12 Asian Actresses Who Made It Big in Hollywood
Hollywood is a much more diverse place than it was 30 years ago. There are more roles for people from all walks of life. The Asian community, in particular, is finally getting the recognition it deserves. While Asian actresses and actors have been part of the movie industry since the “Golden Age of Hollywood” when actress Anna May Wong (born Wong Liu Tsong) created history as the first Chinese American actress, it’s only recently that they have been getting the props they deserve.
The massive success of the movie Crazy Rich Asians, which features a predominantly all-Asian cast, demonstrates that people want to watch movies about other races and discover more about their culture. Most of the cast is Asian actresses that have been putting in the work for years, while others are part of the new generation of Asian actresses taking the world by storm.
What everyone can agree on is that there are so many incredibly talented Asian actresses in Hollywood today. These women are making moves and appearing in everything from small indies and romantic comedies to Marvel flicks and box office blockbusters. To celebrate these wonderfully creative women, here are some of the best Asian actresses currently getting it done in Hollywood.
12 Asian Actresses Who Made It Big in Hollywood
1. Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh is having something of a renaissance of late. Despite being in the business since the 80s, when she worked with Jackie Chan in action flicks Police Story 3: Super Cop and Supercop 2, it’s only these last few years that the Maylasian star has gotten the praise she deserves. Her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once has blown people’s minds, but if you’re familiar with her work, that wouldn’t be a surprise.
After starting life as a model – she was Miss Malaysia World in 1983 – Yeoh transitioned to film and scored the leading role in the action movie Yes, Madam, which was just her third film. She spent much of the 80s making action flicks before landing her first Hollywood role in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies in 1994.
Over the next 25 years, Yeoh became a familiar figure on the big screen, starring in great movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha, Sunshine, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Crazy Rich Asians, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. As the accolades continue to stream in, you can catch Yeoh in The Witcher spin-off The Witcher: Blood Origin later this year.
2. Constance Wu
Several small movie roles and the lead in the web series EastSiders led to Constance Wu securing the role of Jessica Huang in the hit 2015 TV show Fresh Off the Boat. Based on Asian chef Eddie Huang’s early life, it’s the first show to feature an Asian family on American television in over 20 years.
Running six seasons, the show was a huge success and established Wu as a leading lady. She has since gone on to star in the mega-hit Crazy Rich Asians, stripper comedy Hustlers, musical comedy Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, and action TV series The Terminal List.
3. Lucy Liu
When you talk about successful Asian actresses, Lucy Liu is at the top of the list. For over 30 years the New York-born Asian American has been ever present on our screens, be it in blockbusters movies like Charlie’s Angels, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol.1, and The Man With the Iron Fists, or TV shows such as Ally McBeal, Dirty Sexy Money, and Elementary, where she played Dr. Joan Watson.
Liu has also done a lot of voiceover work in recent years and you can hear dulcet tones in many films including the Kung Fu Panda franchise, the Tinker Bell series, and Magic Wonderland. Lui has also directed several episodes of television and is a keen artist, having had her art displayed in galleries across the world.
4. Maggie Q
Born in the United States, Maggie Q is of Asian descent (her mother is Vietnamese) and another fantastic Asian actress. She moved to Tokyo at 17 to become a model, but after those dreams didn’t eventuate, she moved to Hong Kong and found herself handpicked by Jackie Chan to become his protégé. After seeing her in actioner Gen-Y Cops, just Q’s second movie, Chan cast her in Manhattan Midnight and Rush Hour 2.
Several more Chinese movies followed before Q scored her first American role in Mission: Impossible III. She followed this up with Live Free or Die Hard, Balls of Fury, Deception, and several more Asian movies before being cast in the action TV series Nikita in 2010.
Q has gone on to have a fantastic career since then, appearing in the Divergent franchise, the Fantasy Island remake/reboot, actioner The Protégé, and the TV series Designated Survivor. Whenever she appears in a movie or TV show you know you’re watching something quality.
5. Jessica Henwick
British actress Jessica Henwick is the first East Asian actress to score a lead role in a British television series when in 2010 she was cast as a 16-year-old in Spirit Warriors. She studied martial arts for the role, which helped her land the role of Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones and Collen Wing in Marvel shows Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Luke Cage.
Henwick fulfilled every actor and actress’s dream when she scored a role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. She has gone on to feature in horror Underwater, action movies The Gray Man and The Matrix Resurrections, and whodunit Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, cementing her as one of Hollywood’s freshest talents.
