Ken Jeong is a Korean-American actor. You probably know him. You’ve probably been annoyed by him at one time or another. He plays Chang in the perennially cursed television sitcom, Community as well as the guy who would not shut up in the Hangover films (I’d call them a trilogy if there was an over-arching story going on besides ‘people for some reason keep paying to watch Hangover movies.) He confounds me. He is all by all accounts a very nice person, so I’m trying to avoid going in for the usual over-the-top-swearing-equals-humour bit, but what the fuck is this guy’s problem?
I was prompted to write this after learning that Jeong is lending his voice to Dreamwork’s Turbo, a children’s film about a snail that gets submerged in nitrous oxide, gains supers speed and competes in the Indy 500, a concept that while totally baffling at least teaches children the important lesson that even the smallest thing can do great things if they dream big and use performance enhancers. Getting back to the point, Jeong’s character in the film is a funny old Asian lady, because of course it is. That’s kind of always what he’s doing. He says outrageous things and is wacky It seems like these days if you need a stereotypical Asian in your movie, Jeong is your man. He’s like the modern day Mickie Rooney.
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With the right material in place, a good script, directors who can reign him in, a sacrifice to the gods on the eve of the full moon, he can actually be funny. Not all of his film roles make me want to tear my eyes out, damning with faint praise though that may be. However problematic the character of Chang is on Community, he has had some very good moments and a lot of the bad ones are more on the writers struggling to find a place for him. But more often than not he’s a wildly over-the-top presence, screaming and shouting and making jokes about having a small penis. Michael Bay, who has worked with Jeong twice, is like a clueless parent, smiling proudly while his sugared up terror runs around the supermarket knocking everything over and screaming and pointing and laughing at a nearby dwarf who is just trying to get his shopping done without being made to feel small. What's frustrating is knowing that he could be funnier but is so frequently following the same schtick as actors like that one bald white guy and that other bald white guy, who always plays characters who are supposed to be so obnoxious that it's funny but who do it too well and just come back around to obnoxious.
Before he found a career in shouting and doing silly voices Jeong obtained his M.D. and is a licensed physician in the state of California. I know living your dream and following your heart is great and all that but when your dreams involve being Hollywood’s go-to Asian stereotype then maybe you’re better off being a doctor. As a white person I’m reluctant to hop on my soapbox and tell Jeong what he should be doing for the image of Asian-Americans but a look at his Twitter profile shows that he’s constantly retweeting fratboy blockheads to tell them that no, the person in their photo they’ve said is Mr. Chow from The Hangover isn’t actually him, which sounds very depressing. Asian actors do struggle to get roles in American films so it isn’t entirely his fault that he has to be pigeonholed in this way but it’s hard to keep that in mind when he’s so frequently irritating in movies that aren’t any good. Unless I was to…avoid movies that look like they aren’t any good. But that would be crazy. Come on Ken Jeong. I don’t hate you, I just wish you would dial it back a bit occasionally and maybe consider firing you agent. Out of a cannon. Into the sun.