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The Top Asian Stars in Hollywood

Updated on February 22, 2012

Today, many established Asian stars are populating Hollywood in television and film. Although only a handful of Asian actors are in lead roles, most are in supporting roles which is an important member of the cast.

Here are some of the Asian stars who have established themselves in Hollywood:

"Nikita" star Maggie Q
"Nikita" star Maggie Q

Maggie Q

Originally a popular model/actress in Asia, Maggie Q (full name Maggie Denise Quigley), 32, has established herself as a film actress in Hollywood (Rush Hour 2, Around the World in 80 Days, Mission: Impossible 3, Live Free or Die Hard, Balls of Fury, Priest) before her breakthrough starring role on television's "Nikita."

Born to a Polish-Irish Father and a Vietnames-born Mother, Maggie is in her 2nd season on the television show as a "rogue" trained assassin who is trying to stop a secret U.S. agency known as "Division" from recruiting troubled teenagers to become assassins.

"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8pm (Check your local listings) on the CW network.

Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh

Malayasian superstar Michelle Yeoh has been long-established in Asia and Hollywood took notice in her role in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), a joint American-China-Hong Kong-Taiwan production that was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning "Best Foreign Language Film" (for Taiwan).

Yeoh's performance in the film "The Lady" (2011) as Nobel Prize winning-Burmese activist Aung San Suu Siyi has brought rave reviews and further her reputation as a serious actress in Hollywood

The actress is currently in pre-production of her latest film, "Cooktales."

John Cho
John Cho

John Cho

John Cho has forged an impressive career since his breakthrough role on "Better Luck Tomorrow" (2002) with the hilarious "Harold and Kumar" film series with the latest "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas in 3D."

Cho has a busy film career as well as a full-slate of television projects. He just completed filming on "American Reunion" a sequel from the "American Pie" comedy series, finishing up on the science-fiction remake of "Total Recall" and continuing his role as "Hiraku Sulu" on the latest "Star Trek" sequel. In addition, he had a featured role on TV's "FlashForward" (2009-2010) that was unceremoniously canceled by ABC despite critical reviews and current voice work on "American Dad."

The Korean actor has had steady work since 1997 and is considered one of the most successful Asian male actors to date.



Kal Penn
Kal Penn

Kal Penn

Indian-American actor Kal Penn is the other half of the "Harold and Kumar" comedy series who has built up a successful career of his own. Aside from his short stint being on President Obama's White House staff as the associate director of the Office of Public Liason, Penn has built a career that involves stints on film and television.

Penn has appeared on films, "The Namesake" (2006), "Epic Movie" (2007), and "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas in 3D" (2011) and on television on "24" (2007)as a regular on "House M.D." (2007-2009) and guest starring role on "How I Met Your Mother" (2011-2012).

He considers John Cho, Ryan Reynolds, Neil Patrick Harris, and Olivia Wilde as his closest friends. With friends like them, Penn will be considered "employable" for quite a long time.

Sandra Oh
Sandra Oh | Source

Sandra Oh

Sandra Oh is the "anchor" of the cast of "Grey's Anatomy" since 2005 up til now. Oh had a steady career before the hit ABC show with the critically-acclaimed film "Sideways" and "Under the Tuscan Sun" and as the executive assistant on HBO's "Arliss" (1995-2002).

The Korean actress has kept busy in her career with guest starring roles on "Six Feet Under" and a variety of voice work on "Phineas and Ferb," "The Proud Family," "Robot Chicken," "American Dragon: Jake Long," and "American Dad."

"Hawaii 5-0 Stars Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim
"Hawaii 5-0 Stars Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park are successful stars on the same show "Hawaii 5-0."

Before becoming a regular on 5-0, Park was a regular on "Battlestar Galatica" (2005-2009) and "Edgemont" (2001-2005).

Kim on the other hand was a regular on the hit show "Lost" (2004-2010) before starring in Hawaii 5-0. Kim began his career as far back as 1992 where he made appearances on "Law and Order" (1994) and "Beverly Hills 90210" (1997).

