TOP 10 Chinese Actors Who SAVED Hollywood Movies

Chinese New Year is upon us and as we say goodbye to the year of the Rat (seems fitting) and welcome the year of the Ox, we at Scarlett Media are celebrating the top 10 Chinese actors who have saved movies altogether. 

These actors stampeded into Hollywood with the strength of an Ox itself – and became some of the most beloved talents worldwide. So, sit back and relax with some traditional Chinese New Year dumplings and wish us a happy New Year by hitting those “like” and “subscribe” buttons.

10. Lucy Liu 

Chinese American star Lucy Liu’s outstanding and versatile acting has made her a household name around the world. She rose to fame as Ling Woo in Ally McBeal, but became an absolute sensation when she was cast as one of Charlie’s Angels, alongside megastars Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. In that movie, Liu was able to showcase her skills as a badass spy queen, thrilling audiences everywhere with her impressive combat skills. Liu is a master at performing in comedy and action films, once again showing off her fighting talents in Kill Bill and showing off her swoony side in Netflix’s Set it Up. Liu spoke Mandarin before she spoke English and grew up training in martial arts – setting her up for a life of success starring in action films.

9. Brandon Lee

While Lee was born and raised in America, his name landed on our list for a few reasons. The actor had duel citizenship in China and The United States, and of course, he was the beloved son of Chinese actor Bruce Lee.  During Lee’s childhood, he divided his time between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. He regularly visited his father’s movie sets and fantasized about becoming an actor himself one day. His father trained him in martial arts from the time he was a young boy, and after Bruce Lee’s passing when Lee was just eight years old, he began training with famed martial arts instructors Richard Bustillo and Jeff Imada. As a young adult, Lee’s acting career took off. He starred in hit movies Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire. His\ performance in The Crow, however, was the film that fully showed the actor’s incredible talents as an actor. Although he tragically passed away during the making of that film, his is a legacy that will live on forever. 

8.  Anna May Wong

Wong was a breakout Chinese American actress in a time when Asian representation in Hollywood was, well, pretty much zero. She’s considered to be the first Chinese American star in Hollywood, in fact, credited for paving the way for more Chinese representation in Hollywood. Wong was born and raised in America to second-generation Chinese Americans. a girl, she fell in love with movies and dreamed of a career on a silver screen. She began in 1919, at age  as an uncredited extra on The Red Lantern. At only 17, Wong landed a starring role in her first feature film,  The Toll of the Sea – for which she received raving reviews. Still, Wong’s career faced a number of obstacles simply because of her ethnicity. After playing a number of supporting roles in Hollywood and tiring of the limitations and racism she faced, she left America for Europe, where she quickly became a sensation. She starred in a large variety of films and received amazing reviews from the press for every performance. She returned to America in 1930, and her success in Europe helped her to gain traction in the States. She starred in Broadway’s On the Spot as well as it’s movie adaptation Dangerous to Know. Wong is famed and beloved for not only paving the way for future generations of Chinese and Chinese American actors, but for refusing to play stereotypical Chinese characters. She was truly a trailblazer. 

7. Donnie Yen 

Born in Guangzhou, China, Yen’s childhood was centered around martial arts. His mother, Bow-sim Mark, is a Fu Style Wudangquan and Tai Chi grandmaster – a celebrity in her sport. He split his childhood between China and the United States and spent more of his time training in martial arts than, well, pretty much anything else. After attending a 4-year training program with the Beijing Wushu Team,  Yen met combat choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, and became inspired to try acting. After landing a few roles in Chinese action movies, Yen booked a leading role in Once Upon a China II – launching him into celebrity status. In 2002, he starred in Hero alongside Jet Li which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. You might most recognize the action icon from movies like Shanghai Knights and Star Wars: Rogue One. 

6.   Jet Li

Action movie super star Jet Li was born in Beijing, where he began participating in martial arts at the age of eight. He was trained as a young boy by famous coaches Li Jufeng and Wu Bin, who were so impressed by the child’s talents that they supplied food for his impoverished family, in order to help Li thrive. When Li was only twelve, he competed against adults in Chinese Wushu Championships – taking home fifteen gold medals. He was soon a martial arts celebrity, performing around the world. It didn’t take long for the Chinese movie industry to notice him, and then Hollywood. He booked an action-packed trilogy, The Shaolin Temple in 1982, and by 1998, was starring in Lethal Weapon 4, while still learning the English language. Li’s acting skills are nearly as impressive as his talents in martial arts, and soon he was starring in some of our favorite films, including The Forbidden Kingdom, Unleashed, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Most recently, he played the emperor of China in the live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan. 

