17 Celebs Who Were Big Stars In Asian Countries Before Becoming Big Stars In Hollywood, Too
While working as a TV travel host in Malaysia, Henry Golding made friends with an accountant who went on to work on the production of Crazy Rich Asians. When director Jon M. Chu couldn't find a leading man, she recommended Henry for the role.
Hollywood isn't the only place on earth with a booming entertainment industry, and it certainly isn't the only place where you can have a successful entertainment career, either. In fact, plenty of famous people who are familiar to American audiences actually launched their careers in other countries first.
Here are 17 celebs who were big stars in Asian countries before becoming big stars in Hollywood, too:
1.After Michelle Yeoh graduated from university, her friend recommended her for a commercial in Hong Kong with Jackie Chan. Then, she signed with D&B Films and became an action movie star. She starred in films like Yes, Madam and Police Story 3: Super Cop.
She started her Hollywood career playing a Bond girl in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies. In 2023, she received her first Oscar nomination for her role (which was initially written for Jackie Chan) in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
2.After winning Miss India and Miss World in 2000, Priyanka Chopra Jonas made her acting debut in the Tamil movie Thamizhan. Then, she made the leap to Bollywood with films like The Hero: Love Story of a Spy.
In 2013, she had her first American role as a voice actor in Pixar's Planes, and the NFL Network chose her debut single, "In My City," as that season's theme song for Thursday Night Football. In 2014, she signed a talent deal with ABC, and in 2015, she starred in the TV series Quantico.
3.Jackie Chan began his career as a child actor in Hong Kong, then grew up to be a stunt performer. He began acting again when independent film producer Lo Wei cast him in a series of kung fu movies. He found success with movies like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and The Young Master. He rose to international prominence.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at breaking into the American market, he finally found a hit with the international release of Rumble in the Bronx in 1995. Three years later, Rush Hour cemented his status as a Hollywood icon.
4.When Henry Golding was 21, he left his job as a hairdresser in the UK so could try to make it in the TV industry in Malaysia. As a presenter, he hosted shows like The 8TV Quickie, Welcome to the Railworld Malaysia, and The Travel Show.
Though he had no prior acting experience, he knew an accountant who was working in the Malaysian production department of Crazy Rich Asians. When director Jon M. Chu struggled to find a leading man, she recommended Henry as the perfect person.
5.When Chloe Bennet was 15, she relocated from the US to China to pursue a music career. Using her birth name, Chloé Wang, she was a pop star.
However, a few years later, she moved back home and went into acting. After adopting her dad's first name, Bennet, as her stage name, she booked a role on Nashville then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
6.In China, Liu Yifei starred in several successful TV series, such as Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils and Chinese Paladin. She also starred in movies like Love in Disguise and Once Upon a Time.
Though her first Hollywood role was the 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom, she came to international prominence when she was cast as the titular character in Disney's 2020 Mulan remake.
7.Youn Yuh-jung has had a decades-long acting career in South Korea. After taking an extended career break in the US, she returned to Korea and made an impressive comeback with movies like A Good Lawyer's Wife and Beasts Clawing at Straws.
In 2020, she appeared in Minari, her first American film. She became the first South Korean actor to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and the first to win a SAG Award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role. She was also the first Korean actor to ever win a BAFTA.
8.Tony Jaa's breakout role in Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warriormade him a national icon in Thailand. He went on to star in other martial arts movies.
In 2015, he joined the seventh installment of the American franchise Furious 7. Other American movies he's appeared in include Jiu Jitsu and the upcoming The Expendables 4.
9.Iko Uwais was discovered by Gareth Evans, who was hired to film a documentary about silat, a form of martial arts the actor practices. Gareth cast Iko in several action movies he made in Indonesia, including Merantau and The Raid.
In 2015, Iko appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He's gone on to be both the star and action/fight choreographer for several American productions, including movies like Stuber and the Netflix series Wu Assassins.
10.Ang Lee studied film in both Taiwan and the US. After six years of trying to get his movies made in Hollywood, he entered and won a screenplay contest in Taiwan, which got the attention of two indie production companies. He made several movies that were successful internationally, including the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated The Wedding Banquet.
In 1995, he was chosen to direct the US and UK production Sense and Sensibility. He went on to win Oscars for directing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Life of Pi.
11.In 1999, Veronica Ngô moved from Norway home to Vietnam and began her modeling career. She also became a pop star under the stage name NTV, then she moved into acting with the Singapore TV series Rouge and the Vietnamese movie The Rebel.
Her big international break came in 2017 when she played a small but impactful role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She went on to play memorable roles in The Old Guard, Da 5 Bloods, and The Princess.
12.After growing up in Atlanta, Fala Chen moved back to China, where she was born, to be an actor. Her work in productions like Turning Point, Triumph in the Skies II, and Sound of the Desert is known around the world.
After graduating from Juilliard in New York City, she made her Hollywood debut with a minor role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Then, she booked a recurring role in the HBO miniseries Irma Vep.
13.Chang Chen rose to fame in Taiwan for movies like A Brighter Summer Day, which he starred in alongside his father, Chang Kuo-chu, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
In 2021, he made his American film debut as Dr. Wellington Yueh in Dune.
14.Zhang Ziyi made her film debut in The Road Home after director Zhang Yimou saw her filming a commercial. Then, he suggested Ang Lee cast her in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The role brought her to international acclaim and to the attention of Hollywood.
Her first Hollywood movie wasRush Hour 2. Later on, she played the leading role in Memoirs of a Geisha, which earned her nominations for a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and a BAFTA. She currently balances her time between Chinese and American productions.
15.In China and Hong Kong, Jet Li rose to prominence, first as a Wushu competitor, then as an actor in martial arts movies like Shaolin Temple and Fist of Legend. When his debut film was released in the Philippines, the distributors decided his real name, Li Lianjie, was too hard to pronounce, so they gave him the stage name Jet Li.
He made his Hollywood debut in Lethal Weapon 4. He went on to balance his film career in China and Hong Kong with major roles in American movies like Romeo Must Die, War, and, most recently, Mulan (2020).
16.In Japan, Rinko Kikuchi appeared in movies like Sora no Ana and The Taste of Tea, but her global breakthrough came with the international co-production Babel. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, which made her the first Japanese woman to be nominated for an Oscar in 50 years.
She went on to appear in Hollywood movies like The Brothers Bloom, 47 Ronin, and Pacific Rim. She also played key roles in the TV series Westworld and Tokyo Vice.
17.And finally, Ma Dong-seok, who's also known as Don Lee, has been called "South Korea’s greatest action hero." His role in Train to Busan made him an international star.
After Train to Busan, he got casting offers from big Hollywood studios. His made his American onscreen debut as Gilgamesh in Eternals.