10 Asian Stars Who Have Dropped Into Hollywood

Hollywood is a melting pot of nationalities, including many big names from Asia. 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.

These folks are known in their own countries, and we may recognize and love them for their work at home. That, or we may have seen them in one or more Hollywood films, but have yet to realize their relevance in their respective home countries.

Whether they have yet to find success in Hollywood, or just fated to be a one-hit wonder, is something that only time can tell. Have you seen these actors and actresses’ Hollywood appearances?

1. Kikuchi Rinko

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Origin
Kikuchi Rinko is an actress from The Land of the Rising Sun. She has made appearances in different television dramas, as well as films including 2004’s The Taste of Tea, a voice role in 2008 animated film The Sky Crawlers, and as a lead in the 2010 adaptation of the Murakami Haruki novel Norweigan Wood.

Hollywood
Kikuchi Rinko is currently one of the popular up-and-coming Asian exports to Hollywood. She has made her presence felt to action movie fanatics as Mako Mori in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and as the seductive witch in Carl Erik Rinsch’s 47 Ronin, both films released in 2013.

Before that, she received international attention for her role in the 2006’s Babel, in which she was nominated for multiple awards. From there, she appeared in the 2008’s The Brothers Bloom, in which she only spoke three words of English.

With her success in 2013, we can expect to see more of her in English language movies for a long time.

2. Lee Byung-hun

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Origin
Lee Byung-hun hails from South Korea, and has acted in television dramas and films. His big breakthrough in film came in the 2000 Park Chan-wook directed Joint Security Area, which was the highest grossing Korean film of the time. He has since acted in many popular works, including 2004’s Everybody Has Secrets, 2008’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird, 2010’s I Saw The Devil, and 2013’s Masquerade. He can definitely play the cool, suave, and bad ass characters perfectly.

Hollywood
He has emerged in successful action films, all of which had sure to showcase his hypnotizing physique. He has appeared in both G.I. Joe films as the ninja Storm Shadow, and also in 2013’s RED 2 as the assassin Han. Most recently, he had a short role as the T-1000 in 2015’s Terminator Genisys.

He may have found his place as a Hollywood action hero and villain, and is definitely one of the guys to pay attention to.

3. Edison Chen

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Origin
Born in Canada and representing Hong Kong, Edison Chen is a name known to the ladies, especially those in the industry (ahem). He has gotten into heaps of trouble by being involved in multiple scandals, including a huge one in 2008, with photos depicting him and (read: many) ladies of Hong Kong’s popular scene surfacing. The scandal resulted in only him being the number one searched name on Google in China in 2008.

Before that mess, he had achieved success as a pop star, releasing many albums in Cantonese and Mandarin. Chen has also appeared in a number of films, including the acclaimed Infernal Affairs series, the 2005 Hong Kong adaptation of Japanese manga Initial D, martial arts series The Twins Effect, and 2014’s Golden Chicken 3.

Hollywood
So far, Edison Chen’s crack into Hollywood has been short-lived, with a supporting role in 2006’s The Grudge 2. However, fans who know his face may have giggled a bit when they noticed his short appearance in 2008’s The Dark Knight as a Hong Kong hotel employee.

4. BoA

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Origin
A K-pop fan who doesn’t know of BoA is like one of us not knowing who Michael Jackson is. BoA has been around since her debut in 2000 when she was only 13 years old. She has went on to find success in not only in her home country of Korea, but also other Asian countries, including China and Japan (where many might argue she has had more success).

In addition to her music career of legendary status, she has appeared as a judge on the televised reality talent show K-pop Star, released an English language album in the USA, and has even had a voice role in the Japanese and Korean versions of 2006’s Over The Hedge.

Hollywood
BoA has made her Hollywood debut in the 2013 dance-musical film Make Your Move, alongside Derek Hough of Dancing With The Stars fame. The film has made its premiere in a few European countries and Hong Kong in 2013, and made its US premiere in 2014.

Though BoA might not be impressing many with her acting skills, her dancing will definitely bring smiles to many faces.

5. Sanada Hiroyuki

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Origin
With origins in actor Sonny Chiba’s Japan Action Club, Sanada began his path at the age of 11, going on to find success in martial arts and period films. His long-running career includes many appearances in television and film – like 1981’s Samurai Reincarnation and 1998’s Ring – and theater – including work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in their production of the famous King Lear.

Hollywood
Sanada is one of those faces that many people may recognize, but may not be able to name.

Appearing in many famous Hollywood films, Sanada’s credits include Ujio in 2003’s The Last Samurai, the villainous Kenji in 2007’s Rush Hour 3, Mariko’s daddy Shingen in 2013’s The Wolverine, Oishi in 2013’s The 47 Ronin, and most recently Tamiki Umezaki in 2015’s Mr. Holmes.

