Whenever I meet “Hawaii Five-0” fans, I often find that no matter who their favorites are on the show — we often talk about Dennis Chun, who plays HPD Sergeant Duke Lukela on the hit reboot. Many fans from all over the world have had the chance to meet Chun. He is often seen on the red carpet at the “Sunset on the Beach” premieres, and always tries to attend H50 fan events and ʻohana Tweetups around Honolulu. He is probably the most accessible Five-0 actor in the series. Since his season one appearance in “Hana ʻaʻa Makehewa” (“Desperate Measures”), Chun has turned a supposed one episode part, into one of the most beloved characters on the show.
In June, I asked fans who they loved in the annual fan favorite survey. While Steve McGarrett, played by series star Alex O’Loughlin, got a 66% vote, Chun’s character Sgt. Duke received a 56% share. Fans wrote quite a bit about how much they love Sgt. Duke — the solid and faithful police officer and friend to Five-0.
“Duke is dedicated and connected — you get the sense that he’s seen everything there is to see,” wrote Lisa O’Neill, from Australia. Linda Kelly simply wrote in the survey — “Everyone respects Duke.” And Teri Sutherland wrote “Duke is the backup, friend, supporter, and (he’s) always there for (them) in any situation.”
At Duke’s core, he’s the first responder for Five-0 — the first to arrive on scene, the first to question bystanders, the first to lay eyes on the victim. He gives the team the foundation for their case and he fills in the gaps before they take over. He’s constant, but not an obstruction.
The team trusts what he says, they trust his inferences, and his theories. He’s their connection to the rank and file of HPD — the uniforms who are important to the case because they are the ones who initially gather the first layer of evidence for the team. It’s where they all started — so their level of respect is tantamount.
We’ve never seen McGarrett brush off Duke, or question his viewpoint. If anything McG often works to put Duke at ease — like in “Ka Haunaele” (“Rampage”) when McG promises Duke that they will get a kidnapped fellow officer back in one piece. The trust in Duke was very obvious in the season six finale when the team sends him to tail Michelle Shioma (Michelle Krusiec) — knowing that someone in HPD is blocking their investigation and putting them all in danger. Yet they know it’s not Duke, and reach out to him for help.
As always, Duke is one of the few they can count on.
When we first met Duke, we didn’t know too much about him. He was a good, solid officer — he was fair to Danny and Chin — even though the New Jersey cop turned HPD Detective Danny was seen as an outsider, and Chin was, at the time, a disgraced cop who had been kicked off the force for stealing from the asset forfeiture locker. Yet it was obvious from the start that Duke believed in McGarrett and Five-0. We found out why in season three, in “Hookman” — when Curt Stoner (Peter Weller) shoots Lukela because of his participation, with McGarrett’s father John (William Sadler), in Stoner’s conviction.
While “Hookman” set up the story of Duke’s past relationship with John McGarrett, his treatment of Chin and Kono alludes to the idea that he has known the cousins for many years, as they come from a family of cops. Chin’s father Kam Tong (which ironically, is the real name of Dennis Chun’s father, actor Kam Fong) was a cop and Chin’s training officer was John McGarrett — which again connects back to Duke.
The connection of Duke to Five-0 is deep. He was part of John McGarrett’s investigation into the murder of Ellie Clayton’s (Mirrah Foulkes) father. He tried to help the team when Kono was on the run after being framed by Michael Noshimuri (Daniel Henney) in the season three finale, “Aloha, Malama Pono” (“Farewell and Take Care”). He is often the call McGarrett makes to find out information. Duke is the sage — he knows all the connections between Five-0 and HPD, and he knows that Five-0 is integral to the safety of Hawai’i and her people.
Duke also knows and believes that McGarrett is an important part of that safety net. And even though McG’s actions are sometimes a bit shocking for the solid officer — he understands that it is McG’s confidence and courage that will get things done. Who could forget Duke’s difficult-to-smother smile when he watched McG, Danno, and Kono fly onto the roof of Halawa to save Chin from prison riot death in “ʻŌlelo Hoʻopaʻi Make” (“Death Sentence”)?
And when poor heartbroken, and barely clad, Chin was left out in the literal cold on Valentine’s Day — I was almost glad he only bumped into Duke and his lovely wife Nalani. What if it had been someone who didn’t like Chin and Five-0 and used that moment to humiliate the team? Chin at least knew that Duke would never reveal the truth behind Chin’s disastrous Valentine’s Day.
Still, Duke knows a lot of Five-0’s secrets, and it’s comforting to know that he will never betray the team. He will of course, always stand on the side of justice, and uphold the law, but he also knows that as much as he supports Five-0 — they in turn honor and respect him as a fellow officer, and friend.
In the same light — I truly believe that part of what makes Duke the kind of cop he is on television, is because of the work and character of the actor Dennis Chun. Chun is truly an ambassador of aloha for the show. With his ties to the classic show — both as an actor and as the son of actor Kam Fong — and now his connection to the reboot as Duke — this all helps to make Chun a wonderful testament to the ongoing legacy of “Hawaii Five-0.”
REDUX SIDE NOTE
The countdown to the Friday, Sept. 23 “Sunset on the Beach” activities have picked up this week, as CBS announced that country singer, Darius Rucker, the former lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, will be performing at the gala premiere on Queen’s Surf Beach. The red carpet event begins at 6 p.m. with the premiere episode “Mākaukau ʻoe e Pāʻani” (“Ready to Play”) to follow at 7 p.m. According to Hawaii News Now — all of the lead actors will make their appearance on the red carpet, as well as executive producer, Peter Lenkov. This includes Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Chi McBride, Jorge Garcia, Teilor Grubbs, and Dennis Chun.