Character actors are actors who get stuck playing a type in several high profile productions. Maybe over time they become famous for doing several of these roles or they become well known and branch out. Al Leong as a stuntman trained in martial arts with a distinct look was destined to play henchmen and whenever Hollywood went through a martial arts craze he was well placed as an Asian performer to get roles. I never knew his name but as a child from the 80s I never failed to recognise the guy with the long flowing goatee and receding hairline. Looking over his credits at IMDB it’s not hard to see why, he was in almost every damn TV show I watched back then. The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team (re-cast in several episodes as different henchman or thugs), Knight Rider, Airwolf, MacGyver and Magnum fucking P.I.
No wonder I recognised him in his more famous film appearances which include Big Trouble in Little China, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Black Rain uncredited, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as Genghis Khan rolling around on a skateboard, uncredited in The Last Action Hero and uncredited Big Showdown in Little Tokyo.
In 2000 he wrote, directed and performed in the film Daddy Tell Me A Story, a small film which I don’t recall. Unlike say Stephen Tobolowksy though Mr Leong never really got to branch out into different types of roles. Maybe his range as an actor was limited but we may never know since there are few opportunities to see for ourselves. Two come to mind, his reluctant torturer in Lethal Weapon in which he got a few lines and delivered them well. The other is Die Hard where his henchman in tense moment comically scavenges a chocolate bar. The kind of decision a performer will make to give their character some personality and add some extra flavour to the film. Health issues including beating brain cancer and enduring two strokes led to him doing less film work. You can read more about his life here at Dazed where he was interviewed upon the publication of his memoir The Eight Lives of Al “Ka-Bong” Leong in 2014.
Whatever he’s doing, I hope he’s happy, recent photos suggest he’s remained in tip top shape. We should find out soon as the documentary Henchman: The Al Leong Story is in post production. Al Leong left an indelible impression on my childhood with his professionalism, graceful physicality and a love for Crunch chocolate bars.