10 Asian Stars Who Have Dropped Into Hollywood, Part 2

Hollywood is a melting pot of nationalities, including many big names from Asia. Here, we talk about ten more big names. How many do you know?

By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on

Hollywood is the big stage for actors and actresses around the world. Over the years, more and more talented folks from across the globe have been becoming established names. Whether it be from the UK, France, Australia, even our neighbor Canada, Hollywood has become as much a melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities as the US itself.

This doesn’t discount celebrities from Asia. In the past, we have seen folks with well-established careers in Asia become just as relevant in Hollywood. These names include Jackie Chan, Sonny Chiba, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, and Watanabe Ken.

However, there are more folks who have been popping up in Hollywood films in recent years, and we want to take the time to point them out.

Last time we mentioned ten stars that have been steadily making a name for themselves in the West. Today, we’ll talk about ten more. Do you know these actors, and have you seen their appearances in Hollywood films?

1. Tony Jaa


Tony Jaa comes from Thailand, and is known for bringing his twist on Muay Thai to the attention of martial arts cinema fans all over the world. His breakout hit was 2003’s Ong Bak, and continued to blow up in popularity with 2005’s Tom Yum Goong (known internationally as The Protector). He took a break from filming in 2010 to become a Buddhist monk, but has since returned to the big screen with 2013’s Tom Yum Goong 2.

So far, Jaa has made a huge impact in 2015’s mega blockbuster Furious 7. He starred alongside internationally loved action stars Jason Statham, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Vin Diesel, and the late Paul Walker. Jaa had also starred alongside Dolph Lundgren in the Thai and American co-produced Skin Trade, but it wasn’t a big hit critically or commercially.

But with Jaa as one of the biggest names in martial arts cinema today, we can expect huge things from him soon in the future.

2. Fan Bingbing


Not to be confused with Li Bingbing, whom we also mentioned in our previous article, this Chinese actress and singer has made waves since her debut on TV in the late 90s. She has quite a long filmography, but some of her biggest hits were 2007’s Lost in Beijing, 2009’s Bodyguards and Assassins, 2011’s Shaolin, and 2012’s Double Xposure.

In addition to Chinese works, she has also starred in international productions, including 2009 joint Chinese-Korean film Sophie’s Revenge, 2011 Korean film My Way, and 2011 French film Stretch.

So far, Fan has made one appearance in Hollywood, and that is in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past as the superhero Blink. The role didn’t have too much dialog, but apparently she has a four film contract with 20th Century Fox, so we can expect her to show up in more X films.

3. Yakusho Koji


One of the most prolific actors in Japan, Yakusho Koji made it big when he performed the lead part in 1996’s Shall We Dance. The film inspired the Hollywood remake of the same name, which starred Richard Gere as Yakusho’s character. He has worked with director Kurosawa Kiyoshi in numerous films, such as 1997’s Cure, 2006’s Retribution, and 2008’s Tokyo Sonata.

He has collaborated with many other renowned directors, including Miike Takashi, Nakashima Tetsuya, Mitani Koki, and most recently, Hosoda Mamoru. One of his most notable collaborations was with Narushima Izuru in Rengō Kantai Shirei Chōkan: Yamamoto Isoroku, in which he played the titular World War II naval commander-in-chief.

Yakusho has made only a couple appearances in western films. He was one of the only lead Japanese cast members in the controversial 2005 adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha. He was also standing alongside Kikuchi Rinko in the internationally co-produced Babel, in which he played Kikuchi’s character’s father.

Though his stint was brief, we can easily see Yakusho coming back. Though, it seems like we would have to wait for some time before that happens.

4. Zhou Xun


Multi-award winning Zhou Xun is regarded as one of the “Four Dan Actresses” in China. The term is used to identify the most bankable young actresses of the early 2000s, and Zhou shares this title alongside Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Wei, and Xu Jinglei.

Zhou has been in many films, with some notable ones being in 2005’s Perhaps Love, 2008’s The Equation of Love and Death, 2008’s Painted Skin and its 2012 follow-up, and 2011’s The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.

She is definitely one of the most steaming Chinese actresses today, and she has the chops to back it up.

So far, Zhou has made one appearance in a Hollywood flick, but it was a major one. She had a supporting role in the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, which was directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. In the film, she played three characters, all of whom were scattered across the story’s massive timeline.

Was it enough to secure future roles in Hollywood? Maybe not. But, she still keeps busy in China, so fans are definitely kept happy.

5. Donnie Yen


One of the biggest names in martial arts cinema, Hong Kong-based Donnie Yen is not only a world renowned action star, but also director, producer, and action choreographer. Donnie Yen’s name is up there among the bit names of cinematic martial arts, along with the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and some may argue, Bruce Lee.

It’s near impossible to list all of Yen’s amazing roles, but the Ip Man series, based on the life of Bruce Lee’s master, have definitely brought him international stardom. That is, more than the enormous amount he already had.

Yen has been dropping into Hollywood for decades. He made his first big splashes in 2000’s Highlander: Endgame and 2002’s Blade II, both of which he was also credited as action choreographer. The wushi master also starred opposite Jackie Chan in 2003’s Shanghai Knights

The future holds big plans for Donnie Yen. It was recently announced that Yen was to join the cast of the epic space opera Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is slated to release in late 2016.