Park's early career stems from appearances on "Battlestar Galactica" which was a TV mini-series in 2003 and 2008-2009, as a tv movie in 2007. Her career started in 1997.


Chow Yun Fat
Chow Yun Fat | Source

Chow Yun Fat

Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat is considered along with Jackie Chan as the "Dean of Asian actors" in Hollywood. He is already considered a superstar in Asian cinema in John Woo action films "Hard Boiled," "The Killer" and "A Better Tomorrow" and many other films, so American cinema is fortunate to have such a talented actor of his stature.

The actor has been alternating film projects in America as well as Asia. His most famous role that most Americans remember him by would be his starring role on "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) which won the Oscar for "Best Foreign Language Film." His appearances on American cinema have been too few and too far between. Starting In 1998, he filmed "The Replacement Killers" ; in 2003 "The Bulletproof Monk"; in 2007 "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"; and in 2009 "Dragonball: Evolution." In between those years, he has been filming successful films in Asia much to the delight of Asian fans.

One has to wonder why the actor would bother make an American film when he is already highly- successful in Asia. Of course, we are talking about Chow Yun Fat, who takes his craft seriously, and it wouldn't matter whether the film is made for Asian or American audiences.



Ming Na
Ming Na

Ming Na

Macau-born Ming Na has had a long career in television that began on the daytime soap "As the World Turns (1988-1991) and then her breakthrough role on the critically-acclaimed film, "The Joy Luck Club" (1993).

Her television work since then has been steady and has involved such successful shows as "The Single Guy" (1995-1997), "ER" (1995-2004), "Two and A Half-Men" (2007-2010), "SGU Stargate Universe" (2009-2011), and various guest appearances on TV shows ("Private Practice," "Boston Legal," "Eureka," and "George Lopez") and voice work on animated series (The Batman, Spawn, and the films "Mulan 1 & 2").

Ming Na's face is easily recognizable to American audiences and makes her one of the most successful female Asian stars on TV.

Tim Kang
Tim Kang | Source

Tim Kang

Tim Kang, known as "Kimball Cho" on TV's "The Mentalist" (2008 - present) has quietly forged an impressive list of credentials that started with "The Sopranos" (2002) and the film "Two Weeks Notice" (2002). People also remember him as "the straight man" on the "At&t commercials."

Kang, who is of Korean descent, has made guest appearances on numerous TV shows such as "The Forgotten" (2004), "Third Watch" (2004), "Ghost Whisperer" (2006), "Monk" (2007), and "The Office" (2007).

He also appeared on the film "Rambo" (2008) as the character "En Joo."

Kelly Hu
Kelly Hu | Source

Kelly Hu

Hawaiian-born Kelly Hu, has a large body of work in Hollywood, since appearing on the hit TV show "Growing Pains" (1987-1988) as Kirk Cameron's love interest "Melia." The former Miss Teen U.S.A has been a mainstay on television starting from "21 Jumpstreet," "Melrose Place," "Sunset Beach," "Nash Bridges" (1997-1998), "Martial Law" (1998-2000), "CSI: NY" (2005-2006), NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, "Vampire Diaries" (2010-2011), and a recurring role on "Hawaii 5-0."

In films, Hu has been featured in "X2" (2003), "Cradle to the Grave" (2003), and "The Scorpion King" (2002).

Hu was the first Asian-American to appear on the cover of Maxim, which was the biggest selling issue in the magazine's history at the time.


Jennifer Tilly
Jennifer Tilly | Source
Meg Tilly
Meg Tilly | Source

Sisters Jennifer and Meg Tilly

Acting sisters Jennifer, 53, and Meg Tilly, 51, who are Chinese-Irish, have been established in Hollywood for more than 20 years.

Jennifer has appeared in such movies as "Fabulous Baker Boys," "Liar, Liar," "Bride of Chucky," "Bruno," "The Haunted Mansion," and the voice of "Celia" in "Monsters Inc.."

