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INTERVIEWS – James Hong, Ronny Chieng and the ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Cast and Filmmakers

Kung Fu Panda 4 Interviews min

Kung Fu Panda continues to be one of the most enduring and beloved franchises. Yet it’s been eight years since Kung Fu Panda 3, and with the fourth film in any franchise, it’s a challenge to keep the story and characters fresh. With Kung Fu Panda 4, Dreamworks Animation and Universal Pictures infused the film with incredible new cast members, like Awkwafina and Ronny Chieng, and added even better martial arts action and authentic Chinese details.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with several Kung Fu Panda 4 cast members, including James Hong, Ronny Chieng, and Lori Tan Chinn, and the directors of the film, Stephanie Ma Stine and Mike Mitchell.

Hong, who turned 95 this year, has been a part of the Kung Fu Panda franchise since the beginning, and has truly embodied his character, Mr. Ping, who is Po’s adoptive father. Hong shared the reasons why he continues to enjoy being a part of these stories.

“For me, how can you say anything about what is it like to do Mr. Ping? You live with that character for so long, and for all these years, I’m probably the only guy that has been through all the whole movie series, the TV series and even the announcement of the amusement parks. So Mr. Ping is me and I am Mr. Ping. It has become that much of my life. I can’t explain to you, it has grown and grown into my being in a sense. So I’m very happy to be a part of this wonderful adventure,” Hong said.

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James Hong Honored at the TCL Chinese Theater

Of course Hong is not only a Kung Fu Panda legend, but also a Hollywood icon, who was recently honored with the hand and foot-print ceremony in Los Angeles. In talking about how much that honor meant to him, Hong recollected his first visit to the iconic Chinese Theater, where the handprints and footprints of Hollywood legends are immortalized.

“When I first came to Hollywood in 1953, I immediately went to the Chinese Theater, at the time it was Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and I put my foot in all those big celebrities and I said, ‘Wow, what is it like to even be maybe a part of this?'” Hong said. “I never thought I would be putting my foot and handprint on that sidewalk….So when all the Asian Americans, and other people, but especially the young Asian actors and creators, put their feet into my imprint there, just remember it took me 71 years to get there. So keep on trying. If you have talent, you’ll make it. And you have to speak up for yourself!”

Lori Tan Chinn, who joins Hong for the first time in Kung Fu Panda 4, is clearly thrilled to join a project that bucks stereotypes and where her Chinese background is celebrated.

“I just wanted to make sure that there was just a little bit of Chinese, if it wasn’t spoken by any other character, let me just add this in, just for posterity. I’m very proud to be Asian. I’m very proud to be in this production,” Tan said.

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Lori Tan Chinn at the Kung Fu Panda 4 Premiere

Chinn plays Granny Boar, a newly introduced character that is at least partly inspired by the memorable landlady in the beloved martial arts comedy, Kung Fu Hustle. Chinn talked about how much she enjoyed Granny Boar’s uniqueness.

“With Granny Boar, I’m very proud to be able to let loose and be nasty! It’s such a difference from a stereotype of a beautiful, subservient asian woman. This one is badass!” Tan said.

Another new addition to the cast is acclaimed comedian Ronny Chieng, who has several live-action films under his belt as well. Surprisingly, Chieng explained that voice-acting is the most challenging of his various experiences.

“It’s actually probably the toughest of all three, if you can believe it, because you’re in a room and you’re kind of yelling into a microphone, and if it’s Kung Fu, man you have to make a lot of action noises. And those noises it’s tough to make repeatedly over hours. So it actually does more damage to the voice than any other thing I do,” Chieng said. “Yeah look, is it easier to do it in your pajamas? Yeah. It’s great that you can just wear whatever, but it’s tough in terms of the actual hours you gotta do.”

Chieng has a uniquely international perspective, having grown up in Singapore and began his career in Australia. He grew up loving martial arts and Wuxia films and brings a genuine passion for the genre to this franchise. Chieng explained that what makes Kung Fu Panda special is that it respectfully blends western and Asian concepts.

“I think that’s why this American made franchise is so beloved by people in China and Asia. Because it’s made with so much love and respect and talent that it becomes undeniable. And I think that’s a very important thing to think about in this time, when everyone’s kind of like, wondering what does cultural appropriation mean, and this movie does a great job of showing that you can merge sensibilities of two cultures if you do it with love and respect and you’re talented and you know what you’re doing. That’s what I love about the franchise,” Chieng said.

Chieng, who previously appeared in Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner. I asked Chieng whether we might see him in an action focused role in the future, and he pointed to his next project.

“There’s a project coming up on Hulu, Interior Chinatown, and me and Jimmy O. Yang and Chloe Bennett, we’re like Kung Fu fighting in that whole thing, so you can check it out then, but uh, let me just say, I’m not that good at martial arts! I’m just a beginner,” Chieng said.

