Perhaps the first few things which come to our minds when someone says “Asian” are people with oriental looks, short, plumpy stature, with a Pipa or a Shamisen playing in the background. In other words, we often body shame people in our minds (albeit unknowingly) while being wildly racist. The point that I am trying to make is – being Asian isn’t only about being of a Chinese, Japanese or a Korean descent, but Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Thai, Indonesian, Arab-Asian, Iranian, Jordanian et al are as Asian as they could be. Or perhaps even more. Likewise, the zenith and the fame accomplished by many lesser-known Asian actors and actresses is comparable (or sometimes even better) than those of actors with a Chinese or Japanese or Korean descent and it would only be extremely racist to associate or rather, limit the actors of the entire Asian continent to those of a handful of nations. Maybe it is the Indian talking in me, but the biases have been very much apparent until you came across this list.
We’ve seen the likes of Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, Fan Bingbing, Maggie Q across many movies, but we might not be aware of the names like Amrita Acharia, Beren Saat, Jacqueline Fernandez who are constantly spinning the wheel and accomplishing new milestones without being so visibly apparent or known across the world. This list brings to you the best actresses of Asian descent, whose talent and dexterity in their respective genres have crossed the seven seas and they’ve certainly become household names everyone is envied of. Also, the list can’t be exhaustive as there are a countless number of Asian actresses and potential superstars who are making their mark on the world cinema and the long-list for this compilation had more than 120 names across 25 Asian countries, out of which, here’s the list of top Asian actresses. They are hot, but they are also talented.
21. Priyanka Chopra (India)
The “desi” girl as she’s known in India, Priyanka Chopra came to the limelight after her debut Hollywood project that was ‘Quantico’ wherein she could be seen playing the protagonist Alex Parrish. Apart from winning accolades at home, where she has also been bestowed with a National Film Award for her work in the Bollywood movie ‘Fashion (2008)’, off-late she’s also starring in many other Hollywood projects such as ‘Baywatch (2017)’ etc. The actress, philanthropist, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador is also one of the Time’s most influential people in the world and has appeared in Forbes’ list of Most Powerful Women. With her marriage with Nick Jonas in the news nowadays, the Miss World Pageant Winner of 2000 has become a global celebrity with her footprints all across the world. Personally, her Bollywood films ‘Agneepath (2012)’ and ‘7 Khoon Maaf (2011)’ have been my favourites. Although many would call PC overrated, she is still responsible for taking Indian talent to a global stage, a feat that seemed impossible after Aishwarya Rai’s short stint at Hollywood.
20. Ahd Kamel (Saudi Arabia)
The ‘Wadjda (2012)’ actress, a film that also was Saudi Arabia’s first submission to the 86th Academy Awards and BAFTA Awards of 2014, Ahd Kamel has also played leading roles in many Emirates’ and Middle-East Asian movies. Primarily starting off her career with short films which gained her the much-needed fame, Kamel was off late seen in Netflix’s drama series ‘Collateral (2018)’ in which she portrayed Fathima Asif, the sister of a pizza delivery guy who was gunned down in a suburb of London. The critically acclaimed four-episode series has been in the news for quite a while. Next, Ahd Kamel will feature in a horror sci-fi named ‘Being (2018)’ which is in its post-production stages. Kamel is often considered a beacon of hope in her country and more often than not, has made her mark nationally and internationally.
19. Dian Sastro (Indonesia)
The evergreen sensation of the Indonesian archipelago, Dian Sastro started her acting career in mainstream cinema at the age of 18 with ‘Bintang Jatuh (2000)’. Her role as Daya in ‘Pasir Berbisik (2001)’ made many heads turn and she became an overnight star, with multiple “Best Actress” award-wins, notably at the Deauville Asian Film Festival and the Singapore International Film Festival. After the early 2000s, she has starred in many Indonesian and Malaysian films, along with being associated to all sorts of endorsements and becoming a household name due to her appearances in music videos and television series. To this day, the 36-year-old remains to be one of the most sought-after and highest paid south-east Asian actresses.
