Monday, February 1, 2010

Underrated Performer Of The Week: Richard Loo

This week's performer, Richard Loo, is one of the most familiar Asian actors in American film history. IMDb lists 163 film and TV credits for him from 1932 to 1981.

Richard was a Chinese-American born on Maui, Hawaii on October 1, 1903. He spent his youth in Hawaii and as a teenager moved to California. He went to the University of California and wanted to start a business career, but the 1929 crash forced him to change his plans.

His first film was as an uncredited bandit in the 1931 film War Correspondent. His second credited role was Captain Li in Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yin. Richard worked throughout the 1930s in many uncredited roles in films such as: Shadow of Chinatown, After The Thin Man, The Good Earth, Lost Horizon, Thank You Mr. Moto, Too Hot To Handle, Island of Lost Men, Lady of The Tropics, and They Met In Bombay.

With the coming of World War II, Richard became, for many Americans, the face of the Japanese enemy. Many of the roles were stereotyped, such as a the spy, the flyer, the submarine officer, or the interrogator.
Four of my favorites are from this period. First, there is 1944's The Keys Of The Kingdom directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck (Peck's second film and my personal favorite), Thomas Mitchell, and Vincent Price. Richard plays the small but important role of a Chinese Officer, Lt. Shon (nice to see him as a good guy).

My second favorite is in 1944's The Purple Heart directed by Lewis Milestone and staring Dana Andrews. Richard plays General Ito Mitsubi, the main interrogator. Richard is excellent in this role, which is pivotal to the whole film.

Third is 1945's God Is My Co-Pilot with Dennis Morgan, and Alan Hale. Richard plays the top Japanese ace, Tokyo Joe, an English-speaking wise guy who learned to fly in Glendale CA.

And finally, there's the 1945 film First Yank in Tokyo as Richard as Colonel Hideko Okanura.

1951 brought Richard a chance to finally play an American in Sam Fuller's Korean War film The Steel Helmet. Richard plays the role of the war weary Sgt. Tanaka. This part is considered by many film historians as a breakthrough role for Asian American actors, and Richard nails it.

Richard worked in films and TV throughout the 1950's and into the 1980s. His films include. Hell and High Water, Destination Gobi, Soldier Of Fortune, The Quiet American, Battle Hymn, and The Sand Pebbles.  Bond fans may remember him as Hai Fat in The Man With The Golden Gun.

His TV work includes: Wagon Train, Perry Mason, Burke's Law, The Outer Limits (Li-Chin Sung in "The Hundred Days of the Dragon" episode), the first broadcast episode of I Spy ("So Long, Patrick Henry"), The Man From U.N.C.L E. Bonanza, My Three Sons, It Takes A Thief, Ironside, Hawaii Five-O, and seven episodes of Kung Fu as Master Sun. His last acting role was on The Incredible Hulk in 1981 as Kam Chong.

He continued to work doing Toyota commericals into 1982. Richard died on November 20, 1983 of a cerebal hemorrhage


  1. Paul, Richard Loo, was a wonderful movie villain. I think my favorite Richard Loo performance was in, "The Good Earth".
    Wonderful review!

  2. Paul, I really enjoyed your research on Richard Loo. He had an enormous resume! Thank you for sharing him as the Underrated Performer of the Week. Well done!

  3. Dawn and Toto, thank you for the kind words. So many of Richards roles were uncredited. Check out some of these films from 1942 to 1952 all uncredited: A Yank On The Burma Road, Wake Island, Flying Tigers, Road To Morocco, Star Spangled Rhythm, City Without Men, The Amazing Mrs. Holiday, Flight For Freedom, Behind The Rising Sun, So Proudly We Hail, The Story Of Dr. Wassell, Jack London, The Beginning Of The End, To The Ends Of The Earth, Operation Pacific, and 5 Fingers.

  4. Loo was also a liquor salesman between gigs and worked in the Long Beach/LA area.

  5. Thanks for that bit of information. I grew up in the South Bay area of So Cal . I know Long Beach very well.

  6. Randy: He was my stepfather.