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(L-R) James Hong, Ronny Chieng and Ke Huy Quan at the Kung Fu Panda 4 Premiere

Kung Fu Panda 4 is helmed by a pair of directors, Stephanie Ma Stine and Mike Mitchell. Stine has an extensive art an animation background, having worked as an artist on films like Raya and the Last Dragon, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and Big Hero 6: The Series. She also served as a director on She-Ra and the Princess of Power. Stine is of Chinese descent, and made it a point to ensure authenticity with various details within the film, including the popular game Mahjong. To do so, Stine offered to teach the game to a few members of the animation team, an offer which was unexpectedly popular.

“With the Mahjong thing, it started off really small. I invited like three people. I was like ‘We need to get this accurate. It needs to look right. It can’t just be the tiles thrown together.’ Because we Asian people, we play it a lot and if it looks wrong, it’s going to be really wrong. So we need to make it look right. So I invited these three people and fifty people came,” Stine said.

That example reflected how important it was for Stine and the entire Kung Fu Panda 4 creative team to authentically reflect Chinese culture within the film.

“A lot of details. Stephanie had her eye on all the details and there’s a lot going on in this film,” Mitchell said.

“All the Asian things,” Stein emphasized.

Mitchell is a veteran animation director, who previously directed Trolls and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. He mentioned that he particularly appreciated films like Iron Monkey and Kung Fu Hustle, that blend martial arts action with comedy, which is exactly the goal for their film. He also referenced the way that the martial arts action has evolved over the course of the franchise, and the steps they took to take the action to the next level in this film.

“We wanted to be authentic with our moves and these Kung Fu moves have evolved a lot since the last Kung Fu Panda film. So we found that there’s a lot more to explore. Not to mention Po’s got this Staff of Wisdom that he got from Oogway in the last film. So now he’s doing staff moves. So we hired some stunt people from a lot of the Marvel films and they gave us and the animators, and they performed and we video taped them, a lot of authentic moves, Kung Fu moves. And it was really fun and really exciting to evolve with this film,” Mitchell said.

I asked Stine how it felt to work with such an incredible group of Asian and Asian American actors, and she didn’t hide her emotional reaction.

“It basically brought me to tears every single time. Every single morning, before I would go into the room, I would have to take a deep breath and just be like ‘I’m about to meet some of my heroes,'” Stine said. “And they have done a phenomenal job of going out there, being really incredible representatives of Asian culture, of Asian American culture too, and just showing the world that we are really kick ass at showing this full range of everything, and we can do Kung Fu! So take that!”

Watch my full conversations with the cast and directors below. Kung Fu Panda 4 is in theaters now!

POC Culture Interviews with James Hong, Ronny Chieng, Lori Tan Chinn and Directors Stephanie Ma Stine and Mike Mitchell

About Kung Fu Panda 4:

This spring, for the first time in almost a decade, comedy icon Jack Black returns to his role as Po, the world’s most unlikely kung fu master, with a hilarious, butt-kicking new chapter in DreamWorks Animation’s beloved action-comedy franchise: Kung Fu Panda 4.

After three death-defying adventures defeating world-class villains with his unmatched courage and mad martial arts skills, Po, the Dragon Warrior (Golden Globe nominee Jack Black), is called upon by destiny to … give it a rest already. More specifically, he’s tapped to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace.

That poses a couple of obvious problems. First, Po knows as much about spiritual leadership as he does about the paleo diet, and second, he needs to quickly find and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his new lofty position.

Even worse, there’s been a recent sighting of a wicked, powerful sorceress, Chameleon (Oscar® winner Viola Davis), a tiny lizard who can shapeshift into any creature, large or small. And Chameleon has her greedy, beady little eyes on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would give her the power to re-summon all the master villains whom Po has vanquished to the spirit realm.

So, Po’s going to need some help. He finds it (kinda?) in the form of crafty, quick-witted thief Zhen (Golden Globe winner Awkwafina), a corsac fox who really gets under Po’s fur but whose skills will prove invaluable. In their quest to protect the Valley of Peace from Chameleon’s reptilian claws, this comedic odd-couple duo will have to work together. In the process, Po will discover that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

The film features the voice talent of returning stars Academy Award® winner Dustin Hoffman as Kung Fu master, Shifu; James Hong (Everything Everywhere All at Once) as Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping; Academy Award® nominee Bryan Cranston as Po’s birth father, Li, and Emmy Award nominee Ian McShane as Tai Lung, Shifu’s former student and arch-nemesis. Oscar® winner Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once) joins the ensemble as a new character, Han, the leader of the Den of Thieves.

Kung Fu Panda 4 is directed by Mike Mitchell (DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls, Shrek Forever After) and produced by Rebecca Huntley (DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys). The film’s co-director is Stephanie Ma Stine (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power). In 2008, the Academy Award®-nominated 2008 inaugural chapter, Kung Fu Panda, became DreamWorks Animation’s highest-grossing original animated film and launched a franchise that has earned more than $1.8 billion at the global box-office.


Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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