmed”, “Chuck”, Safe, and most recently in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Plus, he has done a ton of voice work (e.g., a couple “Star Wars” series, “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness”, “World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria”, “Archer”, “Jackie Chan Adventures”, Mulan). Hong is in his mid-80s and still acting. Give him white hair and some white whiskers, and he IS The Ancient One.
On the other hand, I’m not sure how spry Hong is these days. If there was a lot of action, and they didn’t want to keep switching to a double/stuntman, then it might make more sense to cast someone younger and age him with makeup. (Never quite looks realistic to me, though.) Same goes for casting a relatively young Yao, either for flashbacks or if the character is somehow rejuvenated. For any of these cases…
Daniel Wu (6′,b.1974) would be a great choice. His upcoming TV series is “Into the Badlands”, but he can also be seen in Purple Storm, 2000 AD, Naked Weapon, Blood Brothers, Triple Tap, The Man with the Iron Fists, Europa Report, etc. Wu definitely has the genre acting cred. In the right makeup and clothing, I think he would make a terrific Ancient One. (Heckuva lot more authentic than Tilda Swinton, that’s fer shur!)
Note: I just came across actor/writer Kenneth Tsang (b.1938) as a potential candidate for the Ancient One.
That does it for me, tonight. Maybe I’ll cast more Strange-related characters in the future. For next week, though, I have a “Supergirl” review to put together….
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.