18. Liyana Jasmay (Malaysia)
Perhaps the face of Malaysia, the singer, producer and actress is known for her multifarious roles across TV series, miniseries, telemovies, movies and singles across a span of two decades. Liyana Jasmay begun very early in her career and rose to fame with her work in ‘Castello (2006)’ wherein she played the role of a drug-addict daughter of Castello, a convict who is trying to make things right for his burdened family. Her next big break came up with ‘Kami (2008)’, a teenage drama which also won her the “Best Actress” tag. Jasmay never looked back after 2009 film ‘Papadom’, a film that had won 5 awards (including Best Actress) and was nominated for another 4 at the Malaysian Film Festival. If not at the tv series and telemovies, she’s still active in the mainstream cinema with two of her projects in post-production.
17. Jun Ji-hyun (South Korea)
We all know the outreach and the popularity that Korean films and television series have had on the world. And if you’ve watched ‘My Sassy Girl (2001)’, you know who I am talking about. Jun has not only resulted in a paradigm shift in the Korean film culture, she has in many ways influenced the Korean and Asian cinema after her immense success starting mid-90s. Currently one of the most successful Asian actresses, Jun has won more than 25 Asian, Korean, and International film awards across her stint of, wait for it, 15 movies and television series, which defines the popularity she has lived by. Although Jun hasn’t appeared in commercial cinema after the television series ‘Legend of the Blue Sea (2016-17)’, the K-wave star remains to be one of the topmost Korean actresses even today.
16. Jaya Ahsan (Bangladesh)
One of the most popular Bangladeshi actresses working today, Jaya Ahsan has featured in an equal number of Bangladeshi and Indian Bengali films, although her fame came only from her home country. The winner of countless awards across TV series, telefilms, and movies, it would be notable that Ahsan has won three Bangladeshi National Film Awards for Best Actress. Jaya has also been the recipient of The Meril Prothom Alo awards, a.k.a. The Bangladeshi Oscars, for her role in the film ‘Purno Doirgho Prem Kahini (2013)’, a romance drama at the outset. Jaya Ahsan still remains to be one of the popular faces of Bengali cinema and has proven her many talents with her career graph spread across almost every genre of Bengali cinema.
15. Davika Hoorne (Thailand)
With only 20 odd movies and television series in her kitty, Davika Hoorne has already become a risen star of Thai cinema. Right from her debut television series namely ‘Ngao Kammathep’ and ‘Dok Kaew’ in 2010 and 2011’s respectively, she earned herself a title of “Female Rising Star” across many award shows and film festivals. Her biggest breakthrough, however, came with ‘Pee Mak (2013)’ wherein she played a leading role alongside Mario Maurer, a horror-comedy at the outset that became the highest grossing Thai film till date, earning more than $30 mn worldwide. Previously, the title was held by another Thai film – ‘Ong-Bak (2003)’. Her stint in ‘Pee Mak’ earned Davika her first Suphannahong National Film Award for Best Actress. She went on to win her second National Film Award for her role in ‘Heart Attack (2015)’. Ms Hoorne also has the distinction of being consecutively nominated for the National film awards since 2013 – with two wins.
14. Cyrine Abdelnour (Lebanon)
Arab beauty Cyrine has been in the limelight for more than a decade. Even though she has not featured in many films, her fame comes from her appearances in television shows and her music videos and singles. She began her TV journey with ‘Smaa Kchaa (1998)’ but became a sensation with her role in ‘Dareb Khwet (2003)’ which won her the first Murex d’Or of her career. Being a recipient of four Murex d’Or awards for Best Actress, Cyrine has also appeared in many Egyptian and other international television series, most notably in the film ‘Al Mosafer (2009)’, a riveting narrative of the events that lead to modern Egypt from the eyes of an 80-year-old. Until recently, Cyrine has been active with her singles while staying away from mainstream cinema from the past few years.
13. Eugene Domingo (The Philippines)
The towering giant of Filipino cinema, Eugene Domingo has featured in more than 110 mainstream movies and television series over the past two and a half decades, thus becoming one of the most successful and versatile actresses from The Philippines and influencing the art culture of the nation in a major way. To date, she has won more than 25 different awards across different film festivals in the Asian subcontinent and has been nominated for more than 40 times for her performances. Eugene’s biggest success, however, remains to be the independent feature film ‘Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank (2011)’, a comedy-drama which revolves around three filmmakers and their odd ways of filmmaking. The movie garnered her three different award wins and one nomination, and to this date is one of the highest grossing movies of Filipino cinema.
