Why Ken Jeong Called ‘The Hangover’ the Most Difficult Time in His Life

As movies go, few mainstream productions get as crazy as one particular scene in The Hangover (2009). It arrives when the characters played by Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms are driving around the desert and realize someone is inside the car’s trunk.

When they open the trunk, a crowbar-wielding maniac played by Ken Jeong begins assaulting the three men. While there’s nothing unusual about that, the fact Jeong is completely naked pushes the scene way over the top.

In a scene that was censored in some overseas markets, viewers get a full-frontal view of Jeong as the ruthless Leslie Chow. Over the course of the movie (and both Hangover sequels), Jeong would keep the craziness coming.

But while he went over the top on film, Jeong was dealing with a lot of personal pain at home. Jeong’s wife was being treated for breast cancer at the same time.

Jeong’s wife Tran was in chemotherapy during the shoot

Actor Ken Jeong and his wife Tran Ho arrive at the LA premiere of “The Hangover Part II” on May 19, 2011. | Barry King/FilmMagic

It’s not only dramatic actors who tap into personal pain for performances. While playing Mr. Chow, Jeong’s wife Tran Ho was battling cancer. “It was a magical shoot,” Jeong recalled in a Hangover oral history published by The Hollywood Reporter in 2013.

“My wife was going through breast cancer and chemotherapy at the time.” Jeong said he used it to fuel his performance in the hit movie. “It was part of the reason I was so unhinged in the character; I think I was working out my own demons.”

On the set, director Todd Phillips and Cooper were the only ones who knew what he was going through. And Jeong simply went for broke in a role that made him famous. “Hangover got me through the most difficult time in my life,” he told THR.

As for the film itself, Jeong knew it was a chance for him to break out as an actor. So he made it count.

Jeong got approval from his wife being going naked on-screen

Ken Jeong arrives at the premiere of “The Hangover II” held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. | Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

Before doing the scene, Jeong said he ran it by his wife. She not only told him she was fine with it; she gave Jeong a great story to tell afterward. “It would be the feel-good movie of the summer because every guy would go home feeling good about himself,'” Jeong quoted her saying on the Today show in 2017.

Jeong knew the scene would cause a splash, and it was a big reason he wanted to do it. In fact, he came up with the idea of going naked. “That was my idea,” he said on Today. “I wanted to do something shocking. I’d done only one movie previously and didn’t want to be typecast as a doctor.”

Jeong said if he were going to be typecast as anything, he wanted “to be typecast as a crazy guy. I just wanted to shock everybody.” Jeong definitely succeeded in that respect, and his career took off soon after.

His personal life also had a happy ending. Jeong’s wife Tran recovered from breast cancer following her chemotherapy treatment.

Also see: When Joe Pesci Couldn’t Stop Saying the F-Word on David Letterman