Sanada is an esteemed actor and one of the most renowned in the business. Seeing his name on any work prompts many cinema fans to do everything they can to see it. He is definitely one actor to pay attention to, and one who will continue to appear in Hollywood films for years to come.

6. Li Bingbing

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Origin
Li Bingbing’s roots are in China, where she has achieved fame as a singer and actress. Her first big film role was in 1999’s Seventeen Years, and has made her presence known in works like 2004’s Waiting Alone, 2004’s A World Without Thieves, and 2010’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

Hollywood
Li has been making quite the smash in Hollywood as of late. She appeared as the villainous white haired witch in 2008’s The Forbidden Kingdom, starring alongside legends Jet Li and Jackie Chan. She has also starred as one of the leads of 2011’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and as the iconic Ada Wong in 2012’s Resident Evil: Retribution (and its upcoming sequel Resident Evil: The Final Chapter). She most recently proved to even more to be a femme fatale in 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction.

With many accolades under her name, Li Bingbing is another actress we hope continues to find success internationally.

7. Jay Chou

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Origin
Hailing from Taiwan, Jay Chou entertains fans with his work as a singer-songwriter, musician, actor, and director. He has acted in works produced in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Notable titles include 2005’s Intial D, alongside the previously discussed Edison Chen, 2006’s Curse of the Golden Flower, and 2010’s True Legend.

As a director, he made his debut with 2007’s Secret, and has pumped out a second one with 2013’s The Rooftop. Aside from these two films, Chou has directed a few music videos as well.

Hollywood
So far, Jay Chou has made only one Hollywood appearance known – alongside Seth Rogen in 2011’s The Green Hornet. His role as Kato was definitely not one would associate with the Taiwanese heartthrob, making him deliver comedic lines such as “Don’t be a p—y!”

He is involved in the upcoming sequel to 2013’s Now You See Me in a small role. Hopefully what he does is enough to turn some heads.

8. Jun Ji-hyun

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Origin
Jun Ji-hyun was many Korean film fans’ first love when she made it big in 2001’s My Sassy Girl. She has since made many memorable films to her name, including 2000’s Il Mare, 2004’s Windstruck, and 2006’s Daisy.

She took a brief break from making films in Korea from 2009, but in 2012 she made a huge comeback in the 2012 heist film The Thieves, which became the second top-selling Korean movie of all time. Jun continued her streak with 2013’s spy-thriller The Berlin File. She has most recently made waves starring in 2015’s Assassination, which is at current time the top-grossing Korean film of 2015.

Jun Ji-hyun is, without a doubt, one of the established names in Korean cinema.

Hollywood
As mentioned, Jun took a break from making movies in Korea from 2009. This was all so she could make a name for herself in the West. Changing her stage name to Gianna Jun, she nabbed the lead role in the 2009 live-action adaptation of popular anime Blood: The Last Vampire. Jun also snatched another lead role in 2011’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, starring alongside the previously discussed Li Bingbing.

Jun Ji-hyun is still enjoying her success in Korea, and it doesn’t look like there are immediate plans to return to Hollywood.

9. Collin Chou

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Origin
Born in Taiwan but based in Hong Kong, Collin Chou is no new face to fans of martial arts cinema. He has starred in many of them, with notables including 2007’s Flash Point (alongside opposite Donnie Yen) and 2006’s Fearless (alongside Jet Li). Chou also rode a wave of success by starring in the The Four trilogy.

He has worked with nearly all the big names in martial arts cinema. That is because he himself is one of them.

Hollywood
Collin Chou’s most iconic role in Western cinema has to be Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. He has also starred in the live-action adaptation of video game series DOA: Dead or Alive as Hayate, and in The Forbidden Kingdom as the main villain (alongside Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and the previously mentioned Li Bingbing).

Lately, there’s been a slump in Hollywood films that feature martial arts, so Collin Chou has been busy in China. However, be sure to recognize Chou if he resurfaces in another Hollywood action film.

10. Asano Tadanobu

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Origin
Topping off this list is Asano Tadanobu, who is known to fans of Japanese cinema. His long list of notable film credits include 2003’s The Taste of Tea (which also features the previously mentioned Kikuchi Rinko), 1998’s Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, 2001’s Ichi The Killer, and 2011’s Once in a Blue Moon. He definitely proved to be a versatile actor by flexing his comedic muscles in his role as Zenigata in 2014’s Lupin III.

Hollywood
Asano, like many actors on this list, may have a face that many know but can’t name. He made his debut in 2011 as Hogun in Thor and reprised his role its 2013 sequel Thor: The Dark World. He was the lead Japanese guy, Captain Nagata, in 2012’s Battleship, and was the main villain Kira in 2013’s 47 Ronin (alongside Kikuchi Rinko and Sanada Hiroyuki).

His upcoming projects include a role in the anticipated Martin Scorsese film Silence, which is an adaptation of the historical novel of the same name.


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

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