Actor and producer Brian Yang, a recurring “Hawaii Five-0” cast member, was gracious enough to take a few hours out of his busy shooting schedule to join fans for pictures and fried saimin at Big City Diner Pearlridge on Aug. 6. Yang was in Hawai‘i to shoot scenes for the hit show and joined up with bloggers Amy Bakari of “TeamH50” and Lisa Woo of “H50hana” to meet fans and to watch a repeat of “Ka Hakakā Maika‘i.”
If Yang walked past you on Kalakaua Avenue, you’d probably say hello and admire his obvious good looks and genuine smile, but you may not recognize him as forensic scientist Dr. Charles Fong. Not that Yang is forgettable in any way, but his character gets more mention by the Five-0 team than actual screen time on the show. For the 25 fans who attended the “Fong-sanity” tweet up, it doesn’t matter when they get to see Yang on screen — they love him all the same.
Yang joined “Five-0” toward the end of the first season in “Ho‘ohuli Na‘au,” and in season two his role expanded into eight of the 23 episodes. His role became larger in the sense that he is now a part of the team — they visit him in his lab, they talk to him on the phone, they mention him in their conversations — yet they don’t always spend a lot of time hanging out with “The Fonger.”
Many fans will also remember Yang as one of the first cast members to join us at a “Hawaii Five-0” fan event, when he attended a pre-“Sunset on the Beach” brunch last September on the day of the season two premiere. During last week’s Tweetup, he again was gracious with his time, taking pictures, signing autographs, and basically just hanging out with Tweetup regulars.
Yang said he likes Tweetups because “it strips down the Hollywood layers — especially in Hawai’i — you can really connect like regular people.”
While Yang may act like a “regular,” he is closer to very special since he seems to shed many of his layers with his fans.
Between bites of Big City Diner noodles and nachos, and dessert provided by Ninja/Hopper Cakes — colorful cupcakes that spelled out FONG-SANITY — Yang took some time out of the night to give me some news on a few of his upcoming projects. I asked him about the movie he was working on last September with his film production company, “408 Films,” then titled “Nightdreamblues.”
According to Yang, the film is in post-production and is now called “Someone I Used to Know.” The film stars Yang (who was also a producer on the film), West Liang, and Eddie Mui, who play three childhood friends who reunite for an impromptu birthday celebration, and during the course of the film “examine their strained relationship and realize that their lives turned out to be nothing like they had imagined.”
He has also been hard at work on a documentary about NBA phenom Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks with 408 Films. They started shooting the documentary during the summer of 2011, long before “Linsanity” exploded in America. It was great to hear Yang’s passion for the film, as he obviously wants to tell the story of a young man who is doing what he loves in a field that is not known for famous Chinese-Americans.
The other project Yang is excited about is playing “Blue Hyena” in the RZA directed martial arts film, “The Man with the Iron Fists.” RZA plays a blacksmith who creates weapons for a small 19th century village in China so they can protect themselves from assassins and warriors. RZA wrote the movie with Eli Roth, which also stars Russell Crowe, MMA fighter Cung Le, and Lucy Liu.
Yang shared that when he auditioned for “Hawaii Five-0,” his hair was just growing back from having to shave it for the film. His character has a showdown with Cung Le’s character, “Bronze Lion.” It will be really interesting to see, yet another departure from his “Charlie Fong” character — Yang fighting with a blue Mohawk. But just by looking at him, I’m sure Yang could definitely hold his own.
We had a great chat, about his up-and-coming projects, as well as about playing Charlie Fong. I told him that I had just recently put two and two together, while watching a classic episode of “Hawaii Five-0,” that his character is a reboot of the character of “Che Fong.” I guess better late to the party than being a no-show.
Che Fong was also a “forensic specialist” on the classic show, but Yang said in his “backstory” he is Dr. Charles Fong and has a master’s degree in forensics. Which is right up Yang’s alley as he studied biology — as well as drama — at the University of California, Berkeley. He seems to work well within the idea that art imitates life. But for Yang, he is far more than the super-smart forensics guy he plays on TV. He’s passionate about acting and making films, he’s grateful for his fans, and he loves working in Hawaii and on “Hawaii Five-0.” He is thankful for everything that comes his way. Perhaps that is why we root for him, regardless of how much time he gets on screen.
Brian Yang is definitely more than the “Geek God” nickname Kono dubbed him with in “Lapa‘au.” He is a charming, extremely intelligent, as well as sincere and completely down-to-earth. When he says that having a Tweetup gets people to “really connect,” he is more than right — because for ‘Five-0’ fans, their connection with him is more than just with his character, but with a pretty terrific person.
Redux Side Note:
This week’s repeat was “Kūpale.” Next week’s “Hawaii Five-0” offering is “Lekiō,” with stellar guest star James Caan who plays private-eye Tony Archer. Dennis Miller also makes an explosive appearance in the first five minutes, and Hawaii entertainer the great Jimmy Borges makes a small cameo.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher who lives and works in Honolulu. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.