Meg on the other hand has appeared in "The Big Chill," "Psycho 2," "Agnes of God" (nominated for an Oscar for "best supporting actress"), "The Two Jakes," "Body Snatchers," and an appearance on TV's "Caprica" (2010).

Jennifer is a competitive poker player, winning an "open tournament" in 2005 and is seen at most celebrity poker tournaments, while sister Meg retired from acting in 1995 to raise a family before her return in 2010 in "Caprica."


BD Wong
BD Wong | Source

BD Wong

BD Wong is one of the few Asian actors who has won a Tony Award and numerous other awards in his critically-acclaimed performance on "M. Butterfly." The Chinese actor made a successful transition from Broadway to television/film with films "The Freshman" (1990), "Father of the Bride" (1991), "Jurassic Park" (1993), "The Ref" (1994), "Father of the Bride 2" (1995) and on television with "All American Girl," "Chicago Hope," "Oz" (1997-2003), and "Law and Order: SVU" (2001-2011).

Wong is currently filming "White Frog" and he just completed a TV pilot for a series called "Awake."

Tamlyn Tomita
Tamlyn Tomita | Source

Tamlyn Tomita

Filipino-Okinawan actress Tamlyn Tomita started as the "love interest" of actor Ralph Macchio on "Karate Kid 2" (1986) and never looked back. She would also star in the critically-acclaimed film, "The Joy Club" (1993).

Tomita would have a fruitful career mostly on television that includes "Chicago Hope," "Will & Grace," "Nash Bridges," "Crossing Jordan" and then regular stints on "JAG" (2002-2003), "24" (2002-2003), "Stargate:Atlantis" (2006-2008), the soap "General Hospital" (2008-2009), "Eureka" (2006-2009), and "Law and Order: LA" (2010-2011).

She is currently in post-production on films "Teacher of the Year" and "Nomads."

Jet Li
Jet Li

Jet Li

Chinese martial artist/actor Jet Li was an established star in Asia before making his mark in Hollywood. His smashing debut as the villain "Wah Sing Ku" on "Lethal Weapon 4" made Hollywood take notice! He would soon follow with films "Romeo Must Die" (2000) and "Kiss of the Dragon" (2001).

Like other established Asian actors, he never forgot his roots and would go back and make successful and critically-acclaimed films like ("Hero," "Fearless," and "War") in his native Asia. Of course, he would return to the U.S. to make entertaining films like "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (2008) and "The Expendables" (2010).

Jet Li is one of 3 Asian martial artists (the others being Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan) to have a successful movie career in Hollywood.

He is currently in post-production on "The Expendables 2."


Lucy Liu at a recent "Kung Fu Panda 2" premiere!
Lucy Liu at a recent "Kung Fu Panda 2" premiere!

Lucy Liu

New York native Lucy Liu has had a prolific career in Hollywood in both television and film. From humble beginnings with "Beverly Hills 90210" (1991) and "L.A. Law" (1993) to "Charlie's Angels" (2000) and "Kill Bill 1" (2003) to the current TV show "Southland," Liu's opportunities in Hollywood have been an endless array of work for a girl from Queens.

She is one of the most successful Asian actresses on the scene today.

Lucy Liu is currently in post-production on "Nomads" and "The Man with the Iron Fists."

Superstar actor Jackie Chan waves to his adoring fans!
Superstar actor Jackie Chan waves to his adoring fans!

Jackie Chan

The incomprable Hong Kong star Jackie Chan, who turned martial arts into ballet, and added a unique blend of comedy to the genre is a bonafide superstar in both International and American cinema. Using his acrobatic training, Chan would become a film-making machine, producing up to more than a 100 films in his career that started in 1962 as an 8 year old.

He would appear briefly in Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" but little did everyone know that Chan would begin a career that would be an international success.

