Keye Luke (2012) – By Philip Smolen

My first exposure to the great character actor Keye Luke (1904-1991) was as a young boy watching monster movies during the 1960s. One of my favorites at the time was the Americanized version of Toho’s “Rodan” (1957) which I would watch whenever it aired. While I was mesmerized by Eji Tsuburaya’s spectacle of massive monster destruction, I was also keenly aware of the actor who dubbed in the voice of the male lead Shigeru (played by Toho regular Kenji Sawara). His calm and measured voice acted as a counterpoint to the maelstrom of devastation that appeared onscreen. It was several years later when watching one of the original Charlie Chan movies that I recognized that the actor portraying Chan’s son Lee was also the voice of Shigeru. That moment forged an instant connection with me, and from then on I made it a point to look out for movies and TV shows that featured Luke.

Writer/director Timothy Tau has made a charming 12 minute retelling of the life of the great actor in his short “Keye Luke.” In the film, Luke (Feodor Chin) introduces himself and proceeds to discuss his illustrious career which included over 200 movies and TV shows. From landing his first role in the Charlie Chan movies to providing voices for just about every Saturday morning cartoon show during the 1960s and 1970s, Luke worked in Hollywood for nearly 60 years!

This is a glorious short made with depth and passion. It’s a look at one of the great unsung character actors in Hollywood history, how he dealt with the prejudice in Hollywood and his importance to the Asian American community. Feodor Chin is so good as Luke that several times I had to look twice to make sure I was watching an actor portraying Luke and not an actual clip from one of Luke’s films. Tau appropriately wraps his movie in gorgeous black and white cinematography that helps to fervently celebrate Luke’s great career.

This is a film long overdue and I am grateful to Mr. Tau for shining a light on an unsung American film icon. “Keye Luke” is a fabulous cinematic experience and should be mandatory viewing for all Cinephiles.

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