Oh died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a battle with Alzheimer's, actor Chil Kong reported. He and Oh were co-founders of the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles.
"I will never be able to repay him for what he did for me, how he shaped me as an artist, as a community leader and as a parent," Kong wrote. "All I can do is promise to stay true to my artistic self, just as Mr. Oh strived to do all his life."
In particular, Oh was a pioneer as an Asian American actor in theater world appearing the original cast of the Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. In 1965, he was one of the earliest members of the aforementioned East West Players, a theater organization championing artistic voices in the Asian Pacific American community and providing educational programs. In 1995, he went on to create the Korean American theatre group, Society of Heritage Performers, which later turned into the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. Since 2005, he had been a professor at the Seoul National University of Economics.
A native of South Korea, Oh was in the original Broadway cast of the 1976 Stephen Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures, and on the small screen, he appeared eight times on Hawaii Five-O, five times on M*A*S*H and four times on Magnum, P.I., all as different characters.
Oh did voice work on Disney's Mulan (1998), then returned for the 2004 sequel.
In The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Oh's Lieutenant Hip arrives after the assassin Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) kills a scientist in front of the Bottoms Up Club in Hong Kong. Oh arrests James Bond (Moore) but later reveals himself to be his ally.
"My agent asked me if I would like to be in a James Bond picture. I was a bit audacious when I was younger, so I said, 'I don't do a laundry man, gardener or house boy,'" the actor says on the film's DVD documentary.
Oh played Colonel Yin, the sadistic commander of the POW camp who meets his end at the hands — and feet — of Norris' James Braddock in the first Missing in Action sequel, released in 1985. Braddock then detonates explosive charges around the compound in a memorable final scene.
Oh's résumé also included the features Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) and Yellow (1998), written and directed by Chris Chan Lee, and television's I Spy, Dan August, Ironside, Kung Fu, Charlie's Angels, Hill Street Blues, Magnum, P.I. and the 1981 miniseries East of Eden.
Oh had graduated with a degree in political science from Yonsei University in Seoul. After emigrating to the U.S., he was a scholarship student at New York's famed Neighborhood Playhouse and attended UCLA.
In 1965, Oh co-founded the L.A.-based East West Players, one of the first Asian-American theater groups in the U.S. Then, after the L.A. riots of 1992, he launched the Society of Heritage Performers, hoping to elevate Asian-American voices while counteracting stereotypes in the media.
That Korean-American group evolved in 1999 into the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. (It disbanded a decade later.)
"He awakened within me a life-changing cultural and community awareness," actor Tim Lounibos said. "Mr. Oh constantly coached and mentored me (sometimes severely) … and taught me life lessons through his personal experiences and stories."
Soon-Tek Oh, a pioneering figure in Asian-American theater who voiced Fa Zhou in two “Mulan” films and acted with Roger Moore in “Man with the Golden Gun,” has died. He was 85.
The Korean-American actor died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a long fight with Alzheimer’s, according to actor Chil Kong. Kong co-founded the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles under Oh’s guidance.
In addition to his voice credits in “Mulan,” Oh acted in numerous television series throughout his career, beginning in the ’60s with credits on series like “It Takes a Thief” and “I Spy” and spanning through the ’90s with repeat appearances on shows including “Hawaii Five-O,” “M*A*S*H,” and “Charlie’s Angels.” He also acted in “Magnum, P.I.,” “Cagney & Lacey,” and “Hill Street Blues” and the mini-series “East of Eden.”
In 1974, Oh appeared as Lieutenant Hip in “Man With the Golden Gun.” In the film, Hip arrests James Bond after Christopher Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga kills a scientist, but turns out to be on Bond’s side.
Perhaps one of Oh’s most lasting contributions was as a founder of the East West Players, one of the first Asian-American theater companies the U.S., which helped pave the way for other theater companies that followed. Notable alumni of the organization include B.D. Wong, John Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, and Kal Penn.
After the 1992 L.A. riots, Oh created the Society of Heritage Performers with the hope of elevating Asian-American voices while counteracting stereotypical depictions of Asian-Americans as immigrants and victims of violence. The group evolved into the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, which disbanded roughly a decade later.
Oh also taught in Korea for around a decade before moving back to Los Angeles towards the end of his life.
“He awakened within me a life-changing cultural and community awareness; and while we continually performed and interacted with Korean American partner organizations over the next five years or so, Mr. Oh constantly coached and mentored me,” wrote Tim Lounibos in a tribute.
“I will never be able to re-pay him for what he did for me,” remembered Kong. “How he shaped me as an artist, as a community leader, and as a parent. All I can do is promise to stay true to my artistic self just as Mr. Oh strived to do all his life.”
(Pictured: Soon-Tek Oh, third from left, with the voice cast of ‘Mulan’ at the film’s premiere)