While you may not immediately recognize the name Al Leong, it’s guaranteed you’ve seen his work whether directly on camera or off if you watched almost any action movie from the eighties and nineties. A master martial artist that made a move into stunt work and acting, what has Al Leong been up to recently?
First things first, of course. Leong was born in St. Louis Missouri in 1952. The youngest child of a Chinese American couple, Al grew up with his two older brothers in Missouri before the family moved to Los Angeles, California when he was ten years old. He would start practicing martial arts not long before the move, continuing into adulthood and winning many tournaments and titles along the way.
Quick Career Change
While his work in Hollywood began as just a technical crew member, working as a key grip on different productions when a producer asked him to demonstrate some of his martial arts skills for a stunt on set. From there it was a straight shot into stunt acting while also being unfortunately cast as the stereotypical Asian villain in many action films. That’s just the summary though, as his storied career would lead him from The Greatest American Hero to a G-Unit video among other feats.
Working as a grip led to a role doing stunts and acting as a Vietnamese villager in the “John Landis Kills a Guy and Two Kids” segment of The Twilight Zone Movie. Al would begin acting from there, making appearances across shows like Hart to Hart and working on several episodes for The A-Team as both a stuntman and actor, usually playing more henchman roles.
While he had a solid gig playing the Asian stereotypes that were rampant across television and film in the eighties, he mostly stuck to stunt work after taking a brief serious role in The Twilight Zone revival. Coordinating martial arts fights on movies like The Golden Child before teaming up with legendary director John Carpenter for his cult hit (among others) Big Trouble in Little China. His part as a hatchet-wielding enforcer would be just the start of a long working relationship between Al and Carpenter, with Leong working through various productions from They Live to Ghosts of Mars.
Acting and Stunting
In the meantime though he fully embraced the role of stunts, while sometimes taking small acting bits for a little more money as a henchman, small parts in the background, or uncredited more often than not. His stunt work would lead him to encounter a range of Hollywood stars, notably Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, achieving a relatively prominent role as Endo, who tortured Murtagh in the film.
More roles would follow throughout television and film in the late eighties, showing up in action thrillers like They Live and Die Hard, though one of his most memorable and fun roles would come in the 1989 time-travel comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Al Leong would play Kenghis Khan, unwittingly brought into the future to run amok by the unwitting duo as they scrambled to complete their final report. He would appear alongside icons like Arnold Schwarzenneger and the infamous Charlie “Ten Kilos of Cocaine in A Trenchcoat” Sheen.
Unfortunately, 1993 would bring Al Leong to the greatest fight of his life- a diagnosis of brain cancer. Despite undergoing treatment and the toll it takes on the body, he kept performing stunts throughout Hollywood, even making onscreen appearances in some of the films including reteaming with John Carpenter for Escape to L.A. and the criminally campy Night Man. Not the one that fights the Day Man, but one that is jazz musician Jonny Domino, struck by lightning and given the power to hear evil! Which leads him to become Batman, in essence. It’s just as batshit as it sounds.
Behind-the-scenes work would lead him through even more films regarded as terrible at the time but now beheld dearly as cult classics. Mortal Kombat would benefit from his martial arts choreography, while he would also perform stunts for Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, which is so disdainfully regarded by Godzilla fans and rights owners that it was immediately murdered by OG Godzilla set to Sum41 in thirty seconds. The studios hated this version of Godzilla so damn much that they kickstarted a whole new film era to annihilate it on screen, and that’s dedication dammit.
Where is Al Leong Now?
Al’s work in film would continue into the new millennium, with roles in The Scorpion King and Deadwood, as well as acting in a demo reel by writer David Callaham who most recently wrote Across the Spiderverse.
Unfortunately, Al would suffer a stroke in 2005, which for the most part derailed his career in martial arts.
These days he travels the convention circuit, making appearances for fans and speaking about his roles in classic Carpenter films as well as his other hits.
Despite all, he still maintains great care for those around him, routinely helping charity events and speaking out in favor of better treatment for stunt actors in particular.