Mr. Gao is a character in Pixar’s Turning Red and most movie fans will recognize the voice actor. Turning Red is the 25th Pixar movie released on March 11, 2022, and directed by Domee Shi, her first feature film. It’s the first movie solely directed by a woman after Brave (2012) had split director credits. The story follows Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old from Toronto, Canada. Mei is a normal teenage girl who tends to hide her feelings and desires from her loving but demanding mother, Ming (Sandra Oh). She gets along well with her father and has great, loyal friends who share an obsession with boy bands.
Mei soon finds out that whenever she loses control of her emotions, she turns into a giant red panda. Turning Red explores relationships between mothers and daughters and growing up as a woman using this transformation as an allegory. The movie was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 95th Oscars and the 80th Golden Globes, and it was nominated for seven awards at the 50th Annie Awards, the premiere ceremony for animated movies. Turning Red received a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and was widely praised by critics and audiences alike. The movie is filled with colorful characters and Mr. Gao’s role is small but significant.
Mr. Gao Is Voiced By Veteran Actor James Hong
Mei’s kind and helpful neighbor, Mr. Gao is a retired Tai Chi instructor, and he’s played by veteran actor James Hong. The character is wise and patient, and a master of Tai Chi and its philosophy. An elderly man and one of Turning Red‘s most intelligent characters, Mr. Gao spends most of his time watering his plants and playing chess. He and the Lee family have a friendly relationship that also turns out to be something of a working relationship. Mr. Gao has worked as a shaman for over 50 years and has helped the Lee family keep control of their red panda spirits in order to protect themselves.
Mr. Gao guides Mei through her ritual and when Mei stops it, he and Mei’s aunts chase after her to complete the ceremony. While he isn’t a central character of Turning Red, Mr. Gao still plays an important role in tying Mei back to her Chinese heritage and is symbolic of how the issues in Turning Red go further back than Mei’s grandmother even. Hong’s voice performance as Mr. Gao is full of authenticity and sincerity that illustrate how the character is both practiced in his role as a shaman for the Lee family and also understanding of the difficult times a young teenage girl goes through.
Hong Started Acting In The 1950s
Hong’s early career began in the 1950s, long before he would start appearing in more popular fare like Turning Red. He first appeared in a number of movies in uncredited roles, starting with 1954’s Dragonfly Squadron. Hong’s first credited role came in China Gate (1957). His performance in these early movies showcased his ability to bring a subtle complexity to his roles, even in smaller parts. Hong was brought to greater mainstream attention thanks to his starring role in The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957-58), a TV show about detective Charlie Chan. After this early phase, Hong began acting in movies more critically aligned with his talent.
Throughout the late 20th century, long before Turning Red, Hong continued working at a feverish pace, gaining bit parts and larger roles in dozens of movies. He appeared on-screen with some of the premier actors of the time including Steve McQueen, Rip Torn, Charlton Heston, and many more. Hong’s time spent with these veterans helped shape him into a talented actor, capable of navigating an often tricky industry. His most notable first role came in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) as Hannibal Chew. By the time he was starring opposite Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China as evil sorcerer Lo Pan, Hong had become a recognizable onscreen presence.
Hong Is A Prolific Voice Actor, Appearing In Mulan, Kung Fu Panda & More
Being a part of the Turning Red cast is not the first time Hong has ever done voice work in his career. Hong first lent his voice to an animated movie in another Disney production, Mulan (1999), as Chi-Fu the suspicious and smarmy council to the Emperor. As Chi-Fu, Hong puts his unique voice to great use, and his half-doddering half-sardonic delivery works very well for a character trying to wield more power than he actually has. Since Mulan, Hong has appeared in a variety of television and movie voice acting parts and his voice is instantly recognizable when his characters appear on screen.
His most notable voice acting role came in 2008 with Kung Fu Panda. Hong voices Mr. Ping, Po’s adoptive father. Hong went on to reprise his role in nearly every iteration of the Kung Fu Panda movie franchise, and his work in Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 earned him two Annie Awards nominations. During his time in the franchise, Hong honed the slightly daffy but secretly wise and loving character he would become known for in roles like Mr. Gao in Turning Red. Hong has voiced characters in many notable animated movies and series including Scooby-Doo, Star Wars Rebels, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and plenty more.
Hong Has Loaned His Voice To Several Video Games
Along with his voice work in television and movies like Turning Red, Hong has voiced characters in video games as well. He first began by voicing his animated movie characters in the video game adaptations of films like Mulan and Blade Runner, a game remade for the Nintendo Switch. His talent for voice work and recognizable cadence soon saw Hong included in more video game franchises. Hong has become something of an Easter egg in these games, as the industry is known for including surprises; notable voices like Hong’s in bit parts are ways for developers to nod at the famous and prolific actor.
Hong has voiced characters in the Call of Duty, Diablo, and World of Warcraft franchises among other video game properties. In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, he voices Premier Chen of China, and his character is an accurate model of the actor. In Diablo III, Hong voices Covetous Shen, a jeweler NPC that may also be a reference to Hong’s character in Big Trouble in Little China. In World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (2012), Hong voices Master Bruised Paw, a Pandaren monk in a clear Easter egg for his role in Kung Fu Panda. Hong had a wealth of voiceover experience before working on Turning Red.
Hong Starred In the Award-Winning Everything Everywhere All At Once
Despite his long and successful career, there is an argument to be made that Hong never received the mainstream attention he deserved until Everything Everywhere All at Once became a surprise mega-hit. Turning Red and this Academy Award sweeping movie combined to give Hong one of the greatest years of his career. Hong plays Gong Gong, Evelyn’s (Michelle Yeoh) demanding father who arrives at her laundromat for Chinese New Year. Hong does double duty as both the original Gong Gong and the more confident Alpha-Gong Gong from another universe of Everything Everywhere All at Once. As the grandfather, Gong is a significant element of the themes of generational angst.
Hong’s character is the reason why Evelyn is so controlling over her daughter and single-minded in her pursuit of success. Gong Gong was furious with Evelyn after she eloped and since then she has been secretly trying to gain his approval. Hong perfectly models an overbearing grandparent who is never perfectly pleased with anything. Everything Everywhere All at Once swept nearly every major awards ceremony. It won seven Oscars, two Golden Globes, and four SAG awards, notably Best Cast, which includes Hong. With Turning Red and EEAAO all in one year, Hong has proven that an actor can have worldwide success even late into their career.
More: Why Everything Everywhere All At Once Won Best Picture At Oscars 2023