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Five-0 Redux

Breaking down Chin Ho Kelly

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Daniel Dae Kim in a flashback to Chin's Rookie year in the HPD from “Hana Lokomaikaʻi.” (Courtesy CBS)


Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly in a flashback to his first year with the Honolulu Police Department.

Even after four seasons as veteran cop Chin Ho Kelly on “Hawaii Five-0,” the character played by Daniel Dae Kim is still a bit of an enigma.

We all know how he came to join McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and the Five-0 team, and how his stained past hurt his relationship with his family and then-girlfriend, Malia (Reiko Aylesworth). We all ultimately learned how he was cleared of stealing from the Honolulu Police Department, reinstated as a lieutenant and eventually married Malia while surrounded by his friends and Five-0 family.

While Chin’s retribution was well deserved, it was not without a few bumps and not only bruises, but several deep cuts. Devastating cuts, to be exact.

Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Malia's (Reiko Aylesworth) first meeting on Waikīkī Beach. (Courtesy CBS)


Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Malia (Reiko Aylesworth).

He had to arrest McGarrett, the man who saved him, for allegedly assassinating Gov. Jameson. Chin had to watch as his cousin Kono (Grace Park) was kicked off the force. He had to choose between Malia and Kono as to who would live or die. Chin had to hold his wife as she died in his arms.

Chin went through so many changes but managed to stay true to his friends, keep his personal integrity and support McGarrett, Danno (Scott Caan) and Kono (Grace Park) with great dignity and a steely calm.

This week’s “Hawaii Five-0” repeat, “Hana Lokomaikaʻi” (“The Favor”) first aired in January. To the delight of fans, more details were revealed about Chin’s past.

The episode allowed us see the first time Chin met Malia and learn more about his relationship with John McGarrett, his HPD partner and mentor. We learned why Chin always has the biggest gun on the team and how his relationship with his future boss was unknowingly developed via his unwavering respect for Steve’s father. We also learned how Chin’s father died, how deep his relationship with Kono has always been and how his love for Malia and her brother ultimately came back to haunt him in his present.

Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Malia's (Reiko Aylesworth) wedding. (Courtesy CBS)


Chin and Malia’s wedding.

In the fan-built episode “Hoʻi Hou” (“Reunited”), we learned more about Chin, how he was voted Most Dependable, and how he became friends with Jerry Ortega — a strange combination, unless they had both previously been lost on a deserted island.

Still, the friendship works, and I’m sure we’ll learn more about both Chin and Jerry’s past next season.

If anyone can be labeled dependable, it’s Chin, the go-to guy on the Five-0 team. He is the one with the big back-up gun, the one who can find a clue in a shattered magic table. He’s the one who has got everyone’s back and knows the team has him covered as well.

Chin is the stalwart of the team; never giving up, never giving in to panic or even his emotions. He’s not stoic, he just believes he would never let the team down and vice versa. It’s a trust I think all the members have, but in Chin it just seems to be part of his overall psyche. No matter what hole he seems to be in, McGarrett, Danno and Kono will never let him stay down there too long.

Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) mourning the loss of Malia in “Hana Lokomaikaʻi.” (Courtesy CBS)


Chin mourning the loss of Malia in “Hana Lokomaikaʻi.”

While characters can be seen on pages of a script, they only truly come to life when talented actors take that dialogue and run with it. Kim truly embodies Chin and plays his character as more than just a reliable member of the Five-0 Team. Kim gives Chin that sense of unwavering trust and unbreakable respect in his friends.

Even when I have spoken to Kim in person, it is sometimes hard to see how Chin is that much different from Daniel. Both have a strong sense of self, and while they keep their emotions in check, are not afraid of speaking out for who or what they believe in.

“Daniel has done a wonderful job of conveying the strength and compassion of Chin Ho Kelly,” said Dennis Chun, whose father Kam Fong originated the role. “The classic ‘Hawaii Five-O’ gang would be honored by his efforts. Daniel is a great actor and even better man.”

While Kam Fong played a different type of Chin Ho, both actors were pioneers in American television. Fong, for playing a co-starring lead role in prime time during a period when Asian-American actors were few and far between on the small screen, and Kim as a pioneer for capturing two co-starring lead roles with ABC’s “Lost” and now “Five-0.”

Kim has acted in a leading capacity for 10 seasons, the same amount of time Fong portrayed Chin Ho on “Five-O.” I’m sure all of you would like to see Kim play Chin for 10 seasons as well, which would make him one of the longest leading male actors on television with 18 seasons to his credit.

Actor Daniel Dae Kim in a moment of reverie behind the scenes of "Hawaii Five-0." (Star-Advertiser file)


Actor Daniel Dae Kim in a moment of reverie behind the scenes of “Hawaii Five-0.”

While most people don’t really compare Kim’s portrayal of Kelly with Fong’s portrayal, both men can be described as actors who very much embodied their characters. Both were respectful and gracious to fans, and both have a strong sense of ohana. Of course, this is just my observation of Kim when he is in public and from speaking to him on the red carpet at Sunset on the Beach, but I’m sure everyone can see that coming through in his performance.

Chun echoed my belief about Kim’s portrayal of the role his father made famous.

“Dad was honored to play Chin Ho Kelly,” he said. “He tried to bring a sense of ohana, quiet strength, compassion, and a presence of Hawaii to the role. His many experiences as a 16-year member of HPD helped him convey a sense of street reality to his performance.

