Asian Americans in Film/TV

Today I'm focusing on Asian Americans in the entertainment field. The names listed here are just a few of the Asian American community in the field but are some of the most recognizable. It's nice to know that all these actors were able to branch away from playing the stereotypical token Asian who is an immigrant and can't speak English. Who are some of your favorite Asian AMERICAN (must be Americans!) actors?

(Information from Wikipedia and

Triva: Pat Morita was the first Asian American (American born) to be nominated for an acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actor- The Karate Kid)

M Night Shyamalan was the first Asian American to be nominated for Best Director (The Sixth Sense)

John Cho: Born in Seoul, Korea, and raised in Los Angeles, Calif., John began acting while studying English literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

He resides in Los Angeles, California. He got his breakout role in American Pie as one of the "MILF" guys, and also appeared in two of its sequels (American Pie 2 and American Wedding). Cho has also ventured into the small screen starring in sitcom Off Centre, and having guest roles on How I Met Your Mother, Til Death, Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty. He is still is most known for his work on the big screen, which includes starring in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and its sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. John Cho will also be in the 2009 remake of Star Trek playing the role popularized by George Takei, Hikaru Sulu.

Lucy Liu shot to stardom in 1998 as the stylish and malicious Ling Woo, a regular on TV's Ally McBeal. Liu, also a model for Revlon, went on to a successful run in movie roles, including 2000's Shanghai Noon (with Jackie Chan), Charlie's Angels (2000, with Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz) and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003, starring Uma Thurman). Her feature films since then haven't found big audiences, but Liu works steadily in films and on television, where she has landed roles on TV in Ugly Betty (in 2007, starring America Ferrera), Cashmere Mafia (2008) and Dirty Sexy Money (2008, starring Donald Sutherland). Her films include Lucky Number Slevin (2006, opposite Josh Hartnett), Watching the Detectives (2007, with Cillian Murphy) and Kung Fu Panda (2008, starring Jack Black).

Kelly Hu is a former model and Miss Teen USA who starred as the sorceress Cassandra in the action movie The Scorpion King (2002). Hu, of Chinese-American descent, kicked around TV during the late '80s and '90s, guest-starring in shows such as Growing Pains and Melrose Place. In the mid 1990s she was a regular on the series Nash Bridges and then had a leading role in the short-lived 1998 series Martial Law. Her film roles include the nasty kidnapper Sona in Cradle 2 the Grave (2003, with rapper DMX) and the evil henchwoman Lady Deathstrike in the X-Men sequel X2 (2003, with Hugh Jackman).

George Takei played Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the television show Star Trek and its many movie and video game sequels. He has remained closely associated with the role throughout his career. Takei spent his early childhood with his family in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. He graduated from UCLA with a theater degree in 1960 and within a few years was appearing in TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Death Valley Days. His run on Star Trek lasted from 1966-69; as Lt. Sulu he calmly piloted the starship Enterprise and represented Asia in the ship's markedly multicultural crew. He reprised the role in six Star Trek feature films, beginning with Star Trek: The Movie in 1979 and ending with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991. He reached a new generation of fans when he became a regular visitor to the satellite radio show of Howard Stern in 2006. The next year he began a series of guest appearances on the TV show Heroes. His 1994 autobiography was titled To the Stars.

M. Night Shyamalan gained renown with his movie The Sixth Sense, which he wrote and directed. It was a box-office hit, earning Oscar nominations that included Best Director and Best Picture.

Born in Madras, India, on August 6, 1970, Shyamalan was raised in the Philadelphia suburb of Penn Valley. He fell in love with cameras as a child, and studied film in college. Also credited as Manoj Night Shyamalan, he is said to have taken the name "Night" when he was away at college.

Shyamalan flopped with his first major theatrical effort, Wide Awake (1998), with Robert Loggia, Rosie O'Donnell and Denis Leary. His next project was The Sixth Sense, with Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment — which made him a hit. He went on to write the much-acclaimed screenplay for Stuart Little, wrote and directed Unbreakable (with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson), wrote the screenplay for Signs (starring Mel Gibson), and wrote, produced and directed The Village. Later films include Lady in the Water and The Happening.

Best known to audiences as Mr. Miyagi, Ralph Macchio's mentor in the "wax on, wax off" school of combat in the 1984 hit The Karate Kid, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita is the most prominent Japanese-American actor of his generation. Morita is also well known for having played Arnold, the amiable diner owner on the hit television series Happy Days, for two non-consecutive seasons (1975-1976 and 1982-1983). His status as one of the most familiar actors of Asian descent kept him working in a variety of projects throughout the 1980s and '90s.

Having spent part of his youth in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, Morita nonetheless emerged with his sense of humor intact, giving up work as a computer programmer to concentrate on stand-up comedy in the early '60s. His major pop culture breakthrough was the role of janitor and karate master Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. An eccentric tutor who at first appears to be using his student for an endless variety of household chores, Miyagi soon reveals the method behind his training, turning the scrawny Daniel (Macchio) into a confident fighter, while also instilling an important message that violence should remain a last resort. The exceedingly popular film made Morita a household name, and audiences were left with the indelible image of a jolly and wise old soul trying desperately to catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks. Morita reprised the role for the two sequels starring Macchio in (1986 and 1989), as well as The Next Karate Kid, which starred future Oscar winner Hilary Swank, in 1994. Morita spent the 1990s continuing to work regularly as a character actor in both television and movies. His film roles included Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993,) and vocal work as the Emperor in Disney's Mulan (1998)

Ming-Na played Emmy-award winning television show, E.R's, Dr. Jing-Mei Chen. With her family, Ming-Na immigrated to the United States from Macau, China, when she was four years old. Early in her career, she won a role in As The World Turns, receiving the first contract role for an Asian actor in daytime television. She has acted in many plays, and also provided the title voice for Disney's animated feature film, Mulan, winning her the first Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Feature Production. She also co-starred in the film, One-Night Stand and The Joy Luck Club and has guest-starred in several TV shows, including Two and a Half Men, Boston Legal and Private Practice.

