Joseph O'Brien 9 a.m., April 26
Harold Heralds HK3D: An Interview With John Cho
John Cho walked past me as I sat in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel awaiting our interview. My immediate reaction was to smile. Initially, I came for the White Castle -- what I wouldn't give for a freshly prepared plate of Ex-Lax on a bun. Frozen sliders just don't cut it. The thought of seeing "Castles" sizzling on a steam table (in 35mm) was enough of an incentive.
As it turns out, I stayed for the laughs. While a safe distance from Laurel and Hardy, John Cho and Kal Penn are about the closest Hollywood gets to keeping alive the spirit of the great movie comedy teams. (Penn and Teller and SNL spinoffs don't count.)
Cho! Cho! Cho! John Cho returns in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas!
Friends are always surprised that in light of all the sequels I shun, I never get tired of watching Harold and Kumar and the Saw films. Both appeal to my primal senses. Jigsaw continually delights with his unique brand of surgical debasement, and H&K are always cause for "wet-eyes."
It's a long interview, so it's best we get cracking. Cho was a delight; bright, insightful, and fast on his feet. And for a change, someone else brought up Bob Hope! The film opens Friday. Too bad AMC doesn't sell edibles. It's not against the law for a dispensary to be located within 600-feet of a movie theatre, is it?
Scott Marks: Welcome to San Diego. I must confess: I greatly enjoy the Harold and Kumar series.
John Cho: Thanks! (Raising his coffee cup.) Cheers, man!
For devotees of the trilogy, I would assume the works of Cheech and Chong and The 3 Stooges are essential texts. What comedy teams were you weaned on?
Definitely The 3 Stooges. I never saw Cheech and Chong growing up. I’m not sure how that bypassed me.
You were probably too young to see them when they first came out, and had no interest in pot movies.
I wasn’t aware of the existence of pot. I also watched Hope and Crosby movies.
Is Harold a Hope or a Crosby?
I’m Hope, right?
Hope is the wiseguy troublemaker always cracking jokes.
If you go back and re-watch the Road pictures, Crosby’s a prick. He treats Hope terribly throughout the films, much the same way Harold first reacts to the ever affable Kumar in this version.
In the second film I was trying to do a Hope thing. I got one take off and it didn’t end up in the movie. I was bummed.
Hope never gets the girl. In H&K 3, we meet Harold just days away from his wedding. You’re much more the handsome Crosby/Dean Martin type. Dino would romance the girl while Jerry was out in the pasture milking a bull.
(Laughing): This is an interesting “what if” to play.
John Cho, Neal Patrick Harris, and Kal Penn.
Let’s talk about the effect pot has on your audience. Two people in their early-’40’s sat next to me during the screening. Before the movie, I overheard them talking about how much they loved the first two movies. During the closing credits, Heckle turns to Jekyll and says, “I can’t believe that was Neal Patrick Harris?”
Yeah! It’s not like he trying to conceal his identity.
Short term memory loss, I guess. Is it possible he was marveling over the resurrection of Neal Patrick Harris?
Are you kidding? This guy wouldn’t know a resurrection from the Spanish Inquisition. While we’re on NPH, the shrewdest twist this time around was casting him as a heterophobe. No, wait a minute, not a heterophobe.
No, because he’s a straight man passing for gay.
No. He’s gay in real life. In the movie, he’s a straight man passing for gay, but in real life, he’s a gay man playing a straight man passing for gay. Got it?
I think this is where Bud Abbott says, “Third base.”
(Laughing) Right. Neal has a thing wherein his personality is so charming, the filthier he gets, the more endearing he becomes. It must be wonderful to walk around with that kind of charm.
I love comedians who dare to be self-deprecating, and NPH takes it to a whole new level.
He actually uses his name.
You arrive in San Diego at a time when a government crackdown threatens to close down the marijuana clinics within city limits.
I certainly do not want to slight the need of those who legitimately require marijuana for medicinal purposes, but these dispensaries exist so potheads don’t have to spend hours sitting by the phone waiting for their dealers to score?
Either that, or there’s a rash of glaucoma sweeping the city.
I do not want these glaucoma sufferers to go without!
I’m watching the movie and waiting and waiting for Harold to eventually light up, and dammit it if you didn’t make me hold out until one minute before the final fade. I hate quitters, and if Harold had reformed, and suddenly mixed messages of “just say no” began to surface, I’d have been sorely disappointed.
That would be a wrong message to send out. (We both share a hearty chortle.) Let’s face it: they have to remain loyal to Harold and Kumar. They start off not being Harold and Kumar -- they’re apart and both have new best friends. There is the threat of breaking up the duo. The rule is, you have got to bring them back together by the end of the film, and they have to be the same people when it ends.
Sort of like the old reconciliatory structure you’d find at work in Warner Bros. melodramas from the 1930’s, something that was clearly intentional on the part of the screenwriters.
(Dramatically thrusting his index finger towards the sky): Tis! (Laughter.) I always thought of these movies as a romance between the two fellas, and they have to kiss and make up at the end of the movie.
So this is your bold departure, like The 3 Stooges’ He Cooked His Goose where Moe, Larry, and Shemp aren’t friends from the get-go.
