BY WENDIE BURBRIDGE / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Dennis Chun is a gracious, seemingly unassuming gentleman who has led an amazing life. If you don’t recognize Chun’s name, he is the talented actor who plays the recurring role of Sgt. Duke Lukela on “Hawaii Five-0″ — but he is more often regarded to as the “Son of Kam Fong.”
While he is very proud to carry the title, there is much more that makes up this man. Chun lives not in the shadow of his famous father, Kam Fong, who played Chin Ho Kelly in the original series, but in the warmth of his legacy.
Kam Fong was a legend not only in television and local acting circles, but as a former officer in the Honolulu Police Department and within the Chinese-American community in Hawaii. Chun has definitely followed in his father’s footsteps in more ways than just returning to act in the show that made his father famous.
I asked Chun if he would be wiling to spend some time talking to me about his own journey though life, what led him to being an actor and his role on the reboot of his father’s show. Much of what is written about him is about his father and his father’s career, but I wanted to know about Chun.
I am thankful he was willing to share his story and be so candid with me, as if I were a member of his family. I think it was easy for him to talk with me as we shared some history; we both graduated from Kamehameha Schools, and my mother and her brother, Tommy, who was also Dennis’s debate partner, all attended Chaminade University together in the late 1960’s.
Chun told me stories about how successful they were as a team and their confident bravado in winning their debates. But I think this connection made it easier for him to talk with me and share not only his special memories, but also photographs and the many scrapbooks of articles, theatre reviews and pictures from his life.
Chun was born and raised in Hawaii and was the oldest of four siblings. They all were lucky enough to graduate from Kamehameha, the “West Point of the Pacific,” where Chun learned about discipline.
“(Kamehameha) helped me to learn how to work toward a goal,” he said. “I knew that it was important that I took this gift of education and did something with it.”
This lesson has been especially helpful in his life, as well as in his acting career, as he still attends acting classes even after being on television, stage, and film since he was a teenager. Chun continues to hone his talents and be ready for his role on “Hawaii Five-0” as well as any other roles he plays on stage or screen.
After Kamehameha, Chun attended Chaminade for two years and then moved to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he earned his degree in Political Science. As a young mover and shaker during the Vietnam era, he wanted to do more than just talk about politics in collegiate debates.
“When we were young we all wanted to make the world better, you could talk, or you could try and do it,” Chun said.
He wanted to put some effort behind his words, so he became the Hawaii press secretary for George McGovern’s 1972 Presidential campaign and worked as a security guard at Ala Moana Shopping Center. He spent many years working at Family Court as a bailiff and a court operations specialist, and also worked as a community spokesperson in Chinatown to help rid the neighborhood of a major drug-dealing operation in the 1990’s.
Chun has spent a good part of his life not only working within the court system, but also by giving back to his community through his volunteering efforts, all in effort to “keep people safe.” He has very fond memories of being “McGruff the Crime Dog” and traveling to area schools to speak with children about “taking a bite outta crime.”
Chun said the children were always willing to speak to him about things they were afraid of, and that every time a child hugged him or talked to him, he was helping them to feel safer. I couldn’t help but notice that he seems to embody all of the Five-0 team traits in real life.
Chun said his father always told him “dreams are important, but keep your feet on the ground.” Chun, however, is living out his dreams, and that’s not a cliche — it’s all true.
Chun said he always wanted to be an actor, and he was lucky enough to act in three episodes of the original series while in his early 20’s. He also appeared in “Jake and the Fatman,” “Magnum, P.I.” and “The Brady Bunch,” as well as the locally shot film “Goodbye Paradise” with Joe Moore, Pat Morita, Ray Bumatai, and James Hong. He has had several terrific stage roles, among them the Bandit in “Rashomon,” and “The Song of the Nissei Fishermen” where he aged from 17 to 70 without make-up. He was also in “The Hilo Massacre” for PBS, as well as in the theatrical version for Kumu Kahua Theatre.
And as Sgt. Duke Lukela, he has appeared in both season one and two of the rebooted verson of “Hawaii Five-0.”
Chun spoke a long time about how terrific the “Five-0” set is to work on. Of the nine episodes he has been cast in, his favorite experience was during “Kūpale,” the episode which also featured a guest appearance by Apolo Ohno. Chun said he enjoyed playing out the conflict with McGarrett before they stormed Ohno’s house and he loves working with the main cast, especially Alex O’Loughlin and Daniel Dae Kim (the two actors he has done the majority of his scenes with). When he works on the Five-0 set he sees the “aloha in all of them.”
Chun also gave credit to the show for giving local actors a shot at television work and for making Hawaii look so great, in more ways than one. He often uses his vast acting experience to counsel young actors to be prepared and ready for their shot at “Five-0″ fame.
