You might want to brace yourself. I have a confession. Ready?
One of my favorite movies is The Hangover. You know the film about four friends who drive to Las Vegas for a wild and memorable stag party.
My sister (who thinks I have dignified taste) was aghast. She told her husband, "My sister L-I-K-E-S The Hangover." And she said this like the line from Home Alone: "I made my family disappear!"
Come on. What's not to like about The Hangover? Bradley Cooper is easy on the eyes. Zack Galifianakis is hilarious.
And then there's Ken Jeong. And he may be the main reason why I love this movie. He is over-the-top outrageous.
Ken Jeong plays a Chinese mobster Leslie Chow who pops out of the trunk of a car and goes ape-shit, wielding a crowbar and demanding the return of his money. Originally, this scene did not call for him to be naked. Ken asked permission to show some skin. Lots of skin. In baring all, Jeong makes this violent scene well, less violent and more hilarious.
You can imagine how excited I felt when Ken Jeong was announced as the key-note speaker at Duke's commencement, an event my husband and I would be attending. Our daughter graduated from Duke in 2020, but commencement was put on hold due to Covid. Sixteen months later on September 26, the Class of 2020 would have a special celebration to honor their accomplishments.
On the day of commencement, my husband and I arrived an hour before the ceremony to get a good seat. At 9:00 sharp, "Pomp and Circumstance" stirred everyone to their feet as the procession of graduates, faculty, and administration filed into the quad. We were happily surprised that so many graduates returned to campus. We were thrilled to see so many relatives present to honor the graduates.
After a lyrical benediction by Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, a touching speech by student Maghana Sai Iragavarapu and the awarding of degrees, Duke President Vincent Price introduced Ken Jeong, class of 1990.
Jeong began with a raucous cheer. "DR. KEN HAS COME BACK HOME!" Then his mood became emotional. Wiping away a few tears, he told the graduates, "Whatever you need. I'm here for you."
He touched on growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina and dreaming to go to Duke. He revealed an amazing fact. He said, "I didn't want to be an actor. I was here to be pre-med at Duke."
During his 2nd year in college, he took an introduction to acting class that changed his life. He had never taken any theatre classes. He said, "I was overcome with passion, and the emotion to perform has never been extinguished."
After sharing memories of his college days, Ken Jeong wrapped up with a powerful message:
"Live your passions. Love one another. Find your identity. Find your flow in life. That's all we need. To find our ourselves." He went on to say, "Don't deny your potential. Never sell yourself short. You never know what you will achieve. Capitalize on your own uniqueness."
He may have been speaking to the graduates, but it felt as if his words were aimed at everyone seated in the quad. I was focused, soaking in his presence and intent on the speech.
While he spoke, The Hangover never entered my mind. Now it's a given I'll be watching the movie again, though with a better appreciation of Ken Jeong. Sure, I'll be laughing at his portrayal of Leslie Chow, but I will look beyond this crazy naked criminal to a man who didn't plan on being an actor. I will see a Blue Devil who opened his heart, a father who followed his passions and a man who encouraged others to follow their dreams.
À la prochaine!
Click on the link to enjoy Ken Jeong's speech.