To a casual viewer, 2004’s “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” and its 2008 follow-up “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” are about stupidity, bodily fluids, bodily functions, illegal activity and partaking in mind-altering substances.
That’s pretty much the opposite of the true meaning of Christmas.
Yet 39-year-old, Korean-born John Cho — who portrays Harold (aka “Roldy”) in the latest in the series, “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” opening Friday — asserts that the movies are really about brotherly love and family bonds.
Since the success of the first films, Cho, a UC Berkeley graduate, has worked in TV shows and movies, including a plum role as Sulu in the 2009 “Star Trek” film. He also has become a dad.
Meanwhile, friend and co-star Kal Penn, who plays Kumar, took a job as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Returning to “Harold and Kumar” after all this time seemed unlikely. “We couldn’t play 23 anymore,” says Cho, recently in The City to promote the film. “I just felt like we had to age.”
So as the new movie begins, Harold and Kumar have grown apart. Harold is married, while Kumar still lives in their old apartment. Eventually a Christmas gift brings the friends together again and sends them on another comic odyssey into New York City.
“We’re not comedians, and Kal and I,” Cho says. “The situations are funny, but we never think about how we can be funny. I think our job is to make Harold and Kumar believable as friends.”
The actors’ Korean and Indian heritages strengthen their bond, Cho says. “America thinks about race in black and white, only two poles. We’re sort of in-between. It’s a good source of humor. But it’s also kind of double underdog status for our characters.”
The movie’s show-stopper occurs when the heroes stumble into a full-fledged musical number led by Neil Patrick Harris, a regular in the Harold and Kumar series. Cho says it was his favorite scene to film.
“It’s weird that in a Harold and Kumar movie, I would end up doing something that felt so old Hollywood,” he says.
Weird, but not so weird. “It’s all about love,” Cho says. “That’s how I see it.”
IF YOU GO
Starring John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Elias Koteas
Written by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes