Thuy Trang (Vietnamese: Thuỳ Trang [tʰʷɪj˨˩ ʈaːŋ˧]; December 14, 1973 – September 3, 2001) was a Vietnamese American actress. She was best known for her role as Trini Kwan, the first Yellow Ranger on the original cast of the television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Trang in 2000
|Died||September 3, 2001 (aged 27)|
San Francisco, California, U.S
|Cause of death||Car accident|
|Resting place||Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, California|
|Known for||Trini Kwan|
|Height||5 ft 5 in (165 cm)|
Trang's father was a South Vietnamese army officer who fled the country in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, leaving his family behind. When Trang was six, she and her mother and brothers boarded a cargo ship bound for Hong Kong, a difficult journey during which Trang became very ill. They reunited with Trang's father in the United States in 1980 and settled in California. She enrolled at the University of California, Irvine to study civil engineering, but switched her focus to acting after a film agent observed her during an introductory acting class and offered to represent her.
Trang was chosen for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, her first major role, after participating in an audition process that included about 500 actresses. Like the other cast members, Trang only portrayed the character in scenes when she was out of her Power Rangers uniform; the in-costume fight scenes were footage adapted from the long-running Japanese television series Super Sentai, with Trang's voice dubbed over the action. Trang appeared in 80 episodes in the series, which included the entire first season, and a portion of the second. She performed many of her own stunts, and repeatedly got hurt on the set.
Trang left Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the middle of the second season, along with fellow cast members Austin St. John and Walter Emanuel Jones, due to contractual and payment disputes. She had a brief appearance in the film Spy Hard (1996), and played one of the lead villains in the film The Crow: City of Angels (1996). Trang had planned to appear in several films along with St. John and Jones, but none were ultimately made. Trang died in a car accident at age 27.
Thuy Trang was born in Saigon, South Vietnam (now part of Ho Chi Minh City, Socialist Republic of Vietnam) on December 14, 1973, to her father, Ky, and her mother, Be. She had two brothers and one sister. Her father, a South Vietnamese army (ARVN) officer, was tasked with protecting Saigon from the communist North Vietnamese army. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he was forced to leave his family behind and fled the country, immigrating to the United States. Trang and her family lived in a detention camp as her father petitioned the U.S. government for political asylum for his family. They fled Saigon when Trang was two.
In 1979, when Trang was six years old, she and her family secretly boarded a cargo ship bound for Hong Kong. It was a very difficult journey, with people packed tightly due to limited space, lacking in food and water. The trip lasted about eight or nine months, and at least four people died. Trang went long periods of time without eating and fell ill, with her mother having to force food down her throat while she was unconscious to keep her alive. At one point, the other passengers wrongly believed Trang to be dead and wanted to throw her body overboard to make more room for the other refugees, but her mother prevented them from doing so. Trang's family and her father were eventually reunited in the United States in 1980, and settled in the city of Fountain Valley, California.
Trang did not speak English upon first arriving in the United States and had to learn it. Trang began studying Shaolin kung fu, and eventually received a black belt. Trang said of studying kung fu:
|“||It's really good because it builds a lot of character and it makes me stronger as a person, especially going through all the stuff I went through, coming over here to America. I just teaches me a lot about who I am and what I am, and about respect, discipline, patience, and perseverance, and endurance.||”|
Trang's father died in 1992, when she was 18. She graduated from Banning High School in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, and enrolled at the University of California, Irvine to study civil engineering. Trang's hobbies included playing tennis, jogging, and reading romance novels. She also had a dog named Nia. Trang planned to pursue a career in engineering, but switched her focus to acting after a film agent observed her during an UCI introductory acting class in 1992 and offered to represent her. Trang, the first person in her family to study acting, said she intended to later finish her education despite undertaking an acting career.
Trang's first acting experience was appearing in a television commercial for the Church of Scientology commercial, even though she herself was a Buddhist. She earned her first major role in 1993 as Trini Kwan, the Yellow Ranger in the original cast of the TV series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Her agent arranged for her to participate in an audition process that included about 500 actresses of various races. Casting director Katy Wallin said the day of Trang's screen test, "Thuy was so nervous that she almost couldn't complete her final callback." She was paired with Jason David Frank, the martial arts instructor and actor who went on to portray the Green Ranger Tommy Oliver, during the audition. It took place before a room of about 20 executives and required each actor to read the part and present their physical skills. Wallin told Trang to run into the room screaming, jump onto the audition table, and perform a karate move. Trang did so, then quietly stepped off the table, did her reading, and walked out of the room. Wallin said of her screen test: "I loved her and was very proud of her fearless approach to becoming the Yellow Ranger." The pool of finalists for the part was narrowed down to 10 actresses, then five, then three, before Trang was finally selected.
The role was originated by actress Audri Dubois in the pilot episode before Trang took over the part. After securing the role, Trang moved from Fountain Valley to Los Angeles to be closer to the set of the show, which she found to be a major adjustment. Trang described her character as having "quick hands and a peaceful soul", and felt the character was inspiring for viewers who have long desired an Asian superhero: "Asians are not portrayed in the media very well, and there are not many roles for Asian people except for the stereotypes – gangsters, hookers, things like that. A lot of older Asian people come up to me and say that I'm doing a service to the Asian community."