“They have to be ready, they have to take the job seriously,” he said. “This is show business, and sometimes it’s more business than show.”
Chun said he wants “Hawaii Five-0” to continue to hire local actors and give more Hawaii actors an opportunity to show the world their talents. If they are all like him, I am sure they will show more than just their ability — they will also show their heart.
When a father leaves a son with a legacy of love and happy memories, that makes room for a son to make a great name for himself. Dennis Chun definitely has made a name for himself as a good man, a protector of many, as well as a fine actor and performer. He is living the legacy of Kam Fong and “Hawaii Five-0” with humility and graciousness. I’m sure his father is very proud.
Redux Side Note:
Next week’s episode is a repeat of the episode “Pahele.” This is the first time we meet Ian Anthony Dale as Adam Noshimuri, before he and Kono decided to go steady. On Saturday, June 16, is a special showing of “Ha‘i‘ole.” If you missed the explosive start of season two, you might want to see McGarrett break out of Halawa to clear his name and rejoin the Five-0 team. It’s a great ride.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Dennis Chun for sharing his family history and pictures as well as the story of his life. I know there is much more to his journey that I did not cover, but I hope one day to tell it all and give him the credit he deserves. I am blessed to have had the chance to tell some of his story.
Mahalo piha, Dennis.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher who lives and works in Honolulu. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
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Such a nicely written article Wendie. I liked Dennis the very first time I saw him and I didn’t realize until later that he was the son of the orignial Chin Ho. What a wonderful way to carry on the family tradition. Kudos to Peter Lenkov and the rest of the production staff for casting him. I look forward to seeing him more often. I can definitely see the “aloha” in Dennis. Thank you for allowing us to get to know him better!
Hi Cindy! Thanks so much for commenting:) I agree- kudos to Peter Lenkov for keeping the legacy of “Hawaii Five-O” alive with Dennis in the cast, as well as all the other little ties to the classic. He does take great care to make sure he re-uses names of characters, and like the August March episode– story lines. It makes for a respectful homage to more than just the show, but to the legacy of the old and new Five-0. Thanks for reading and supporting the Redux:) Aloha, Wendie
Beautifully written, Wendie. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I did not realize that Dennis was the son of the original Chin Ho until much later. He appears to be a very pleasant soul. Thank you again for sharing.
Hi Amy- Dennis really is a pleasant soul. That was nicely said:) I really hope I have let you all know about another great man and actor on “Hawaii Five-0”- there seems to be a lot on the show! Thanks for the Redux support Amy! Aloha, Wendie
Really enjoyed this article, Wendie! I liked “Duke Lukela” from his first appearance on H5-0. I remember back to the beginnings of 5-0 and many commentors feared he was the leak in HPD or worked for WoFat! Glad they were wrong about him!
It’s wonderful that you can share with us some history and little known facts about some of the secondary actors on H5-0 – especially the native Hawaiian actors that we would never otherwise get to know! Thanks for a great read this Tuesday morning!
Hey Lynnette! Wow, never heard those rumors about Lukela being the leak! LOL that would have been an interesting role for Dennis to play- the Mole. LOL But he could have done it! But then, Kaleo has only been in 2 episodes (the real Mole) and Lukela in 9- so perhaps being the good guy is better! LOL I’ll have to ask Dennis what he thinks when I see him next. Thanks for commenting, lady! XO- Wendie
Great read, Wendie! Dennis has really had a wealth of experience doing so many different things in Hawaii. He has truly lived his life as a well-rounded person 🙂
Thanks for the comment Stephanie:) Dennis is really an amazing person. I’m lucky to have had a chance to meet him and write about him:) Thanks for the Redux support, my friend:) XO Wendie
Great article Wendie. It means a lot to be able to get the inside information about the local talent that lends so much to FiveO. The fact that Dennis has actually grown up as a FivveO person in unreal. He and his father was/were great actors.
