Monday 23 September 2019

Obituary: Soon-Tek Oh

Korean character actor who played the villain and starred with Roger Moore in Bond


Soon-Tek Oh, who has died aged 85, was a Korean character actor who made his name opposite Roger Moore in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974); in 1998 he lent his voice to create the character Fa Zhou in the two Mulan animated musical action comedy films for Walt Disney.

He was born at Mokpo, in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, on June 29, 1932 at a time when Korea was still under Imperial Japanese rule. He attended high school in Gwangju, South Korea, where his original idea was to go into business. After graduating in Political Science from the Yonsei University in Seoul, in 1959 he travelled to Los Angeles to pursue further studies in California.

There, however, he changed his mind about a business career, much to the chagrin of his parents, and enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, to study acting and playwriting.

After taking his degree in 1962, he moved to New York, joining the city's Neighbourhood Playhouse School of Theatre and performing in a variety of plays by Arthur Miller, Shakespeare and Ibsen.

Two years later, Oh made his Broadway debut in Rashomon (1959), adapted by Fay and Michael Kanin and starring Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom. Later, he won good reviews for his work in Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures (1976), which ran for almost a year (it was filmed and broadcast on Japanese television the same year).

Oh soon began to make a name for himself as a "baddie" on popular television shows such as It Takes a Thief and I Spy, though he was unhappy with being typecast as the archetypal villain. He frequently made guest appearances with Tom Selleck on Magnum PI and featured in a number of episodes of M*A*S*H as well as Hawaii Five-O. He played Lee in the hit mini-series East of Eden (1985), with Timothy Bottoms and Jane Seymour.

Soon-Tek Oh's film offers were few and far between. In Murderers' Row (1966) he was the Japanese secret agent Tempura and he also appeared in the western One More Train to Rob (1971) with George Peppard, Good Guys Wear Black (1978) starring Chuck Norris, and the sci-fi caper The Final Countdown (1980).

He was General Bon Soong Kwan in Steele Justice (1987) and appeared in J Lee Thompson's Death Wish 4 (1987) with Charles Bronson, and Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) starring Chris Farley and Nicollette Sheridan. In 1998 he played a pivotal role in Yellow (1998), the first film made by and starring Korean-Americans.

In The Man with the Golden Gun his role was that of Lieutenant Hip, who arrests James Bond after the villain Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) kills a scientist, but subsequently turns out to be on Bond's side.

During this time, Oh helped to establish one of the first Asian-American theatre companies in the US, the East West Players.

As one of its founder members he took an active interest in helping to nurture the talents of students including BD Wong.

In 1992, after the Los Angeles riots, Oh created the Society of Heritage Performers, which provided a platform for adolescents to come together and work in the arts. It was disbanded a decade or so later.

During the early 2000s, Soon-Tek Oh moved back to South Korea, where he taught drama as a professor at the Korea National University of Arts as well as serving on the board of the Seoul Institute of the Arts. He returned to California in 2006; about the same time he retired from performing.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top