“Most of all, he had a deep sense of responsibility to the show and its fans. In many ways Daniel shares this professionalism in his own portrayal.”

Kim definitely shares a few similarities with Kam Fong, but with his own talents and abilities, he has definitely made Chin Ho his own character and one we love to watch.


“Hawaii Five-0” will take over Kakalaua Avenue in Waikiki on Sunday from 5 to 10 a.m. It looks like the Five-0 crew has something epic in store for their fifth season premiere!
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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  • Thanks for another great blog this week Wendie. I have said this many times over the years but Daniel is THE reason I watch Five-0. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have tuned in on that first September night to see what this new Five-0 was like. I was never a huge fan of the original Five-O, I watched it now and then, but I always preferred “buddy cop” type police shows so it’s very likely I would have passed on this new incarnation. But I was a huge LOST fan with DDK’s Jin & Sun being two of my favorite characters. When I heard he was going to be part of Five-0 I had to watch to see him again. Thanks to him I fell in love with a group of actors I hadn’t really ever heard of before (except for Scott in the Ocean’s films) and found not only a new favorite show but an extended Ohana I am eternally grateful for.

    I agree with everything you’ve said about Chin and I am very grateful we’ve been able to see more of what makes him tick and the events that have formed the man he is. I particularly like how you said “we learned how his
    relationship with his future boss was unknowingly developed via his
    unwavering respect for Steve’s father”. It’s a fantastic observation and very prophetic in that Steve also knew immediately when meeting Chin again that he could trust him because “my old man did”.

    I am really looking forward to seeing much more of who Chin Ho is and I can’t wait to see Daniel act the hell out of it all. Thank you Daniel for bring me to Five-0. I can’t thank you enough for the fun of the show and the wonderful people I have met because of it. Like I said..I am eternally grateful. So much so that I’ll even forgive you for wearing that Red Sox cap when you should be wearing your Phillies gear! 😉 Aloha nui loa

  • Thanks, Wendie for bringing us another fantastic blog this Saturday morning! It goes down so well with that first cup of coffee!

    Chin Ho Kelly is really a very complicated and enigmatic character! He was such a mystery himself throughout the first season – And I really wanted to kick some sense into him when he refused to turn in his uncle!

    But Chin is, indeed, the one constant, grounded character on H50. He has that zen-like quality that allows him to keep the others from bouncing into the stratosphere but mess with his Ohana and there will be regrets!

    DDK does a wonderful job making his version of Chin Ho Kelly believable and beloved. He insinuates his presence into every scene he is in. Everyone is always saying there would be no H50 without the Steve/Danny bromance, which is probably quite true, but the show would sorely miss DDK’s Chin if he ever left.

    Thanks again, Wendie!

  • It is a tremendous tribute to Daniel that he was the first of the four main actors cast, and Chin’s role was tweaked for him (Chin was to be the “elder statesman” of the task force and Kono’s uncle, but the story was changed when Daniel was signed). My biggest gripe about the character was that they had a wonderful wedding for him and a beautiful lead-up to it, but killed Malia before we got to know her.
    Daniel was great in the episode that was repeated last night and also in the Pearl Harbor episode. It’ll be interesting to see him with his high school buddy Jerry and interacting with Kono again this year.
    And BTW its very appropriate that this column comes out today as Monday is DDK’s birthday.

  • I believe the level of DDK talents has the writers quite able to throw anything at him and thus the viewers get to enjoy such a rich character. There is still so much more to Kelly and we get lil tastes… I am looking forward to S5 and see what else they have in store for him. Wonderful piece Wendie!

  • Like you, Wendie, I often have the impression that Daniel and his character Chin Ho are not so different, after all.
    Although Daniel certainly wouldn’t shoot someone in real life to take revenge for his wife’s death, as Chin did on “Hawaii Five-0”, the real man and the on-screen character seem to have a lot in common. Of course, I don’t know Daniel in person but I’ve followed him on Facebook for a while, and have always very much enjoyed any interviews with him, too. Both Daniel and Chin Ho appear to be very reasonable, calm, friendly and thoroughly likeable guys. Just listening to this man’s voice has a calming effect on me. Hopefully, I’m not alone with this little “kink” of loving the sound of Daniel’s voice 🙂

    Mahalo for this great blog about one of my top-favorites on the show! I’ll keep today’s comment slightly shorter than usual since I’ve been busy with some Alex-related stuff, as you may have noticed on FB 😉

  • Great article Wendie. I could not say it any better. We are so lucky to have DDK playing Chin. Such a wonderful actor, and from what I’ve seen of him on talk shows and interviews, a wonderful person as well. I’m hoping all our actors are on this show for many more seasons.

  • Awesome article, I truly enjoyed it. One thing I noticed though, is that we know plenty about his past and his relatioship with Malia and Jerry, but his past frienship/relatioship with Steve is very shady. It would be great if they could include some more of that in the show, as well as some interaction between them. I don’t know, but Steve and Danno are always together and it’s kinda obnixious (especially Danno), it would be great to hear Steve talking his share of troubles to Chin every now and then. I think Chin, being the one that has the team’s back and having met Steve’s father very well, would be by far more fitting to be the one to hear out Steve or just be there for him. Still, it’s an epic show, it has progressed a lot and I have high expectations for season 5!!!! Can’t wait!!!! 😀

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