Five-0 Redux: Breaking down Chin Ho Kelly
BY WENDIE BURBRIDGE / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Even after four seasons as veteran cop Chin Ho Kelly on “Hawaii Five-0,” the character played by Daniel Dae Kim is still a bit of an enigma.
We all know how he came to join McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and the Five-0 team, and how his stained past hurt his relationship with his family and then-girlfriend, Malia (Reiko Aylesworth). We all ultimately learned how he was cleared of stealing from the Honolulu Police Department, reinstated as a lieutenant and eventually married Malia while surrounded by his friends and Five-0 family.
While Chin’s retribution was well deserved, it was not without a few bumps and not only bruises, but several deep cuts. Devastating cuts, to be exact.
He had to arrest McGarrett, the man who saved him, for allegedly assassinating Gov. Jameson. Chin had to watch as his cousin Kono (Grace Park) was kicked off the force. He had to choose between Malia and Kono as to who would live or die. Chin had to hold his wife as she died in his arms.
Chin went through so many changes but managed to stay true to his friends, keep his personal integrity and support McGarrett, Danno (Scott Caan) and Kono (Grace Park) with great dignity and a steely calm.
This week’s “Hawaii Five-0” repeat, “Hana Lokomaikaʻi” (“The Favor”) first aired in January. To the delight of fans, more details were revealed about Chin’s past.
The episode allowed us see the first time Chin met Malia and learn more about his relationship with John McGarrett, his HPD partner and mentor. We learned why Chin always has the biggest gun on the team and how his relationship with his future boss was unknowingly developed via his unwavering respect for Steve’s father. We also learned how Chin’s father died, how deep his relationship with Kono has always been and how his love for Malia and her brother ultimately came back to haunt him in his present.
In the fan-built episode “Hoʻi Hou” (“Reunited”), we learned more about Chin, how he was voted Most Dependable, and how he became friends with Jerry Ortega — a strange combination, unless they had both previously been lost on a deserted island.
Still, the friendship works, and I’m sure we’ll learn more about both Chin and Jerry’s past next season.
If anyone can be labeled dependable, it’s Chin, the go-to guy on the Five-0 team. He is the one with the big back-up gun, the one who can find a clue in a shattered magic table. He’s the one who has got everyone’s back and knows the team has him covered as well.
Chin is the stalwart of the team; never giving up, never giving in to panic or even his emotions. He’s not stoic, he just believes he would never let the team down and vice versa. It’s a trust I think all the members have, but in Chin it just seems to be part of his overall psyche. No matter what hole he seems to be in, McGarrett, Danno and Kono will never let him stay down there too long.
While characters can be seen on pages of a script, they only truly come to life when talented actors take that dialogue and run with it. Kim truly embodies Chin and plays his character as more than just a reliable member of the Five-0 Team. Kim gives Chin that sense of unwavering trust and unbreakable respect in his friends.
Even when I have spoken to Kim in person, it is sometimes hard to see how Chin is that much different from Daniel. Both have a strong sense of self, and while they keep their emotions in check, are not afraid of speaking out for who or what they believe in.
“Daniel has done a wonderful job of conveying the strength and compassion of Chin Ho Kelly,” said Dennis Chun, whose father Kam Fong originated the role. “The classic ‘Hawaii Five-O’ gang would be honored by his efforts. Daniel is a great actor and even better man.”
While Kam Fong played a different type of Chin Ho, both actors were pioneers in American television. Fong, for playing a co-starring lead role in prime time during a period when Asian-American actors were few and far between on the small screen, and Kim as a pioneer for capturing two co-starring lead roles with ABC’s “Lost” and now “Five-0.”
Kim has acted in a leading capacity for 10 seasons, the same amount of time Fong portrayed Chin Ho on “Five-O.” I’m sure all of you would like to see Kim play Chin for 10 seasons as well, which would make him one of the longest leading male actors on television with 18 seasons to his credit.
While most people don’t really compare Kim’s portrayal of Kelly with Fong’s portrayal, both men can be described as actors who very much embodied their characters. Both were respectful and gracious to fans, and both have a strong sense of ohana. Of course, this is just my observation of Kim when he is in public and from speaking to him on the red carpet at Sunset on the Beach, but I’m sure everyone can see that coming through in his performance.
Chun echoed my belief about Kim’s portrayal of the role his father made famous.
“Dad was honored to play Chin Ho Kelly,” he said. “He tried to bring a sense of ohana, quiet strength, compassion, and a presence of Hawaii to the role. His many experiences as a 16-year member of HPD helped him convey a sense of street reality to his performance.
“Most of all, he had a deep sense of responsibility to the show and its fans. In many ways Daniel shares this professionalism in his own portrayal.”
Kim definitely shares a few similarities with Kam Fong, but with his own talents and abilities, he has definitely made Chin Ho his own character and one we love to watch.
REDUX SIDE NOTE
“Hawaii Five-0” will take over Kakalaua Avenue in Waikiki on Sunday from 5 to 10 a.m. It looks like the Five-0 crew has something epic in store for their fifth season premiere!
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.