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PHILIP AHN - A SHINING STAR
A GREAT ACTOR AND PIONEER
Written by Philip (Flip) Ahn Cuddy


Philip Ahn's commitment to the troops of the United States and Republic of Korea in Vietnam is another example of his broad range of talent and activity. It seemed he was always offering his services to others. Bob Cutts, a Stars & Stripes correspondent for the armed forces, wrote about Philip's USO tour of Vietnam in 1968. "If you thought there were already enough bad guys to worry about in Viet Nam, the USO's got a surprise for you--they're bringing over a guy so nasty he could be an advisor to the Viet Cong. . . . Veteran character actor Philip Ahn has for 30 years been the guy you love to hate. He's played over 200 movie and TV roles, most of them as 'heavies.'"

During his two-week 1968 USO tour, Ahn traveled almost the whole length of Vietnam visiting the II, III, and IV Corps from July 9 through July 20. Some of the other places he visited were the Republic of Korea forces in Di An, U.S. Army troops n Nha Trang, and the Tae Kwon Do Association of the Vietnam Navy. It's certain that his gregarious spirit and warm smile gave the soldiers a brief uplift during this very tragic period of their lives.

Philip Ahn's common look on the show KUNG FU The last popular role Philip Ahn played was the wise Master Kan, leader of the Shaolin Temple in the ABC TV series, "Kung Fu." Ahn played the part of the monk who held the rock out for Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) to grab from his palm and graduate from the Shaolin training. "Grasshopper, as soon as you are able to grab the rock from my hand you may leave the temple. . . ." This is probably the line that is best remembered from this era of his career. Ahn teamed up with his old Asian acting pals Keye Luke and Richard Loo to bring Eastern philosophy and martial arts to television in the early 1970s. "Kung Fu" still gets some airtime on TV reruns these days.

Ahn's wisdom, shaven head and veracious performance led people to believe that Philip Ahn really was a Master Kan in his daily existence, quoting the Tao and assuming the lotus position. He commented: "I was raised a Presbyterian and I'll always be a Presbyterian. I'm an actor, who is paid to read the lines as they have been written. Have I ever questioned their authenticity? I prefer to think the philosophies Kan expresses are genuine, that they are taken from the Taos religion, which teaches everyone to do good and which preaches non-violence until you are backed up a tree and must defend yourself. That is where kung fu becomes justified in our stories. Hence a TV series." It was a great series and ran strong in prime time for a few seasons. "Personally? I think 'Kung Fu' has substance--at least it's trying to say something about life, trying to evoke a feeling, an emotion. It's trying to do something besides entertain.


Interracial
Film Relationships   

There have been relatively few daring attempts in dealing with interracial romantic relationships with Asian/Asian Pacific American males in films throughout history. Listed below are some prominent and rare examples.

In the early 1900's, isolated films such as Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat brought to the screen the feelings of forbidden love between a White woman and an Asian man.

In the 1950's, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Crimson Kimono (in which, James Shigeta won the gorgeous White female - Victoria Shaw - from his White male co-star) featured an Asian Male and a White Female in starring romantic roles in major films!

In South Pacific, the song "You Have to be Carefully Taught" highlighted in the film one of the main reason why people fear interracial romantic situations.

In Bridge to the Sun, James Shigeta was married to the pretty Carroll Baker in a daring story during WWII!

In the 1990's, Disney's Johnny Tsunami was one of the last example of romantic featured roles featuring an Asian/Asian American male and a White female.

Is the Asian/Asian Pacific American male and a non-Asian (White, Black & Hispanic) female romantic relationships taboo in American films?

I guess that's what I'm trying to say." Philip Ahn's talent was a major reason the series had substance and success.

In the 1970's, Philip Ahn was concerned about the young Asian actors. There were none. "What worries me most," said Ahn, "is the acute shortage of young Oriental actors in Hollywood. We've been through the Black cycle, but not the Oriental cycle. Except for 'Kung Fu' there's little opportunity right now. No training ground. We're starting to get old . . . where are the young people to replace us?"

Two things come to mind considering the lack of young Asian actors in those times. One, the Asian view of acting was not very accepting of the art. Most Asian parents wanted their children to be professionals, lawyers, doctors, and the like. Asian American parents weren't concerned about culture as much as finances. Two, there weren't many Asians around, especially in the entertainment field. Now, it's a different situation. The current group has significant numbers, but they give no notice or recognition to the pioneer Asian actors' careers or experiences. There seems to be some attitude of indignity about the roles that the pioneers were forced to play that the young people resent. Whatever went on in the past is still how young Asian actors got their chances today, good or evil. It's history, and they should respect it. Most young people in the industry are not as trained or committed as the old timers like Philip Ahn. Most of them are predisposed to cry victimization instead of owning up to lack of preparation or absence of basic talent.

In 1976, Philip Ahn participated with many Asian/Pacific Americans and non-Asian individuals and organizations to have Asian/Pacific Americans considered fairly for all roles. His name was listed in an advertisement stating:

    "WE ARE NOT ALL ALIKE . . . Sinister Villains China Dolls Waiters Laundrymen! The motion picture and television industry must catch up with the times in the portrayal of Asian/Pacific Americans on the screen. Since our people participate in all aspects of the mainstream of American life, we should also be considered and cast in such roles as lawyers, doctors, and next-door neighbors."

Ahn, who had been acting for almost fifty years, was not speaking for himself so much as for the next generations. It has taken almost twenty years for this younger generation to make a difference in discriminatory casting practices.


To continue the article, click HERE

    Part 1: His early years and parents
    Part 2: Education background and beginning years in the film industry
    Part 3: Details on his movie career, restaurant and community involvement
    Part 4: His commitment to the U.S. troops, his last roles and his concern for APA actors
    Part 5: Legacy of his achievements



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