John Cho recalls cold terror on set of 'The Grudge'

John Cho stars in the latest American remake of The Grudge.  File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
John Cho stars in the latest American remake of "The Grudge."  File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The Ju-On curse plagues Japanese and American victims in the horror film series The Grudge. There's a new cast in the latest American film adaptation out Friday, but the curse hasn't changed.

When someone dies in the grip of rage or sorrow, their curse plagues the living. A famous image from the Japanese original and the 2004 American remake shows a showering woman feel a third hand in the back of her head. John Cho recreates that scene in the new film.


"My biggest memory of that day is that we were running out of hot water," Cho told UPI in a phone interview. "We were in a house,and we were limited in how much water we had. So we kept turning it off and then we'd yell when it was warm enough. Then they would roll. It was madness."

Cho said he could understand why the shower apparition is a go-to move for the Ju-On curse. There is something particularly horrible "about apparitions appearing when you're naked and wet," Cho said. "I don't know what I could have done as an actor except be taking a shower and be scared."


The actual moment when the hand appears is a special effects closeup based on Cho's real head.

"I'd totally forgotten that they did a mold of my head for that shot," Cho said. "Where the hand is seems like a really tough one to sell with my own head, but that was a prosthetic of me for that particular shot."

Betty Gilpin plays Cho's wife in The Grudge. Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison also play spouses. The film's depiction of diverse couples -- Caucasian women with an Asian and a black man -- without calling attention to it appealed to Cho.

"It's not something that you would mention within the couple," Cho said. "The multicultural cast was part of the attraction to me for the project."

The Grudge is writer/director Nicolas Pesce's third film, following Sundance Film Festival premieres The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing. Cho said Pesce set the tone for him on the first day of filming.

"I remember just being very impressed by how confidently he was running the set," Cho said. "You sort of have to figure out what kind of movie you're in as an actor, absorbing that. ... We just had a handle on what he was doing very quickly just for the first shot. I just felt a real mature assurance."


Cho is nursing a knee injury he sustained on the set of his Netflix series Cowboy Bebop, a live-action adaptation of the anime and manga. That will be his next project when he resumes work.

"I've been in physical therapy," Cho said. "I can't wait to get back. It's the most fun I've had in so long. I just don't see anything even remotely like it in the landscape, so I'm really excited to share it."

Cho declined to detail the circumstances that led to the injury.

"I don't even know if you'd call it a stunt," he said. "It was just a really freak thing."

Three of Cho's previous films have potential sequels in the works. He played Sulu in three Star Trek films. Paramount just hired Noah Hawley to write and direct a fourth, but Cho said he does not know any details.

Cho's 2018 movie Searching might also get a sequel. The film starred Cho as a father searching for his missing daughter, entirely via computer screens. Searching creators Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian have an idea to use the computer screen device to tell a new story, and Cho supports them.

"I know that they wouldn't do it unless they had a tremendous idea that you won't see coming," Cho said.


The franchise that launched Cho from comedy sidekick to leading man was the Harold and Kumar series. Co-star Kal Penn and creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have spoken about developing a fourth film, and Cho said he would like to do another. He's worried the business model no longer supports a low-budget comedy.

"We sort of made those movies for a price in a window when DVD sales were still a thing and you could count on the aftermarket revenue," Cho said. "I'm not sure even financially whether a fourth installment would make sense. We just haven't been down that road yet, but I would certainly love to do it."

The R-rated comedies also poked fun at hot-button topics. The sequel was called Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Cho wonders if the world is too sensitive for Harold and Kumar now.

"I know it's a stoner comedy," Cho said. "I don't want to take it too seriously, but there are a lot of political jokes in there. Even the casting was political, calling it Harold and Kumar and having an Asian and Indian lead characters, is sort of a political statement, too. Anyway, politics are so black-and-white today. I'm not sure how Harold and Kumar fare in 2019. They're pretty agnostic."


Even after his involvement in Star Trek, American Pie and several TV series, Cho says he's still most associated with Harold and Kumar.

"Harold is still what I get called on the streets the most," Cho said. "I have a lot of affection for those characters, so if the right thing came along, I would do one."

The Grudge opens Friday.

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