Crazy Rich Asians cast members to multi-hyphenate Mindy Kaling of The Office fame are just two of the many great Asian women of Asian origin in the world today. However, this does not imply that we have an adequate supply. Indeed, we’re swooning over these incredible actresses who’ve made their mark on the silver screen.
Chloé Zhao, a Chinese-born filmmaker, made history last week when her film Nomadland, which tells the narrative of a woman who wanders the American West in search of work, won the best drama at the Golden Globe Awards.
Zhao also won the best director award, making her only the second female director and the first female director of color to get this honor at the same time.
For Asian actors and actresses, Zhao’s victory is a significant step forward in the fight for recognition in Hollywood.
1. Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian actress, is often regarded as one of the most successful Asians in the Western world. Yeoh was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, and rose to prominence in Hong Kong cinema during the 1980s and 1990s.
With no professional martial arts training, Yeoh became a star in films like Yes, Madam (with Jackie Chan) and Police Story 3 (with Chan), even though she was originally trained as a dancer.
Actress casting directors were drawn to Yeoh because of her background in action movies and her attractiveness (she had previously been Miss Malaysia and Queen of the Pacific). Even though she returned to Asia to play in the wuxia classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this was Yeoh’s debut performance in Hollywood.
Despite this, notable roles in American films such as Memoirs of a Geisha, The Lady, Crazy Rich Asians, and Last Christmas continue to emerge for the actors involved.
2. Bae Doona
Among South Korean actresses, only Jun Ji-Hyun, the highest-paid star of K-dramas, has a larger international fan base than Bae Doona. It was in the early 21st century that she made her name in the small-budget films that ushered in the renaissance of South Korean filmmaking.
Although she began her career as a relatively unknown actor, Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook, both of whom she later collaborated on films, helped propel Bae’s career forward.
Bae had only been in the film industry for a few years when he became a household name around the world. Tea Date, an American short film, and Linda Linda Linda, a popular Japanese feature, both starred her in 2005.
The Wachowskis’ award-winning adaptation of David Mitchell’s best-selling novel Cloud Atlas (2012) gave her her big break in the United States, but she had to wait a few more years before getting the call to star in it. They hired Bae for their next picture, Jupiter Ascending, a sci-fi adventure.
She’s still been working locally, but in 2017, she starred in another foreign film, #Iamhere, about a French chef and a Korean woman he meets on Instagram.
3. Maggie Q
It is said that Maggie Q was born in Hawaii to an Irish-and-Polish-born mother and a Vietnamese father. Her modeling career took off after graduating from high school in Tokyo, and she then relocated to Taipei before finally settling in Hong Kong.
In 2000, she made her film debut with Edison Chen in Gen-Y Cops, when she was recognized and signed to a management deal. Within a year, she’d landed a small cameo in Rush Hour 2, the second installment of Jackie Chan’s blockbuster Hollywood trilogy.
Actress Q moved to the United States full time in 2006, starring opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III, before dedicating her fully to the lead role in the TV series Nikita, which she started in 2010. In the meantime, Q was hard at work on the Divergent film trilogy, which spanned four seasons.
4. Rila Fukushima
Rila Fukushima, who was born in Kyushu in southern Japan, grew up in Tokyo and dreamed of becoming a model like Q. Fukushima packed her belongings and relocated to New York in order to pursue her ambitions. When her mother fell ill when she was 21, she had no choice but to return home.
A model and actress, she managed to work while also caring for her mother.
Fukushima had been on the radar of Hollywood producers for three years after making his film debut in Karma: A Very Twisted Love Story when he was cast as Hugh Jackman’s Japanese sidekick in 2013’s The Wolverine. Since then, Fukushima has had numerous responsibilities in both Japan and the United States.
Small appearances in Game of Thrones and Blindspot have been followed by starring roles in high-budget productions like Ghost in the Shell.
5. Maggie Cheung
Hong Kong and Asian actress Maggie Cheung is a household name in both her native city and in Europe and the United States. For the first eight years of her life, Cheung was a resident of Hong Kong’s Happy Valley neighborhood.
Cheung went to Hong Kong after graduation to hunt for jobs, and talent scouts were quick to discover her abilities. In the years that followed, several of Hong Kong’s most beloved and famous films included Cheung. Between 1990 and 2001, she received a record-breaking five Hong Kong Film Awards for best actress.
It’s not strange that an outstanding actress like her would want to work outside of Hong Kong. In 1996, Cheung starred in Irma Vep, a cult French film in which she played herself.
In 2004, she won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Emily, a drug-addicted mother bouncing between Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, in the film Clean. Cheung was named best actress at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for her remarkable performance.
After working with Quentin Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds in 2009, Cheung was regretfully eliminated from the final cut of her role as Madame Ada Mimieux, former owner of Le Gamaar cinema, which is where the film’s dramatic finale takes place.
6. Constance Wu
As an Asian American actor, Constance Wu initially planned to work in speech pathology before changing her mind and pursuing a career as an actress in Los Angeles. There were other minor appearances prior to her breakout performance in Fresh Off the Boat.
Chef Eddie Huang is the inspiration for the show, which has been a critical and commercial success. For her performance on the show, Wu herself has been much lauded.
Wu’s fame skyrocketed after starring in Crazy Rich Asians and Hustlers with Henry Golding. Chris Pratt co-starring in the upcoming TV drama The Terminal, Wu will be on our screens for years to come in both live-action and animation musical Lyle, Lyle, and Crocodile.
7. Jessica Henwick
Jessica Henwick, a British actress who has only been in the business for a decade, has quickly established herself as someone to keep an eye on. For the BBC’s Spirit Warriors, Henwick was the show’s first East Asian lead actress. For the job, she trained in Wushu.
In 2015, Henwick was cast in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Game of Thrones, making her a household name. She is now one of the most well-known Asian actresses in the world thanks to her roles in Marvel’s Iron Fist and The Matrix Resurrections.
Henwick is a name to keep an eye on in the next year, with roles in the upcoming Netflix action film The Gray Man and the much-awaited mystery thriller Knives Out 2.
8. Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu, a native New Yorker, has appeared on our screens for more than three decades. Throughout her career, she has appeared on both the big and small screens. Ally McBeal’s Ling Woo and Elementary’s Joan Watson are two of her best-known television performances.
Kill Bill Vol. 2, Charlie’s Angeles, and the Kung-Fu Pana series are among her best-known films. Off-camera With one son, Liu is a very private person, but she is also an advocate for numerous family-oriented groups.
Nora Lum, better known by her stage name Awkwafina, is the first Asian-American woman to win a Golden Globe for her role as Billi in The Farewell, which was released in 2020. Awkwafina, a member of the Oceans 8 cast, first gained recognition as a YouTube rapper.
Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, the Comedy Central series in which she stars and produces has already been a huge success, and the actress will soon be heard as the voice of dragon Sisu in Raya and the Last Dragon and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
10. Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling is no stranger to the world of Hollywood as a comedienne, screenwriter, actress, producer, director, and book. When she was in her early twenties, Mindy Kaling became a writer and actor on The Office, before moving on to appear in her own show, The Mindy Project.
In spite of the fact that she was a South Asian woman in Hollywood and faced prejudice and discrimination, she eventually built a name for herself by playing in important films like Oceans 8 and A Wrinkle in Time. An Indian-American woman, played by Kaling in the Netflix comedy series Never Have I Ever, is inspired by Kaling’s own life.