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“Kung Fu Panda 4”’s James Hong Shares Secret to His 70-Year Career: 'I'm 95 and I'm Still Going' (Exclusive)

“All of a sudden, on the 70th year, things began to pop in place,” says James Hong of his Hollywood career, which began opposite Clark Gable in 1955

<p>Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images</p> James Hong at the Los Angeles premiere of "Kung Fu Panda 4" March 3

Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images

James Hong at the Los Angeles premiere of "Kung Fu Panda 4" March 3

In his seven decades of screen work, did James Hong ever imagine his name would be on the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard? “Absolutely not,” he tells PEOPLE with a cackle.

“I walk there quite often and I [have said], ‘Gee, I wish I was here,’ ” says the Los Angeles-based star, 95.

But now Hong is honored twice on the iconic sidewalk: with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and with his hands and feet immortalized in cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre.

“It never came to be for 70 years of my career,” the Kung Fu Panda 4 star says. “Then all of a sudden, on the 70th year, things began to pop in place!”

Related: 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' Cast Reunites in Action-Packed 'American Born Chinese' Trailer

<p>Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images</p> James Hong at his Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony in 2022

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

James Hong at his Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony in 2022

The exact number of Hong’s screen credits is hard to pinpoint due to the sheer number of them (he approximates a whopping 700), but his résumé stretches from a 1955 big-screen debut in Soldier of Fortune — making him, as he acknowledges, “possibly the only actor alive that has worked with Clark Gable” — to the hit Everything Everywhere All at Once.

That Oscar-sweeping film from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert is most responsible for Hong’s career resurgence, although actor Daniel Dae Kim fought to campaign for his Walk of Fame star back in 2020.

Kim and Everything Everywhere costar Jamie Lee Curtis presented at Hong’s 2022 ceremony, which featured a traditional Chinese lion dance from the Shaolin Entertainment Group to bless the occasion.

The Feb. 22 TCL Chinese Theatre ceremony, which included presentations from Kwan, Scheinert, Lucy Liu and a traditional dragon dance in honor of the Lunar New Year, also happened to fall on Hong’s 95th birthday.

“I never dreamed to be there,” says Hong of his cemented hands and feet, alongside John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and more.

“I'm not parallel with those guys, but I'm so glad to be so-called ‘chosen’ to be on that sidewalk because it's not only for me, but for the Asian Americans who'll be represented. … It'll be good for the image of Hollywood.”

Hong’s newfound recognition as one of the industry’s most impressive character actors can also be attributed to a viral moment at the 2023 Screen Actors Guild Awards in which he also spoke out about Asian American representation.

After Michelle Yeoh shouted out her Everything Everywhere costar while the cast accepted the best ensemble prize, Hong announced to the world that a producer had once told him “that Asians were not good enough, and they are not box office. But, look at us now, huh?"

Related: 94-Year-Old 'Everything Everywhere' Star Gets Standing Ovation as Michelle Yeoh Dedicates SAG Award Win to Him

“For some reason that was in my soul and I just came out with that sentence,” he tells PEOPLE. “‘Just look at us now. Here we have arrived.’ That's what Everything Everywhere All at Once meant to me, that we have arrived as actors — we've come a long way.”

Still, the need to fight for equity remains a key part of Hong’s mission — and, in fact, may be the secret to his longevity.

“It's always on my mind, on my soul,” he says of Asian American representation. “I’ve dedicated my whole life to this, all the way from the time my first movie was Soldier of Fortune where I was a Communist soldier, and those were the only roles in those days for actors like myself.”

The fight against the “hidden prejudice in this town,” as the Minnesota-born actor says, is “in that Hong blood. My father struggled to get here to America... The story goes that my grandmother helped fight off the bandits. I think it was that kind of aggressiveness, the will to fight and survive that carries all those years down.”

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<p>Image Press Agency/NurPhoto/Shutterstock </p> James Hong at the Los Angeles premiere of "Kung Fu Panda 4" March 3

Image Press Agency/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

James Hong at the Los Angeles premiere of "Kung Fu Panda 4" March 3

Related: 'Everything Everywhere' Star James Hong Attends His First Oscars Ceremony at 94: 'After 70 Years, I'm Here'

And, adds Hong with a smile, “overcoming those obstacles” is precisely what has helped him survive.

“I'm 95 and I'm still going. Probably if I didn't struggle, I would die earlier because the fight wasn't there," he says.

As the self-confessed “workaholic” keeps busy with a documentary and memoir in development — and reprising his role as Chinese goose Mr. Ping, adoptive father to Jack Black’s panda Po in Kung Fu Panda 4 — it’s clear what motivates him continues to be the philosophy he espouses to fellow artists: “You’re born,” he advises. “Be what you want.”

Kung Fu Panda 4 is in theaters Friday.

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