THE HANGOVER PART III directed by Todd Phillips, written by Phillips and Craig Mazin, with Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong. A War ner Bros. release. 100 minutes. Opens today (Thursday, May 23). For venues and times, see listings.
Ken Jeong puts it out there. Whether he's playing the unhinged Spanish teacher Señor Chang on Community or the deranged gangster Mr. Chow in three Hangover movies, the comic actor plunges into roles with gusto. He will do just about anything to sell a laugh.
The guy's got range: he's played smaller, more grounded roles in a dozen other movies, from Katherine Heigl's obstetrician in Knocked Up to Shia LaBeouf's cranky co-worker in the third Transformers blowout. But Jeong's work as Chow and Chang is nothing if not memorable, so I begin our interview by asking him how they place on the crazy-childlike-monster spectrum.
"Chang's more pathetic than Chow," he says without a second's hesitation. "I think Chang's not as badass as Chow. Chow is honestly my favourite character I've ever played in anything."
Seriously? The role requires full frontal nudity and dangerously skirts racial blasphemy. Chow is beaten, overdosed, shot at, locked inside car trunks and ultimately parasails through Las Vegas in The Hangover Part III. That's his favourite part?
"Yeah!" he says, bobbing his head up and down. "It's why I left medicine, to do Chow. He's full-on, he can say or do anything, and he's a badass. You can't ask for a better character than that.
"You know, it wasn't too long ago when I was [playing] a doctor in Knocked Up, I was just worried about playing scientists all the time. And people were like, ‘You're typecast as a crazy guy, Ken.' As an ex-doctor who was worried about not getting any roles [at all], I was like, ‘Great! That's amazing!'
"Chow embodies everything I wanted to do as an actor. I'm not saying that to promote the movie. I really feel that way."
He does have a point. Chow has always been a force of pure chaos, turning up to tempt Zach Galifianakis's unbalanced Alan toward awful acts, but this latest chapter elevates him to something positively diabolical.
"Chow's the Devil," Jeong says matter-of-factly. "He's a metaphor for everybody who's got personal demons that hold them back in life - and now it's time for Alan to grow up. But before he can do that, he's gotta dance with the Devil again - and just when you think the Devil's out, he comes back in. I never thought in a million years that the third movie would be this kind of almost Shakespearean epic of good versus evil."
And when you're playing the Devil, you can never go too big.
"It's all built in," Jeong says. "You can go big because that's what it calls for in a scene. If you're doing a scene in Knocked Up as Dr. Kuni, for that particular story you can tone it down. Actually, I'm very proud of that role because it kinda shows, in my head, the range of what I'm capable of doing. I had the most dramatic of the comedic parts. And that was great, too; I loved that. That was my first movie role ever. I always say that Knocked Up opened the doors for me, and The Hangover burst the door right open."