Russell Wong is an American actor who has starred in several films and television series. He was one of the very first Asian actors to be cast as a leading man in a prime time American television series. His filmography spans from 1985 to 2021. Russell has been trained in martial arts and performs his own stunts for film and television.
Background info and Early Life
Russell Wong was born on March 1, 1963 in Troy, New York. He is the sixth of seven children born to Connie Van Yserloo and William Wong. Russell’s mother is of French and Dutch descent and worked as an American artist. His father is Chinese American and was a restaurateur.
When Russell was seven his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to California near Yosemite in 1981.
Russell graduated from Mariposa County High School and then enrolled in Santa Monica City College. He trained in dance and martial arts, which would later lend to his ability to perform his own stunts.
Wong supported himself as a photographer and as a dancer. He danced in music videos for the likes of Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, and David Bowie amongst several other notable musicians.
Russell made his big screen debut in 1985 when he landed a role in a musical called Ge Wu Sheng Ping (Musical Dancer). He later starred as Gordon Chen in the screen adaptation of the bestselling book Tai-Pan.
Other roles would soon follow including an appearance on the 80’s crime show The Equalizer and on the drama series 21 Jump Street.
New Jack City
Russell starred as Park, a tech-savvy police officer, in the 1991 action crime film New Jack City. The film was received favorably and critics applauded its casting, which included Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, and Ice T.
Renowned film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 ½ stars out of 4.
Russell Wong starred in a series of movies called Vanishing Son in 1994. Vanishing Son was part of Universal Television Action pack and released as a series of 4 television films over the course of the year. After the conclusion of Vanishing Son IV, a 13 episode series aired picking up where the last film left off.
Russell played a musician named Jian-Wa Chang who escapes the People’s Republic of China with his brother to the United States after participating in an anti-government protest which results in a subsequent massacre. The focus of the story is how the brothers try to achieve their own “American Dream.”
Russell put his martial arts background to good use and performed his own stunts for the film and television series. Before shooting began, he studied the Buddha Form under a Master instructor for six weeks in New York City.
During an interview in 1994, Russell said when asked where he hoped to see film and television go in terms of martial arts, “I kind of like what we’re doing. I like the stories, the writing that Vanishing Son has. It’s not just action, it’s not just martial arts.” Vanishing Son extended beyond pure martial arts to deal with a diverse array of issues, making it a special production and a defining moment in Wong’s career.
Because Asian men were not typically cast for “leading man” roles in film or television at the time, Russell’s role in the Vanishing Son films was considered groundbreaking.
Romeo Must Die
Russell starred as Kai, a police lieutenant, in the 2000 film Romeo Must Die, which followed martial arts legend Jet Li and the late Aaliyah as they pursued a forbidden romance in the modern day, action-oriented adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
The film was praised for its impressive action sequences, although some found the over-the-top presentation and use of effects to be a bit much.
In 2003, Wong was cast as the lead in the television series Black Sash. Like his role in Romeo Must Die, he played a police officer named Tom Chang who decides to open up a martial arts school in San Francisco and teach young students Baguazhang, one of the three main Chinese martial arts.
While the cast made a notable effort, the show ultimately failed and was canceled after one season.
In the 2004 psychological thriller Twisted, Russell yet again plays a police officer named Lieutenant Tong. Russell starred alongside major Hollywood heavy hitters including Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia, and David Strathairn.
Despite the film being stacked with talent, the film was met with mostly negative reviews from critics and audiences and received a rating of 2% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Russell played Frank in the mystery thriller Inside Out. The film centers around families living in a picturesque suburban neighborhood that then become psychologically tortured by a doctor that movies into the neighborhood.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Returning to his martial arts roots, Wong played opposite other martial arts legends Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Russell played General Ming Guo in the third and what would be the final installment of The Mummy trilogy.
What is Russell Wong doing now?
In 2021, Russell made his children’s movie debut in the Clifford the Big Red Dog film. The film centers around the classic children’s character, Clifford, and his relationship with his owner, Emily Elizabeth. Wong played Mr. Yu, the father of Emily’s only friend, Owen.
The film grossed $49 million dollars in the United States and Canada and received generally positive reviews from younger audiences.
Wong has also appeared in 3 recent episodes of the critically acclaimed HBO series Westworld in 2020.
Russell has one daughter with dancer Eartha Robinson. His daughter, Eja Robinson-Wong, was born in 1988. She is also in the movie industry and works behind the camera as a production assistant.
In 2003, he married designer Flora Chong-Leen, but the two divorced in 2012.
Michael Wong is Russell’s younger brother. He is a Hong Kong-based actor and has starred in films such as Thunderbolt alongside Jackie Chan and Knock Off with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Declan Wong is Russell’s older brother. He starred in just two films, Once a Thief and God of Gamblers Part III: Back to Shanghai, both in 1991.
Although the accomplished actor BD Wong shares a last name with Russel, the two are not related.