6. Fala Chen
When it comes to Asian actresses making it big in Hollywood, Fala Chen is right on the cusp of stardom. Making her acting debut in the Chinese series Forensic Heroes, Chen has been working steadily in her homeland since 2006 where she is a big star.
She made her American debut in the HBO series The Undoing and got rave reviews. She followed this up with a big part in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and will next be seen in another HBO production, Irma Vep, and the untitled Godzilla vs. King Kong sequel.
These projects are sure to bring a lot more attention to Chen, who has also dabbled in theatre and released her own album. Great things are expected of Chen as she climbs the Hollywood ladder of success.
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7. Bae Doona
Born in South Korea, Bae Doona’s first movie role was in 1999s The Ring Virus, an adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s Ring novel. She has appeared in a variety of Asian TV shows and movies, with those outside of South Korea recognizing her from Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Air Doll.
Her first English-speaking role came in the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending. Despite receiving praise from Western critics, Doona has continued to work in the South Korean film industry, appearing in movies like the drama Next Sohee, crime flick The Drug King, and zombie period drama Kingdom. While some might say she hasn’t exactly set Hollywood on fire, Doona has just won a role in Zack Snyder’s science fiction epic Rebel Moon, so it won’t be long until you see her everywhere.
8. Chloe Bennet
Wanting to be a singer, Chloe Bennet moved from Chicago to China to pursue her dreams in the music industry. She was just 15 at the time she made the move in 2007. While there she lived with her parental grandmother and learned Mandarin, but she struggled to break through with her music.
Returning to the States she decided to give acting a crack, moving to Los Angeles in 2010. After small roles in TV shows The Nightlife and Nashville, Bennet landed the plumb role of Daisy Johnson in Agents of S.H..I.E.L.D. She starred in 134 episodes and many of the digital spin-offs, with the role winning her the “Visionary Award” from Asian American theatre group East West Players in 2017.
Bennet will next be seen in the animated series Abominable and the Invisible City, which is a spin-off of the movie Abominable, of which Bennet was also a part of.
9. Kelly Marie Tran
Kelly Marie Tran thought she had landed the role of a lifetime when cast as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But a torrent of fan backlash and abuse from uneducated idiots about her ethnicity and size put a damper on Tran’s big break. It caused her to delete her Instagram and seek professional help, with Tran even writing an op-ed in The New York Times about her experience, stating she went “down a spiral of self-hate, into the darkest recesses of my mind, places where I tore myself apart, where I put their words above my own self-worth.”
The good news is Tran recovered from the harassment thanks to the support of her family, friends, and real movie fans who did several things, such as retweeting a message of support for Tran and cosplaying as her character for the “Rally for Rose” at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, to show their support,
Tran went on to reprise her role as Tico in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and several animated shows and specials, while also lending her voice to animated features The Croods: A New Age and Raya and the Last Dragon. With the controversy now behind her, Tran is on to bigger and better things.
10. Sonoya Mizuno
You know you’ve made it when you score a role in a Game of Thrones spin-off. Sonoya Mizuno plays Mysaria in House of the Dragons and is one of the best things about the show. The Japanese-British actress has only been acting for a decade but already has some great pictures in her filmography, including Ex Machina, Beauty and the Beast, Annihilation, La La Land, and Crazy Rich Asians.
A former ballerina who danced with several well-known companies, Mizuno has quickly established herself as one to watch. She is also becoming somewhat of a muse for director Alex Garland, having worked with him four times so far, with the upcoming sci-fi actioner, Civil War, set to be their fifth project together.
11. Lana Therese Condor
Making her acting debut as Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse, Lana Therese Condor was thrown into the deep end at the start of her career. After years of studying dance as a child, Condor switched to acting in her teenage years, which has proved to be a successful decision. She followed X-Men: Apocalypse with Patriots Day and hit Netflix movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on the novel of the same name.
Condor returned for two All The Boys sequels while also snaring the main role in the Robert Rodriguez directed and James Cameron produced Alita: Battle Angel. She also has a very successful YouTube channel with over 800,000 subscribers and is another young Asian actress making big moves in Hollywood.
Getting her start as a YouTube rapper (she’s released two albums and several singles), Awkwafina got her first on-screen role playing herself in the MTV comedy series Girl Code in 2014. She went on to host the internet talk show Twak from 2015 – 2017 and landed her first acting role in 2016s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
It’s been all go since then, with Awkwafina appearing in Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Farewell, and Swansong, while also voicing several animated characters. She also stars in her own TV series, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, loosely based on her own life, and is carving a successful path as an Asian American in the entertainment industry.
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