Really? I didn’t know that.
It’s my sad duty to report you weren’t the first. In Hollywood or Bust, Martin encounters Lewis waiting in line to buy a ticket to the movies. I’m pretty sure there’s a Road picture where Bob and Bing meet as strangers, and maybe even one of the Marx Bros. movies.
Wow! I wasn’t aware. I gotta’ get on it.
To me, the film’s greatest misstep...
Patton Oswalt is in the film for all of four minutes.
That’s true. We underused him. I feel we could have used even more improv from him. He is a modern master. Okay, I'll take that.
How much improv goes on during the making of one of these films?
Unfortunately very little, because the budget is tight. The budget's have always been tight, but this movie was shot in 3D, and that's a little more complicated. There was less room for acting, so we tried to talk about the scene the night before in order to smooth the bumps out. We don't have time to go on a lot.
Performance artist, Dustin Neil Diamond.
You and Kal Penn have a terrific on-screen rapport. If you're smart, you will be to the Harold and Kumar films what Screech was to Saved by the Bell. Never leave the franchise!
Sure. He was working alongside Mr. Belding and The New Class in the mall electronics store when the series sadly drew to a close.
Dustin Neil Diamond.
Wow! You even know his middle name. I'm impressed! Were you invited to his Bar Mitzvah? (John breaks out laughing.) Okay, since I have you laughing, can you handle another complaint?
It's great to see Danny Trejo on board for this installment. Harold and Kumar are counter-culture icons, and the screenwriters basically use Trejo to set up a confrontational, Focker-style relationship between Harold and his future father-in-law. There are a lot better films for a cutting-edge duo to steal from than the Fockers.
Wait now! Fockers is good stuff.
No they're not. DeNiro shamelessly whoring himself out for a buck...
How dare you, sir!
Did you see Harvey Keitel in the last Fockers film? The man has become an embarrassment.
I will not take part in your cruel bashing of either DeNiro or Keitel. No, seriously, I enjoyed the Fockers movies.
Your films have an edge. Fockers = fuckers. I get it. Whatever edge there is in the Fockers, stops at the title.
Let me defend the movie by saying, have we seen a Fockers situation with an Asian guy and his Latino father-in-law?
Alright. That's something.
Harold and Jewmar.
The 3D enhanced pot smoke was sublime.
I thought so, too. That was the weirdest surprise when I went and saw the screening. I thought things would look rich, but I don't know how they did the smoke.
That's one of my pet hates. You watch a movie set in Antarctica with outdoor dialog scenes, and when people speak, there's no vapor. Didn't they first use CG vapors in Social Network?
That looked really good.
And it looks even better when stereoscopically (and pharmaceutically) enhanced. Are you afraid that you are going to be typecast in this role?
I welcome it.
Bring it on. And bring on the modest paychecks!
Modest? You've got "three-quel" money.
You even go so far as to foreshadow "four-quel" money in this version.
I smell a trademark!
So if there is to be a Harold & Kumar XVII, the brass at Warner Bros. can already count you in?
I have a lot of affection for Harold. People see the movies in so many different ways, which has been very interesting for me over the years. It's been taught in Asian-American studies classes. Some people don't see it exclusively as a stoner film, it's just a buddy movie to them. Some view it as more of a satire than anything else.
That's why Guantanamo Bay is my favorite of the series, so far. If you're going to make a film pitched at burnouts, at least have the good sense to indoctrinate them with a healthy dose of anti-Bush rhetoric. There is less satire in this version. I think the 3D effects are what's going to sell it.
I think so. I hope it leads to people seeing it in a theatre.
The first two movies were sort of DVD phenomenons and I hope this become a theatrical event.
So what's next?
I get working on Star Trek soon. I'm in the remake of Total Recall that's coming out. We did another American Pie movie called American Reunion.
Wait! An American Pie sequel that's not going straight to video?! How did that happen?
They got the original cast back together.
(Crossing myself.) Tara Reid, too?
Hell yes, she's back! Don't you dare!
I caught a glimpse of her on TMZ yesterday.
They found Tara waiting for her car at LAX. The best I can say is she looks like someone you'd see standing around an airport. It wasn't the girl who brought us to attention in Body Shots. But you have good makeup people in Hollywood. She's going to look terrific in this new American Pie picture.
All I can say is she looked terrific on the set.
As long as you are in town when the Asian Film Festival is going on, any chances of you putting in an appearance?
I think that ship has sailed.
They've never shown a Harold and Kumar film, have they?
I don't think so.
It would be a smart move, particularly if they're aiming for a younger demographic.
I also like the way it helps to expand the definition of what Asian cinema is. It's not made by Asian filmmakers, but it has become an Asian film to some extent. I'm not sure what SDAFF considers an Asian film.
Their boundaries have expanded over the years.
I like challenging that notion, too by going up against "Orientalism" and the kind of baggage that people might bring into a festival like that. It would be great to show one of these films there.
I'm a big fan of SDAFF, and I know if you made an unbilled cameo tonight, Lee Ann Kim would probably have a cow.
(Laughing uproariously.) I would LOVE to see Lee Ann have a cow.