While Trang and the other cast members appeared in scenes with the characters out of the Power Rangers costumes, the in-costume fight scenes were footage adapted from the long-running Japanese television series Super Sentai. In that series, the Yellow Ranger was a male character, but the American show producers wanted more female characters in their cast, so they changed the character to a female during out-of-costume scenes and dubbed Trang's voice over the male actor's performance in the Japanese scenes. This is why the Yellow Ranger costume does not have a skirt like the Pink Ranger, who was female in both the Japanese and American versions of the show. The decision to put Trang, an Asian American actress, into the role of Yellow Ranger has received criticism and been the subject of jokes due to the connotation of yellow as an ethnic slur. Producers have said that race had nothing to do with colors of the costumes. Bernardo Sim of Screen Rant called the costume colors a "somewhat problematic decision" and "subtle racism".
Trang appeared in 80 episodes in the series, which included the entire first season and a portion of the second season. Trang performed many of her own stunts. She jogged and exercised regularly during her time on the show to stay in shape, and received training from martial arts experts on the set, including Jason David Frank. New to the acting profession, Trang said she learned a great deal during her time on the show: "I'm finding that acting is all about being honest and truthful in every moment. The camera is so close that it sees everything, so if you're truthful and honest, the audience will know." She believed the show conveyed positive messages to children, particularly about teamwork and having self-confidence. Trang became close friends with co-star Amy Jo Johnson, and the two would often have slumber parties at each other's houses. They were together when the 1994 Northridge earthquake struck, which badly frightened both women, but they were forced to go to the studio for filming that day anyway; no scenes were ultimately shot because the crew did not arrive. Trang repeatedly got hurt on the set of the show, and often had to be physically carried by others during shooting because of injuries. Jason David Frank said of her injuries: "She put her all into the scenes, so sometimes things happen."
Trang left Power Rangers in the middle of the second season, along with fellow cast members Austin St. John and Walter Emanuel Jones, due to contractual and payment disputes. The actors were receiving nonunion pay, in the amount of about $60,000 per year without any compensation for merchandising for the show, which was estimated to be worth about $1 billion. Trang, St. John, and Jones were all represented by agent Ingrid Wang, and they requested more compensation. Amy Jo Johnson later expressed regret that she and the other cast members did not join the three departing cast members in calling for union wages, wondering if all of them standing together may have led to a different result. Within the show, the actors' departure was explained by their characters being chosen as representatives in an international "Peace Conference" in Switzerland. Trang, St. John, and Jones released a joint statement about their departure:
|“||After two seasons as the Power Rangers, we would now like to move forward to the many new opportunities that have been presented to us. Our Power Rangers experience will always remain an exciting and important part of our lives and careers, and it is gratifying that through our participation in the show, we were able to touch the lives of so many young people.||”|
"Opposites Attract", the 20th episode of season two, was the final Power Rangers episode in which Trang personally appeared; her character appears in subsequent episodes, but only in costumed form and not portrayed by Trang. Trang's character's departure was explained in the two-part episode "The Power Transfer", in which the powers of the Red, Black, and Yellow Rangers are transferred to new characters using an ancient magical artifact called Sword of Light. Archival footage of St. John, Jones, and Trang was used in the episode. Trang was replaced as the Yellow Ranger by Karan Ashley, who was chosen from an audition process that included 4,000 actors in five cities seeking the three vacated roles. Jackie Marchand, a writer and producer with the series, said the departure of the three actors was "a difficult shift, and it was pretty intense at the office". Margaret Loesch, president of Fox Children's Network, released a statement about Trang and the other departing actors: "We will always consider them part of the Power Rangers family." Trang said of her departure: "The show was great, it gave me a lot of experience; but it's time to move on, and I'm focusing on doing feature films and becoming more serious of an actress."
Thuy Trang in Encyclopedia of Martial Arts: Hollywood Stars
On January 4, 1995, Trang and her Power Rangers co-stars St. John and Jones hosted an informational session about martial arts as the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where they taught basic techniques to Newt Gingrich and other members of the United States House of Representatives from the 104th United States Congress. Trang and St. John were interviewed on The Encyclopedia of Martial Arts, a 1995 documentary that explored the history of Asian martial arts and the role they have played in the Hollywood film industry. Trang made cameo appearances in martial arts videos made by St. John and Jones. Trang, St. John, and Jones also planned to unite for a live touring stage and arena show. She made a guest appearance at the Little Saigon Tet Festival, an event honoring Vietnamese culture, in Westminster, California, on February 4, 1995. During the festival, she spoke about her time on Power Rangers, other aspects of her career, and her experiences trying to break into film and television as an Asian-American actress.