12. Leila Hatami (Iran)
Leila Hatami’s appeared in the feature film ‘A Separation (2011)’ that had won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, thus becoming the first Iranian film to register a win at the Oscars. ‘A Separation’ broke many glass ceilings back in the day, being an Iranian film with a female protagonist and also got Leila Hatami her well-deserved recognition. Prior to the internationally acclaimed film, Hatami had worked in more than twenty small and big Iranian films, thus establishing herself as a seasoned actress and regional superstar. After ‘A Separation’, her pathbreaking appearances include ‘Felicity Land (2011)’, ‘The Last Step (2012)’, ‘Sealed Secret (2013)’ to name a few. Overall, her movies have won her more than thirty nominations and wins, thus making her one of the most accomplished Iranian actresses to date.
11. Beren Saat (Turkey)
Now to one of the highest paid Turkish actresses, Beren Saat has been on the cloud nine since her debut television series ‘Love in Exile (2006)’ followed by her first career milestone with the television series ‘Remember Darling (2006-08)’ which also won her the first award of her acting career. Beren Saat’s journey so far has been breathtaking, with her films registering consistent award wins from 2008 onwards, and oftentimes more than three to four wins per year. If there’s a definition of success that you’re seeking, take a good look at Beren Saat’s career so far. Her most accomplished works, however, remain to be two television series – ‘Aşk-ı Memnu (2008-10) and ‘Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne? (2010-12)’ which had collectively won more than 20 wins and nominations, perhaps a feat that can’t be broken any sooner.
10. Radhika Apte (India)
The bold and beautiful Radhika Apte has gained immense popularity in a very short span of time, thanks to the careful mix of commercial cinema, contemporary art films including short films and independents, and television series she has ventured into. Her Bollywood journey begun as a pet project with ‘Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi! (2005)’ beside Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao. ‘Antaheen’ – the critically acclaimed National Award winning Bengali feature film of 2009 revealed Apte to the world as a rising star. After a rather subtle re-start in Bollywood with RGV‘s ‘Rakta Charitra (2010)’, Apte rose to fame with films like ‘Shor in the City (2011)’, Telugu movie ‘Legend (2014)’, ‘Badlapur (2015)’, ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man (2015)’ and ‘Parched (2016)’ – the latter established her as a character actor and a pathbreaking performer. Her stints in Netflix’s series ‘Sacred Games (2018)’ and recently ‘Ghoul (2018)’ has shot her to the much deserved international fame and recognition. Although there are not many awards in her kitty, her work across eight languages and in more than 50 movies, short films, theatre works and television series speaks for itself – a path less traveled nowadays.
9. Tang Wei (China)
38-year-old Tang Wei kickstarted her film career back in 2004 with a small-time television series but came to the fore with her leading role in Ang Lee‘s timeless classic ‘Lust, Caution (2007)’, which won her the first Golden Horse Award of her career. Citing her bold scenes and nudity, the Chinese government imposed a ban on her films which lasted for a couple of years. After rebooting her career in 2010, her next big breakthroughs were ‘Late Autumn (2010) – a romance drama and ‘Dragon (2011)’ – the neo-noir martial-arts action movie which was accepted worldwide with open arms. Tang Wei received several nominations and wins for her role in both of these films. Speaking of her other Hollywood projects, she was seen in ‘Blackhat (2015)’ alongside Chris Hemsworth, which although failed at the Box Office, marked her re-entry to the Hollywood yet again.
8. Saba Qamar (Pakistan)
When ‘Hindi Medium (2017)’ was making news all over the world and became one of the highest grossing Bollywood movies of all time, Saba Qamar, who marked her Bollywood debut with the film shot to overnight stardom. Starting her career rather humbly with daily soaps on PTV, her first notable film appearance was ‘Manto (2015)’ – a film based on the firebrand writer Saadat Hasan Manto during the partition days. Having appeared in more than 30 television series, and 7 mainstream movies till date, Saba Qamar’s films have registered more than 40 award wins across Pakistani and Indian cinema. With a soaring popularity and a bunch of her movies in post-production, Saba Qamar is here to stay and slay.
7. Sylvia Chang (Taiwan)
A person wearing many hats, Sylvia Chang is also a producer, writer, singer, and a director apart from being an acclaimed actress. Perhaps the most accomplished in her field as far as Taiwanese cinema is concerned, Chang has appeared in close to 100 films across a career spanning five decades, apart from writing/directing/producing more than 20 feature films. To date, she has won 2 Golden Horse Awards and has been nominated 9 times – a record on its own. Her most acclaimed works, however, are movies like ‘Aces Go Places (1982)’, ‘Rice Rhapsody (2004)’, ‘Love Education (2017)’ for which she has received her fair share of awards and nominations. It would be noteworthy to mention here that ‘Love Education’ has also been co-written and directed by Sylvia Chang.
