HONG KONG — Kenneth Tsang, a Hong Kong actor known for his tough-guy supporting roles as cops, crime bosses and kung fu masters, and as a ubiquitous TV pitchman for hair dye, died on Wednesday while in hotel quarantine in the city. He was 87.
His death was confirmed by his manager, Andrew Ooi. A cause of death was not immediately reported. Mr. Tsang was undergoing mandatory quarantine as part of the standard requirement for travelers entering Hong Kong from abroad and had tested negative for the coronavirus a day before he was found dead, the public broadcaster RTHK reported. Hong Kong requires most arrivals to spend at least one week in hotel quarantine.
Mr. Tsang appeared in more than 200 Hong Kong and Hollywood films, often cast as a tough mafia boss, a police officer or a military official, including a North Korean general in the 2002 James Bond film “Die Another Day.” He also had several roles in John Woo films, appearing as an ex-con turned cabdriver in “A Better Tomorrow,” from 1986; a police sergeant in “The Killer,” 1989; and a crime boss in “The Replacement Killers,” 1998.
His roles in Mr. Woo’s action films led to opportunities in Hollywood, where he appeared in 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” and the 2001 action comedy “Rush Hour 2,” in which he played a Hong Kong police captain alongside Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
“Kenneth was a trailblazer who came from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, and his fearless talent helped break down barriers for Asians in Hollywood,” said Mr. Ooi. “We stand on his shoulders and those that came before him.”
He is survived by his wife of 28 years, the Taiwanese actress Lisa Chiao Chiao, and a daughter from a previous marriage, Musette Tsang.
Kenneth Tsang Kong was born in Shanghai on Oct. 5, 1934, and migrated to Hong Kong in 1949. He studied architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, but said he felt his skills were underused in the Hong Kong construction industry. He turned to film and television through the help of his younger sister, Jeanette Lin Chui, who was already an actor.
He later worked for some of the biggest studios during the heyday of Hong Kong’s film industry, including for Shaw Brothers and its television subsidiary, TVB. His breakthrough role in Hong Kong was in the 1983 television adaptation of the kung fu series “The Legend of Condor Heroes.”
Mr. Tsang won a best supporting actor award at the Hong Kong Film Awards for playing a crime family boss in the 2014 movie “Overheard 3.”
But to many in Hong Kong, his most iconic role was in ads for Bigen hair dye that appeared nightly on television for years. His catch phrase: “It can gradually darken, and also immediately darken.”
He continued acting and appearing in commercials into his 80s. And he maintained his interest in architecture, working for the preservation of State Theater, a historic cinema in Hong Kong’s North Point neighborhood with distinct concrete arches on its roof.