Let us cut to the chase. When it comes to big Hollywood productions, there have not been many roles extended to Southeast Asian actors. The most recent trailer for Disney’s upcoming animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon, further highlighted that problem.
The animated film, which is inspired by Southeast Asian cultures, has drawn flak with regards to Asian representation. Despite having a mostly Asian cast, some have pointed out that Kelly-Marie Tran, who voices Raya, is only one of the few Southeast Asian actors in the film.
Still despite ruffling some feathers, we dare say that there is no shortage of talents coming from the region. Stars like Michelle Yeoh and Fann Wong helped blaze that trail to Hollywood decades ago. Now a new batch of Southeast Asian actors are following suit, utilising their talents to secure roles in major productions.
Here is a quick rundown of acting talents from the region who are making a name for themselves in Hollywood.
Renowned for his martial arts skills, Jaa captivated audiences in his starring role in the 2003 film, Ong Bak. He would lead the series until 2010 before making the leap to Hollywood for a role in 2015’s Furious 7. Two years later the action star scored another role opposite Vin Diesel for xXx: Return of Xander Cage. In the film, the Thai actor portrayed a fellow xXx agent named Tien. Jaa continues to be active in films in both Hollywood and Asia. Most recently he shared the big screen with Milla Jovovich in the video game adaptation of Monster Hunter.
Like Jaa, Uwais has also utilised his skills as a martial artist to secure himself several action-oriented roles. His path to stardom was lit after he led the Indonesian action-thriller The Raid: Redemption in 2011. Transitioning to Hollywood soon thereafter, Uwais featured in films such as Mile 22, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Stuber. In 2019, the Indonesian scored a starring role for Netflix’s supernatural action series, Wu Assassins. The same year he joined Jaa in the martial arts action flick Triple Threat. Uwais will be next seen on screen in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, due out later this year. In the film, he will portray Hard Master, the head of the Arashikage Clan who trains ninja warriors.
Born in Quezon City, Philippines, Reggie Lee has lent his talents to several blockbuster films over the years. This includes roles in films like The Dark Knight Rises, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Tropic Thunder. His first big break though was a supporting role in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. In addition to film, Lee has also featured prominently on television with parts in Grimm, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Fugitive. His next gig will be in the American action thriller film, Sweet Girl, starring Jason Momoa.
The Vietnam-born actress has been making impressive strides in Hollywood in the last few years. An established pop star in Vietnam where she has six albums to her name, Ngo transitioned to acting in 2004. Her roles in 2007’s The Rebel and 2019’s Furie solidified her status as a top star in her country. But she has also quickly established her credentials in the US with several scene-stealing roles. Star Wars fans will remember her short but memorable role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the film, Ngo portrayed Paige Tico, the character who blew up a First Order Dreadnought in the film’s beginning. Just last year she scored two key roles in Da 5 Bloods and The Old Guard for Netflix. Her portrayal as immortal warrior Quynh in the latter suggests a significantly bigger role to come in the Netflix sequel.
A familiar face in Hollywood thanks to his impressive and diverse body of work, this Singaporean-born actor started his career in the mid-90s but truly gained recognition in the mid-2000s. You may remember him in The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion and Independence Day: Resurgence. If TV is more your cup of tea, then maybe Serangoon Road, Arrow or Marco Polo will spring to mind. Considered one of Asia’s greatest actors, Han will play the part of Shang Tsung, in the Mortal Kombat reboot.
Former Judo athlete turned actor, Taslim broke through the ranks in film in the 2011 actioner The Raid: Redemption. In the past decade, he has starred in productions such as Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond. Taslim has also featured prominently in the Cinemax series Warrior where he puts his martial arts background to good use. In fact, that may well be the reason why the producers of Mortal Kombat came knocking at his door. We cannot think of anyone better to fill the shoes of iconic character Sub-Zero in the upcoming reboot.
Born in Sarawak, Malaysia, Golding achieved fame as a TV host and model before Hollywood came a-calling. His breakout role in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians instantly opened up acting opportunities on which Golding was quick to capitalise. The same year he starred opposite Blake Lively in the crime thriller, A Simple Favour. He also solidified his leading man status starring with Emilia Clarke in the rom-com Last Christmas in 2019. His most recent work saw him collaborate with Guy Ritchie in The Gentlemen, which also starred Matthew McConaughey. His next role, though, could be his biggest yet as Golding takes on the title character in the action film Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.