Kwouk grew up in Shanghai before his parents fled the Communist Revolution when he was 17, and the family settled in Britain. They actually already had ties there: Kwouk had actually been born in Lancashire, England. After he attended Maine’s Bowdoin College, a girlfriend hounded him to try acting, and Kwouk was often hired when an “Oriental” character was needed — Chinese, Korean, Japanese — whatever, he took the job. He got a lot of work from the 1950s on, appearing in several TV series (Danger Man, The Avengers, The Saint, Dr. Who, The Harry Hill Show) and films (Goldfinger, Casino Royale, You Only Live Twice, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, Empire of the Sun).
Kwouk is best known for his role as Cato Fong — the houseman/manservant (and martial arts expert) for the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in seven of the “Pink Panther” movies, starting with A Shot in the Dark (1964). One of Cato’s critical functions was to violently attack Clouseau “when he least expects it” to train the hapless Clouseau to fight off assassins. Each scene was crazier than the previous one, completely wrecking the policeman’s apartment — usually to be interrupted by the phone ringing. Cato would calmly answer, “Inspector Clouseau’s residence,” and would then hand the phone to Clouseau — who would then deliver the coup de grâce, knocking out Cato before taking the call. Kwouk’s acting was real: “I don’t know any martial arts,” he once said. “I always just made it up.” He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2011 for services to drama. “Burt” Kwouk died in a London hospice from cancer on May 24, at 85.