6. Yu Nan


Chinese actress Yu Nan is perhaps best known for her collaborations with director Wang Quan’an, who was also her partner for ten years. Their work started with 1999’s Solar Eclipse, which was both of their debuts. Yu and Wang’s collaborative efforts continued with 2004’s Jingzhe, 2006’s Tuya’s Marriage, and 2009’s Weaving Girl.

Yu has found much success in China, going on to act in films such as 2013’s Silent Witness and No Man’s Land.

Yu is fluent in Mandarin, French, and English. While starring in numerous international films, her Hollywood appearances consists of 2008’s Speed Racer and 2012’s The Expendables 2, the latter of which was Yu’s second time working with Dolph Lundgren. The first time was in the Chinese/Canadian joint production Diamond Dogs.

With Yu’s multilingual mastery, it’s no doubt that we will see her in Hollywood roles sometime in the future.

7. Ninomiya Kazunari


Fans of Japanese pop music will instantly recognize this member of boy band Arashi. Ninomiya Kazunari not only is a successful singer, but has also found fame in films, stage plays, and TV dramas.

He is known to anime fans for his performances as the lead of 2011’s Gantz and its sequel, and also as the voice of Koro-Sensei in the 2015 live-action adaptation of Assassination Classroom.

Ninomiya has made only one Hollywood appearance thus far. He appeared alongside well-established international star Watanabe Ken in the 2006 Clint Eastwood film, Letters from Iwo Jima.

With no future plans in Hollywood set as of right now, Ninomiya is a busy man with enough kinds of activities to keep him occupied in Japan.

8. Gong Li


A fan of Chinese cinema who does not know of Gong Li is very rare. Gong made her film debut in which was also director Zhang Yimou’s – 1987’s Red Sorghum. She has worked again and again with Zhang in films such as 1990’s Ju Dou, 1991’s Raise the Red Lantern, 1994’s To Live, and most recently, 2014’s Coming Home.

Some of her other notable performances are found in 1993’s Farewell My Concubine, 2000’s Breaking the Silence, and 2006’s Curse of the Golden Flower. So obviously, she has worked with most, if not all, of the big names in China and Hong Kong.

Gong Li has found much fame and success in the West. She first landed in 1997 with Chinese Box. But, it wasn’t until she was featured in 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha that she started attracting attention. In the film, she starred alongside other big-name Asian stars Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Watanabe Ken, and Yakusho Koji.

She has since shown her face with major roles in 2006’s Miami Vice and 2007’s Hannibal Rising. A notable thing about each of her English speaking roles is that she had to learn most of her lines, if not all, phonetically.

The West is long overdue for a film featuring Gong Li. But, it looks like for the meantime, we will have to enjoy her Chinese flicks.

9. Ishibashi Ryo


Hailing from Japan, Ishibashi is a recognizable face to fans of the Japanese horror genre. He has starred in Miike Takashi’s 1999 film Audition, and Sono Shion’s 2002 flick Suicide Club. He came back to work with Miike again in the 2012 adaptation of the hit video game series Ace Attorney, playing the film’s antagonist.

Ishibashi is one of the rare names who have arguably found equal success in Hollywood. Japanese horror fans will recognize him from the Hollywood remakes of Ju-OnThe Grudge and The Grudge 2.

However, Ishibashi first appeared in Hollywood starring alongside Viggo Mortensen in the gangster flick American Yakuza in the 90s. Ishibashi came back a few years later, though playing another role, in the follow-up called Back To Back.

He then had the opportunity to work in more crime flicks. First was in director Kitano Takeshi’s Hollywood debut, 2000’s Brother, and in 2007’s War, which also starred Jason Statham and Jet Li.

Ineed, Ishibashi has worked with some big names. It would be no surprise if he came back to work with more!

10. Bae Doona


Coming from Korea is Bae Doona. She is one of the prime actresses in the country today, and has even appeared in films across the sea in Japan.

Some of her notable roles are 2001’s Take Care of My Cat, 2002’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and 2005’s Linda Linda Linda. However, she really gained a lot of attention after starring in 2006’s super successful The Host, which became Korea’s highest grossing film at that time.

She has since had lead roles in critically acclaimed films like 2009’s Air Doll, 2012’s As One, and 2014’s A Girl At My Door.

Fans of the Wachowskis will recognize Bae from their film Cloud Atlas, in which she starred alongside Zhou Xun. She has continued to work with the Wachowskis in their most recent big screen venture, Jupiter Rising.

Most recently, she has made waves starring in the Wachowski’s Netflix web series Sense8. So, it seems like if that Wachowskis continue to make new ways to entertain us, it will be likely that they will bring Bae Doona along for the ride.

Which Asian actor/actress are you cheering for in their journey to achieve Hollywood fame? Let us know in the comments!

And don’t worry; we know many more Asian stars have been popping up all over Hollywood. Stay tuned for the next time we can shine our spotlight on them.

About the Author

Raymond Arcega


Follow Ray on Twitter and chat with a fellow cinema nut. He also tweets about tokusatsu, assorted geekery, and life and adventures in Japanland.