Interview: Ken Jeong on nudity, romance and his 'emotional' trip to Korea

Interview: Ken Jeong on nudity, romance and his 'emotional' trip to Korea

The physician-turned-funnyman brings on more naked humor with "Hangover Part II"
Ken Jeong interview
"I got all kindsa heat on my ass. I got FBI, Bangkok PD, Interpol, MSNBC ... "

The world will likely never forget the sight of a stark naked Asian man popping out of a car trunk in “The Hangover.” 

In the sequel, "The Hangover Part II," which opened in theaters in Korea on Thursday, Ken Jeong is back in his role as Mr. Chow, a mysterious and obnoxiously nasal criminal.

The 42-year-old, Detroit-born Korean-American is currently on a promotional trip to Korea, his first visit to the country in 25 years.

 Jeong's onscreen character remains largely mysterious, but has more kookiness to offer audiences. (Spoiler alert)

Ken Jeong interview Despite his signature stunts in the buff, Ken Jeong says he's actually quite shy. When another character asks if he is Thai, Mr. Chow answers, "I'm not Thai, I Chow." 

When asked if he is Chinese, he repeats, "I'm not Chinese, I Chow." 

The criminal does however reveal -- despite his "questionable" sexual orientation, that he has a wife. 

“I like to make it vague … even in the beginning that he was married,” says Jeong

“I feel like Mr. Chow is making fun of the stereotypes … I love the mystery of Mr. Chow,” he says, adding that he would love to do a spin off of his “favorite character” one day.

Jeong has had his pick of quirky characters since his breakout role, including one in the mega blockbuster "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon," as well as playing "Chang" in the on going cult hit TV series “Community."

Shy boy

In person, however, Jeong couldn't be more different from his on-screen persona.

“I’m a very mild-mannered person -- I don’t walk around naked," says Jeong. "I’m very shy and I’m ashamed of my body -- I don’t like to take my shirt off at the beach, but Mr. Chow doesn't care."

Jeong's self-proclaimed bashfulness should be taken with a grain of salt, as the idea of on-screen nudity for the first "Hangover" movie was his own. 

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Dark days

Surprisingly, Jeong says he was able to give such wild performances because he was undergoing the darkest, most painful personal experience during the time of filming. 

Jeong’s wife, fellow doctor Tran Ho, was suffering from a rare form of breast cancer and he almost turned down the first film. 

“It was my wife that insisted that I do it -- I knew that if I made a strong choice in the movie it would help give some energy midway into the film,” he says.

The experience had a profound effect on Jeong on both a personal and professional level.

“I learned about myself as a person and as an actor during the first  'Hangover' with the shocking nudity," he says. 

"You have to not be afraid to make strong choices and that inspired me. Now I am constantly making strong choices and I’m not afraid to do anything as an actor. Years ago I would have been too shy and afraid.”

His wife has since fully recovered, and accompanied the actor for the sequel’s production in Thailand.

Going places 

“This visit [to Korea] has been very emotional," says Jeong. "I’m just so honored to be back in Korea in this capacity, to return home and promote something I really love." 

"Dr.Ken" and his real-life wife, Dr. Tran Ho at the "Hangover Part II" in Hollywood, California.Jeong adds that he never expected to visit Korea as an actor.

In one of the most bizarre stories of career switches, Jeong was a practicing physician until recently. 

He grew up loving Bill Cosby and Jim Carrey and performed stand-up comedy throughout medical school at the University of North Carolina in the United States.

“Because I was a serious student in school and later as a doctor, where you’re dealing with life-and-death situations, I wanted to watch comedies, not serious medical dramas or anything," explains Jeong

"I think that’s what the ‘Hangover’ movies are. They are an escape from real problems. It’s a roller coaster ride; it takes you up and down.”

His wife is that rare species of spouse who understands.

“We married because we had mutual love of comedy,” he says, adding that it was also his beloved who encouraged him to become a full-time actor after his role  -- ironically, he played a doctor -- in Judd Apatow's blockbuster hit, “Knocked Up.” 

The discipline and work ethic that he polished as a real doctor helps when it comes to being funny. 

“People don’t know how hard comedy is," says Jeong.

"It’s much harder to direct in comedy, I think, because comedy is all about tone. Drama, in a way, is easier because you have to make sure it’s dramatic. But with comedies you have to find what is funniest and most appropriate for a given situation.”

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A member of the UNESCO International Dance Council, Hyo-won Lee writes for The Korea Times while contributing to The Hollywood Reporter and appearing on English radio programs. In her free time she can be spotted ordering “jajangmyeon” during a picnic by the Han River, snooping around vintage boutiques or trying to compose tone poems.

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