Kal Penn, is an American film and television actor, and is the incoming Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison in the Barack Obama administration. Penn was born as Kalpen Suresh Modi in Montclair, New Jersey, to a father who worked as an engineer and a mother who worked as a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company; both of his parents are Hindu Gujarati, India immigrants. He has stated that stories of his grandparents marching with Mohandas Gandhi for Indian independence were a significant influence on his interest in politics.

Penn's feature film debut came in 1998 in Express: Aisle to Glory. He has since appeared in American Desi, National Lampoon's Van Wilder, Malibu's Most Wanted, A Lot Like Love, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Dude, Where's the Party?, Love Don't Cost a Thing, Superman Returns, National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, Epic Movie, The Namesake, and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Penn says that he derived his acting name, Kal Penn, as a lark: “Almost as a joke to prove friends wrong, and half as an attempt to see if what I was told would work (that anglicized names appeal more to a white-dominated industry), I put ‘Kal Penn’ on my resume and photos." His audition callbacks rose by 50 percent. Penn has stated that he prefers his birth name and uses "Kal Penn" only for professional purposes.

In May 2007, Penn received the Asian Excellence Award for Outstanding Actor for his performance in The Namesake.In fall 2007, Penn joined the cast of the Fox medical drama House as a fellowship applicant. E! reported that Penn had signed on as a regular on the show. Penn continued with the series through to the episode "Simple Explanation", which aired April 6, 2009. In early 2009, Penn was offered the position of Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison in the Obama administration, which he accepted. In his new role with the Obama administration, Penn will serve as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.

Daniel Dae Kim (born August 4, 1968 in Busan, South Korea) is a Korean American actor. He is best known for playing Jin-Soo Kwon on the television series Lost.

Kim or DDK (as most of his fans call him) was born in South Korea but grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania, in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. Kim is a graduate of Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Haverford College in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a dual major in political science and theatre. His theatre major was completed at the neighboring Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Prior to his casting as Jin in Lost, he was probably best known for numerous recurring roles in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Although his character in Lost speaks mainly in Korean and has almost no ability to speak English, English is actually Daniel's primary language and he is not fluent in Korean. He has been seen in Angel, 24, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Crusade, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Shield and other shows. He also made guest appearances on Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, and ER. He also had a small part in Spider-Man 2 as a scientist working in Doctor Octavius' laboratory.

Kim was named one of People Magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive" in 2005.

Ken Leung was raised in the Two Bridges section of the Lower East Side in New York City. His family moved to Midwood, Brooklyn where he grew up before finishing high school in Old Bridge, New Jersey. He attended NYU as a University Scholar and studied acting with Catherine Russell and Nan Smithner, then briefly with Anne Jackson at HB Studio. He emerged from Manhattan's downtown theater community in the 1990s. He flourished in non-traditional productions that included Jeff Weiss' Hot Keys; Terrence McNally's passion play Corpus Christi; and as Buckingham opposite Austin Pendleton's Richard III. His early career is defined by the relationships he established with theater groups like Ma-Yi, New Perspectives, and STAR, a traveling troupe of actors-educators based in Mount Sinai Hospital. In 2002, he made his Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Leung has gone on to establish himself in mainstream features including two films with Spike Lee and four with Brett Ratner. He played Carter Chong in the final season of The Sopranos and plays Miles Straume on ABC's Lost.

(sorry Losties, Naveen Andrews and Yunjin Kim aren't Asian AMERICANS)


  1. Wow, excellent & informative post. I seem to recall that last year Turner Classic Movies celebrated Asian-American Heritage Month. There were a lot of great interviews and documentaries, in addition to films, featured during that time frame.

    As to other favorite actors...I would add Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta (I think they may be most widely known for the Rogers & Hammerstein film FLOWER DRUM SONG) and Tim Kang, currently on THE MENTALIST.

  2. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I initially thought of Sandra Oh, but apparently she's Canadian (which, actually, is American ...).

    I wondered why they killed Modi off so abruptly on House.

  3. props should also go out to all the asian-american comedians (e.g Henry/Margaret Cho, Bobby Lee, Dat Pham) that are making a name for themselves and developing loyal fan base both. Neighbours, one of the most popular TV shows in Australia just only recently started casting an asian character in this drama (that has been running for over 20years.) hopefully, more asian entertainers can find success in other countries outside of Asian and the US.

  4. Great post! Very informative.

  5. I love when girls talk about being a "Sawyer" or "Jack" girl. I always say, actually, I'm a "Jin" girl.

    I think Sandra Oh counts. Canada is still in the Americas! What about Tia Carrere?

  6. Anonymous7:04 AM

    Yunjin Kim moved to the U.S. when she was 10 years old and went to LaGuardia High School, also known as the "fame" school. Then she went to Boston Univ.


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