Achieving fame in your own country is hard enough, but to find A-list level success on the other side of the world is even harder. For many years, Chinese celebrities didn’t find much stardom in the west outside of a select few. That’s what makes these five Chinese celebrities so unique, as they were able to become superstars in the United States.
1. Bruce Lee
A martial arts master, Bruce Lee became an icon in all parts of the world when he began appearing in martial arts films during the early 1970s, many of which he also directed. Some of his more prominent films include “Way of the Dragon” and “Enter the Dragon”, creating an interest in martial arts that has been around ever since.
Many credit Lee as the reason that they got into martial arts, and still remember him many years following his death. Lee was just 32 years old when he passed away on July 20, 1973, due to cerebral edema. Lee helped bridge the gap between Hollywood and East Asia during his career, breaking barriers in the process.
2. Jackie Chan
There are a handful of actors that have been known for doing their own stunts, but Jackie Chan sets the gold standard. Chan was born in what was then British Hong Kong in 1954 and appeared in Chinese films since the 1960s. Chan was among the world’s highest-paid actors during his peak, making his mark in action comedies such as “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Knights”.
Throughout all of his films, Chan has performed his own stunts, which has led to some hilarious outtakes at times. He continues to act to this day, and his career was recognized at the 2016 Oscars when he won the Academy Honorary Award for his worldwide film achievements. Even the Shanghai International Film Festival has an award named after him for action films.
3. Chow Yun-Fat
Another icon that was born in British Hong Kong, Chow Yun-Fat came from humble beginnings where he worked odd jobs until getting involved in acting during the 1970s by appearing in several films and television shows per year, becoming a household name in China. After a career setback in the 1980s, Chow turned his career around and started to get notoriety in the United States.
Chow’s Hollywood career began in 1998 with the film “The Replacement Killers”, and the following year he co-starred with Mark Wahlberg in “The Corrupter”. Perhaps Chow’s most notable US venture, though, is 2003’s “Bulletproof Monk”. To date, Chow has earned more than a dozen major awards in China and has appeared in around 100 films.
4. Jet Li
Another martial arts icon on the list, Jet Li was born in Beijing in 1963 and used his skills in Wushu to begin an acting career. Li was still a teenager when he made his acting debut in 1982’s “Shaolin Temple” and became a superstar in China thanks to films including “Once Upon a Time in China” and “Fist of Legend”.
During the late 1990s, Li was able to achieve fame in the west thanks to leading roles in the films “Lethal Weapon” and “Romeo Must Die”. Li turned down some major roles during his peak, but still took on plenty of other notable films including “Cradle 2 the Grave”, “Kiss of the Dragon” and “Unleashed”.
5. Yao Ming
When someone is described as “larger than life,” it’s usually figurative instead of literal. However, Yao Ming’s 7’6” stature makes him truly a standout. After beginning his professional basketball career in Shanghai with the Sharks, Yao became eligible for the 2002 NBA Draft. The Houston Rockets selected him with the first overall pick and helped to make the NBA popular in China.
Yao was an eight-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection during his career was cut short due to injuries. He posted 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game en route to a Hall of Fame induction. In 2017, Yao was named as the President of the Chinese Basketball Association.