Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Too Similar #4: Taimak and Marcus Chong

Now, many people won't recall him, but Taimak is well-known to fans of 80's cult films. He appeared in the 1985 movie, Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, a pic that pretty much encapsulates a lot of the era's more insane musical and fashion choices. I may remember it well, yet I can't call The Last Dragon a good film.

The script is not exactly smooth or tight. The picture casts Taimak as Bruce Leroy, a questing karate expert who becomes a savior, then bodyguard, to the gorgeous host of a TV show that's patterned off of Soul Train and the early years of MTV. The main villain is portrayed by Julius J. Carry III, playing a mean-ass street fighter who calls himself "Shonuff, the Shogun of Harlem." Shonuff sees Leroy as his only obstacle to complete supremacy over martial arts in the ghetto.

Shonuff's evil intentions - in essence, ultimate props - are matched by those of a man played by Chris Murney, who portrays a video arcade mogul named Eddie Arkadian. Eddie is trying to forcibly get his Cyndi Lauper-esque girlfriend to become a major singing act - despite her lack of talent. For insane 1980's logic reasons, the popular TV show is seen as the best way to accomplish this. Eddie thinks he can kidnap and then force Taimak's damsel-in-distress/love interest into making Eddie's girlfriend TV's next big act.

Seeing Bruce as the sole (and unbeatable!) protector for the celebrity he wants to abduct, Arkadian forges a pact with Shonuff to destroy their mutual enemy so that each baddie can get what they want. Why Harlem is split between these two fighters, like why the TV studio has zero security, is a mystery for the ages...

Many people have called this picture a good film to watch while intoxicated. The fx, story, and actors (save Julius) never really seem to give it their all in a way that holds up well nowadays. In many ways, this movie became a cult hit because it is insanely cheesy, because it boasts a great soundtrack (Mr. Gordy was the founder of Motown, after all), and because it is so emblematic of its time.

To younger generations, tho, this picture is best recalled because it was so perfectly-referenced by Busta Rhymes in the video for his hit track, "Dangerous."

Now, Taimak was born on June 27, 1964 in Los Angeles, California. Befitting his half-Black, half-Italian parentage, his full name is Taimak Guarriello. He became an accomplished martial artist before transitioning to film work.

For one reason or another, tho, he never really took off. He has starred in handful of movies and TV shows since tLD, which was his only real hit. Taimak still attends conventions and maintains his own website.

Marcus Chong, on the other hand, was born on July 8, 1967 in Seattle, Washington. His mother was of Asian descent, and his father was a (Black) college football star who later became a sports reporter for a San Francisco TV station. In 1978, Marcus was adopted by Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame) and Tommy's second wife. On his 18th birthday, Marcus was offered the choice to adopt Tommy's family name, which the young man did.

Like Taimak, Marcus Chong also seems destined to be remembered for one role: Tank, the "operator" in the Wachowski's 1999 smash-hit, The Matrix. His part was a real stand-out there because of Tank's controlled enthusiasm, because he played an "unplugged," naturally-born human, and because Tank was the one link between his matrix-bound crewmates and the real world.

Since then - also like Taimak - Mr. Chong has appeared in a handful of TV series and minor films. But, wow, the first time I saw The Matrix, I was floored. The second he appeared on screen, I thought, "Holy s--t! That's Taimak! No, wait..."

And I don't think you can blame me for the confusion. Just look at the photos I've posted here. They are very similar, physically, and each has flown under the radar - with the exception of one mainstream hit apiece.

Now, I don't think either man has hurt the career of the other because they look so similar, but I do have to wonder what audiences would think if both men appeared in the same project. Would they have to play siblings? Or would one appear as the other's doppelganger?

Seriously, take the pic of Chong above, from a project where he plays one of the early Black Panthers. Doesn't he look a hell of a lot like the martial artist in the picture below?

The resemblance is far from perfect, but it is still there. I don't think it's just me. And, hopefully, neither do you - not if I've done my job well, anyway...

There's not a lot of information about Marcus Chong, but there is more material about Taimak. You can see the commentary and speculation below:

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