5. Chow Yun-Fat 

Chow Yun-Fat’s story is so inspiring, it almost sounds like a fairytale. Born in Lamma Island, Hong Kong to a vegetable farmer and Shell Oil Company tanker, Chow spent his childhood working in the fields and selling herbal jelly with his mother on the streets. In college, Chow responded to a newspaper ad for an actor and his life changed practically overnight. Today, he’s a world-renowned actor with three Hong Kong Film Awards and two Golden Horse Awards for best actor. Chow was already famous in the East when he booked his breakout role in the west in the Qing Dynasty epic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He also starred, of course, as Captain Sao Feng in Pirates of the Caribbean. Safe to say you don’t want to get on a Pirate Lord’s bad side, but Chow’s actually a really good guy, who vowed to give his whole fortune to charity upon his death. 

4. Gong Li 

Out of the four Chinese films ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, Li has starred in three of them. Gong was raised in Jinan, Shandong, where she spent her childhood fantasizing about becoming a singer or an actress. Her dream came true when, while studying at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, she booked the lead role in Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum. She subsequentially starred in Zhang-directed Ju Dou, Raise of the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju – two of which were nominated for Oscars. Still, it was Gong’s moving performance in Farewell My Concubine that landed her on the map as one of the best actresses of her generation. For that role, she won Best Supporting Actress at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Soon, she was starring in film after film after film. Today, she has three Hundred Flowers Awards, two Golden Rooster Awards, and a Hong Kong Film Award. 

3. Zhang Zyiy

Beijing native Zhang Zyiy is one of the most versatile stars in Hollywood. Her brilliant portrayal of Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha  blew audiences away worldwide – and she was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a SAG award for best actress. Zhang divides her time between China and the States, booking movie roles regularly in both countries. She has starred in a variety of films across genres, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Rush Hour 2 to the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong – proving that she can master any role she takes on. Her breathtaking performance in 2013’s The Grandmaster won her 12 Best Actress awards – making her the most awarded Chinese actress for a single film. And we can see why. When it comes to acting, Zhang will impress time and time and time again. 

2. Bruce Lee

Hong Kong American legend Bruce Lee will always be beloved for his standout roles in classics like The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and The Game of Death. His martial arts expertise was nothing short of heroic – changing the way the western world viewed the sport and making it one of the most cherished forms of combat to hit the silver screen. Lee changed the way that Americans viewed Asian actors – he became a global sensation and a hero, deepening the connection between the east and the west with his incredible talent alone. Lee is the reason that Kung Fu movies are practically a genre of their own in Hollywood and beyond, and can be credited for literally saving combat style films, by introducing audiences to a style of fighting much more fascinating to watch than some thrown punches and face slaps. Lee is, and always will be, an absolute legend in Hollywood and beyond. 

Before we reveal the number one Chinese actor who SAVED movies forever, go ahead and hit those like and subscribe buttons, okay? Might just bring you some good luck. Or, it will bring us good luck, at any rate. 

1. Jackie Chan. 

One of the most influential superstars in the world, Hong Kong born Jackie Chan has been in over 150 movies since his rise to fame in the 1960’s. He began acting at the age of 6, starring in television and film roles in China before taking his acting career to the west. His hilarious comedic timing combined with his mastery of martial arts, has made him an absolute icon all over the world. His leading role in Rush Hour franchise put Chan’s name on the map – and that series is still praised to this day as one of the best comedy franchises of all time. Most impressively, though, Chan’s comedic roles have never overshadowed his seriousness as a martial arts performer. His combat skills are so impressive that Chan’s name is associated with martial arts expertise – along the likes of Bruce Lee, one of Chan’s dearest friends (and one of the best bromances ever). Chan is an absolute force – and he’s taken his acting to the voice talent world as well, captivating kids everywhere with his roles in Kung Fu Panda and The Lego Movie. Jackie Chan is an adorable, hilarious, kind, and talented worldwide sensation who is and always will be, loved by audiences everywhere. 

What did you think of our list? Any great Chinese actors we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comment section, and we just might agree with you. Or not. But tell us anyway, because we both know you want to. Happy Chinese New Year, friends! Cheers! 

Writer: Laura Townsend
Editor: AB Scarlett
Voice: Scott |
Video: @_FearOK

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