Chan became famous in America for his "buddy movies" with Chris Tucker on "Rush Hour 1 & 2 & 3" and with Owen Wilson on "Shanghai Noon" (2000) and "Shanghai Surprise" (2003). However, Burt Reynolds noticed him back in 1981 to have him star in "Canonball Run" and Chan developed a cult-following among Western audiences with "Rumble in the Bronx" (1995).

While Bruce Lee had a brief but iconic career, Jackie Chan has taken stardom as an Asian actor to another level in Hollywood, where he too will be recognized and have an iconic status in American and International cinema.

Zhang Ziyi
Zhang Ziyi
Maulik Pancholy
Maulik Pancholy | Source
Ken Watanabe
Ken Watanabe | Source

Other Asian Actors and Actresses

  • Vanessa Hudgens -- is an up and coming actress, starting from Disney to feature films such as "High School Musical," "Sucker Punch," and upcoming films "Journey 2: Mysterious Island" and "Gimme Shelter.'
  • Gong Li -- popular international actress with U.S. films "Miami Vice" and "Memoirs of a Geisha"
  • Zhang Ziyi -- popular international actress with U.S. films "Rush Hour 2" and "Memoirs of a Geisha."
  • Maulik Pancholy --- Indian-American actor who was a regular on "30 Rock," "Weeds," and "Whitney."
  • Mindy Kaling --- Indian-American actress who was a regular on "The Office" and appeared on films "The 40 Year-old Virgin" and "No Strings Attached."
  • Mark Dacoscos -- "Iron Chef America" host and guest appearance on "Hawaii 5-0"
  • Sung Kang -- "Fast and the Furious" film series, "Live Free or Die Hard," and from the landmark Asian film "Better Luck Tomorrow."
  • Masi Oka --- currently on "Hawaii 5-0." Roles on TV's "Heroes" and "Scrubs" and films "Get Smart" and "Friends with Benefits."
  • Russell Wong --- "Mummy 2" and known for "Vanishing Son" TV series. Had been making films in Asia for the past two years.
  • Daniel Henney --- "X Men Origins: Wolverine" and on TV's "Three Rivers" (2009-2010)
  • Aziz Ansari --- on TV's "Parks and Recreation" and was recently seen on "What's Your Number?" and "30 Minutes or Less."
  • Joy Bisco --- successful soap opera actress who appeared on "Port Charles," "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "Days of Our Lives."
  • Anna Marie Perez de Tagle --- "Hannah Montana," "Camp Rock 1 & 2" and "Fame" (2009).
  • Margaret Cho --- "Drop Dead Diva," "The Ghost Whisperer," and "30 Rock."
  • Bobby Lee -- "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas" (2011), "Pineapple Express" (2008) and on TV's "Mad TV."
  • Freida Pinto and Dev Patel --- from "Slumdog Millionaire" fame are listed as "Hollywood's Upcoming Asian stars." Pinto recent film was "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" while Patel will appear in the upcoming "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."
  • Ken Watanabe --- recent films "Inception," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Memoirs of a Geisha," and "Last Samurai."

Asian Stars, Moving Up the Ladder?

In one time or another, each racial group has had to climb up the Hollywood ladder to become established and successful in the entertainment industry. Some groups take a little bit more time than others, but one things for sure, Asian stars are slowly increasing in numbers. Television is a medium where Asian actors have the most opportunity, thanks to the addition of cable networks. The film industry has regressed recently in casting non-Asian actors to play Asian characters in "The Last Airbender" (2010) and "21" (2008) with the studios' explanation that there were "no marketable Asian actors" to play the roles.

Despite the ridiculous explanations by these studios and protests by Asian organizations, the Asian acting community can only move forward and hopefully the movie studios can learn from their experience. This basically means that the community must work even harder to become well-known in Hollywood and, believe me, they are not strangers when it comes to "hard work."

After all, Asians have successfully infiltrated the ranks "behind-the-camera" as Directors, producers, writers, and executives so it is only a matter of time when Asian actors will make their presence fully-known in front of the camera.

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