Trang's first film role was a manicurist in the 1996 movie Spy Hard. Trang was mistakenly credited as playing a masseuse in the film; her screen credit was accidentally switched with Tara Leon, who played a masseuse in the same short scene but was credited as a manicurist. Trang later played a lead villain, Kali, in the feature film The Crow: City of Angels, also released in 1996. She was not cast until very late in the pre-production process, right before filming began. Trang played Kali, a member of a gang led by notorious drug kingpin Judah Earl, who killed the protagonist, mechanic Ashe Corven, and his eight-year-old son after they witnessed Judah's henchmen murdering a fellow drug dealer. Trang's character was killed by a resurrected Corven after a fight scene. Dougal Macdonald, a writer with The Canberra Times who was otherwise critical of the film, described Trang as "deliciously evil". Other reviewers were more negative about Trang's performance: The Advocate writer John Wirt called her "a flop", and Jon Bowman of The Santa Fe New Mexican said her "sneer is her most pronounced feature".
Trini Kwan was included as a cameo in an early draft of Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997), but Kwan's scene was cut from the final film. Trang had planned to appear in several films in the mid-1990s along with her Power Rangers co-stars St. John and Jones, including Cyberstrike, Act of Courage, and Children of Merlin, the latter of which was to be developed by Landmark Entertainment Group. None of the three films were ultimately made. Additionally, Trang was expected to appear in a film called The Adventures of Tracie Z, which also never came to fruition.
On September 3, 2001, Trang was traveling with her friend, the actress and model Angela Rockwood, for whom Trang was to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming marriage to Dustin Nguyen. They were passengers in a car traveling on Interstate 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles, driving back late at night after having visited Rockwood's maid of honor in San Jose. The driver, another bridesmaid named Stephanie, struck some loose gravel in a groove along the side of the street, and lost control of the vehicle. The car swerved violently across the road before hitting the roadside rock face, flipping several times before hitting the safety rail and plunging over the bank and into a second rock face. Rockwood was thrown 35 feet out of the car and survived, but severed her spinal cord and was paralyzed from the neck down. The driver also survived the accident. Trang suffered internal injuries, and after a paramedic placed a tracheal tube down her throat, blood began gushing out due to internal bleeding. A helicopter arrived to take her to the hospital, but she died before arriving there.
Trang's body was cremated a week later on September 10, and her ashes were either scattered or interred at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California. Her Power Rangers co-stars Amy Jo Johnson and David Yost attended the funeral and memorial service. Fellow co-star Jason David Frank could not attend due to the death of his older brother, but he sent his condolences to Trang's family. Jones said of Trang : "It hurt my heart to lose her. She was way too young and had so much more to share with the world. ... Her energy drew you in, and her smile made your heart feel safe." Johnson said: "I'll always remember her spunky, strong personality. She was such a bright light. It's hard to believe she's gone." The episode "Circuit Unsure" of Power Rangers Time Force was dedicated to Trang's memory.
In September 2016, some fans were offended by marketing posters for the new Power Rangers film which they considered disrespectful to Trang's memory. The promo showed an image of the Yellow Ranger (now played by singer Becky G) standing on her Zord, along with the text "Driver's Ed not required." Several fans responded on the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter that the message was offensive because Trang died in a car accident, with several users replying with the hashtag "#JusticeforThuy". The Twitter account official Power Rangers franchise removed the posts in response to the criticism, although international distributor eOne Films, which had also released the same tweets, did not remove them.
During one scene in the Power Rangers film, the Trini Kwan character wears a T-shirt with "1973" on it, the year of Trang's birth, as an homage to the original actress. Austin St. John, Trang's co-star from the original series, said of the new film: "One of the hardest roles for me to accept was Trini's role because Thuy is gone now. It would be tough for me to see anybody in that role."
|1993–1994||Mighty Morphin Power Rangers||Trini Kwan||Lead role; 80 episodes|
|1994||Mighty Morphin Power Rangers||Video game; Voice|
|1995||Encyclopedia of Martial Arts: Hollywood Stars||Herself||Video documentary|
|The Crow: City of Angels||Kali||(final film role)|
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- Trang 1995, 13:50–14:32 "For days I didn't eat and everybody thought I was dead. And they wanted to throw me overboard. ... My mom was the one that fought and said no, that's my daughter. You can't throw her overboard. She literally just like put food down my throat. And that's how I stayed alive. And I came here."
- Trang 1995, 13:25–13:30 "My family, my mother and my siblings, we didn't come over until 1980."
- Trang 1995, 15:32–15:45 "To all the people out there, just live out your dreams. If you dream something, just pursue it and do it because if you put your mind to it, you can do basically anything and everything you want to. I mean, look at me. I came from a country that was falling apart because of communism, and escaping to America, not knowing the language and then learning it from beginning, and overcoming that and where I am now, it just shows you that if you put your mind to it you can do anything you want to."
- Trang 1995, 15:02–15:31 "I study kung fu with Shaolin. It's really good because it builds a lot of character and it makes me stronger as a person, especially going through all the stuff I went through, coming over here to America. I just teaches me a lot about who I am and what I am and about respect, discipline, patience, and perseverance, and endurance, and all that."
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- Trang 1995, 14:33–15:01 "My agent in Hollywood sent me out on the audition and it was like about 500 people were there for the part of Trini. I don't know if they knew what they wanted. But there were like Caucasian girls, black girls, and Asian girls. By process of elimination, it came down to like 10 girls, and then five girls, and then three girls. And then I was lucky enough to get the part."
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