Hi Paul- Dennis really is a terrific actor. He may have a “smaller” part on H50, but the theatrical roles he has played are really difficult and I’ve read the reviews- he’s a talent. And I’m with you- the fact that he grew up with the original “Hawaii Five-O” and is now on the reboot- is really awesome. There’s really so much more to his story. Thanks for commenting Paul and being a supporter of the Redux:) Aloha, Wendie
Awesome blog, Wendie! Dennis seems like a cool guy. Thank you and Dennis for sharing a look into his life. I wonder if he was McGruff when I was little. If it was the early 90’s, I may have hugged him too. ;D
Thanks Lisa:) I bet you did hug Dennis- I believe he was McGruff until the program unfortunately ended. You can ask him when you meet him at the next H50 fan event with you H50hana!:) Thanks for reading and commenting! XO- Wendie
Hey Wendie – thanks for the great share on this blog. So glad you followed up on this. I had no idea that actor Dennis Chun is the son of the original actor who played Chin Ho Kelly. Thank you also for reminding us of other roles he played because I knew that when I first saw him on Five-0 he seemed so familiar but just couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before. It was really nice learning about his background and learning more about the other actors on the show and I agree wholeheartedly that Five-0 should continue to have more local actors on set. Keep up the great work. Eager to learn more about the other actors on the show. It’s great to know that Five-0 is making such a great positive impact on the island and I agree wholeheartedly – would love to see lots more seasons in the future….aloha 🙂
Hi Val! Thanks for the great comment! I’m glad you said you didn’t know he was the son of Kam Fong, because I was afraid everyone who would read and say- “Knew that, why is she repeating the obvious?” LOL So thanks for allaying my fears! Glad you liked the article. Mahalo for all the support! Aloha, Wendie
Thanks Wendie for telling us about Dennis Chun. I hope we see him more often in the seasons to come. I enjoyed hearing about his life and his connection with the show.
Thanks for commenting Diane:) I think Dennis is going to definitely be seen in more of the shows- he’s a great actor and a Five-0 fixture. I just hope maybe they promote Lukela:) Lt. Lukela sounds good doesn’t it? Thanks for supporting the Redux, Diane! Aloha, Wendie
Great article on Dennis Chun, Wendie! It’s really cool to get a look at his life and interesting to see how his father’s legacy lives on in him. Makes me smile that he says he sees the aloha spirit in Alex, Daniel and the rest of the H50 family; certainly it seems that Dennis Chun embodies that spirit in full measure. 😀
Thanks Bert- Dennis is really a class act:) You said it best though- he does embody the aloha spirit:) And the H50 spirit! 😀 Thanks for commenting, my friend. Aloha, Wendie
Where did Dennis get that shirt he was wearing at the Season 2 premiere of “Hawaii 5-0”? I bought a shirt for my husband w/ the same print from Liberty House in 1967! Brought back lots of memories – – –
THis is from an email from Dennis: “By the way the shirt I am wearing in the SOTB picture is my father’s circa late 1960’s.” You have sharp eyes! 😀 Thanks for reading:) Aloha ~Wendie
Great article on Dennis. My parents and grandparents were fans of the original H50 and Kam Fong.
Thanks for reading:) Dennis was really revealing, and I was blessed he shared so much with me:) Mahalo for the Redux support:) Aloha ~Wendie
Hi all- Dennis Chun has been reading your comments- here’s an email he sent me: “Have seen some of comments from the fans. Very touched and humbled by them. By the way the shirt I am wearing in the SOTB is my father’s circa late 1960’s. Take care and best to all.”
Thanks so much for reading the blog:) Aloha ~Wendie
Fabulous article Cuz….Dennis sounds like such a wonderful man,thanks to him for allowing you to decribe his life for us 🙂 Can’t wait to see more of him next season. Everytime he comes on screen in an episode I become a dork and yell out “Duuuuuuuuuke” LOL :)))
Thanks Bri! Dennis really is a wonderful person:) I’m glad I got the opportunity to talk with him and share this much of his life– there really is sooo much more! I love how you yell out Duuuuuuuuke! Awesome! I will have to tell him that:) XO, Wendie
Mahalo for this article on Dennis. I found it posted in a SAG/AFTRA Hawaii group on Facebook.
It’s about time Hawaii did a piece on Dennis Chun! I didn’t know he had such a diverse background and now I can see how he’s perfect for his role as Sgt Lukela!
Dennis Chun reminds me of a Paniolo cowboy- he’s a kinda quiet and mysterious guy in many respects, but his dream, ironically, is really huge, loud and ‘out-there’ for a Hawaii native. And yet, like you said, he’s “unassuming”… his feet are firmly rooted in the ‘aina. I’ve had the honor of meeting Dennis through acting and I totally agree with this article on the fact he has a true heart for his fellow Hawaii actors and really wants to see them succeed. He’s very supportive and encouraging to us and just exudes a geniune love for what he does; it’s not all about egos with him (which is a rare quality in actors and performers).
I had to google Chin Ho Kelly and I think Mr Chun has a very distinctive handsome look separate of his father. Maybe he was the milk-man’s child (kidding) but his look is so much more versatile; you can’t really place his ethnicity and I can see him going further than Hawaii.
Getting down to it, Dennis is a man that should be an inspiration to every big dreamer in Hawaii as he has and *continues* to represent our island on …network television! Not bad for a local kanaka!
Thank you for posting this on the SAG/AFTRA page and for reading:) Mahalo for your comments as well. Dennis is definitely an inspiration to me and others like you say. Aloha, Wendie