6. Rie Miyazawa (Japan)
A three-time Japan Academy Prize winner, Rie Miyazawa needs no introduction. Starting her career as a child actor and singer, her first venture was ‘Seven Days’ War (1988)’ followed by ‘Who Do I Choose? (1989)’ – for the latter, she received her first Nikkan Sports Film Award for Best Rising Talent at the age of 16 years. Her first tangible success, however, came after another decade with the tremendous gains of ‘The Twilight Samurai (2002)’ and ‘The Face of Jizo (2004)’ and for the former, she received her first ever Japan Academy Prize for Best Actress, along with numerous other awards across many film festivals. Miyazawa went on to win two more Japan Academy Awards for her films ‘Pale Moon (2015)’ and her previous year’s movie ‘Her Love Boils Bathwater (2017)’ for an Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. What’s more, to say, her career-defining moments are aplenty and so is her fan-following.
5. Son Ye-jin (South Korea)
Oftentimes fondly called as “Korea’s First Love’, Son Ye-jin has to be the most prominent and accomplished Korean actress working today. To list her awards and the recognition that she has received so far is a daunting task and I am not even going to try. To sum it up, across 20 odd movies and 10 television series to her credit, she has been bestowed with the Best Actress title on more than 40 occasions and has received more than 12 nominations for her role – a record seemingly implausible to break. Almost all of the films she has enacted in went on to become biggest blockbusters in Korean film history and garnered rave reviews from critics and praises from fans alike. Personally, I think two of her best works that remind us of the towering actress that she is are – ‘The Truth Beneath (2016) – a psychological thriller and ‘The Last Princess (2016)’ – a historical drama where she was seen portraying the titular role.
4. Fan Bingbing (China)
The epitome of gorgeousness, Fan Bingbing has been in the news for a while as the highest paid celebrity actress where she has retained the topmost position for the past few years. The “My Fair Princess (1998-99)” actress, who rose to prominence with the critically acclaimed costume-drama came to real limelight with her 2003 flick ‘Cell Phone’ – a movie that explores the after-marriage troubles in a funny yet straightforward way. The movie was extremely successful, resulting in two award nominations and one win for the Best Actress award for Fan Bingbing. She hasn’t turned back ever since with back to back blockbuster superhits like ‘The Matrimony (2007)’, ‘Buddha Mountain (2010)’, ‘Double Xposure (2012)’, ‘The Empress of China (2014)’ – a television series based on real-life Empress Wu Zetian wherein Fan Bingbing sported the titular character and it went on to become one of the most expensive Chinese television series to date, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)’ – she played the mutant superhero Blink and ‘I Am Not Madame Bovary (20116)’ – one of her most successful movies till date. Fan Bingbing is all set to play her character Blink for a few more “X-Men” franchise movies that we’ve been eagerly waiting for.
3. Kangana Ranaut (India)
Call me biased or call me a fan, but there’s no denying of the fact that what Kangana has accomplished in a very short span of time (less than 10 years, if you will) might have taken decades for others to accomplish, if not for her dedication and her exemplary acting skills. After kickstarting her career with ‘Gangster (2006)’, a romance-drama that became a sleeper hit with catchy songs and superb performances, she had her next breakthrough with ‘Fashion (2008)’ where she played a negative role to receive critical acclaim. She became even the more popular and her acting skills became known to the world with ‘Tanu Weds Manu (2011)’ followed by ‘Queen (2014)’ – which she pulled off solely in a leading role, also winning a National Film Award for Best Actress in the same year. After ‘Queen’, Ranaut has given many intense and character-oriented performances like in the sequel of ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ which brought her another National Film Award, ‘Rangoon (2017)’, ‘Simran (2017)’ etc. to name a few. Nowadays, she’s been in the news for her portrayal of Rani Lakshmi Bai in a period drama and we simply can’t wait long enough to witness it.
2. Zhang Ziyi (China)
Undoubtedly the most popular actress from China worldwide, Zhang Ziyi has appeared in many Hollywood projects apart from her home production movies, thus resulting in her tremendous popularity and recognition. Ziyi started her mainstream film career with ‘The Road Home (1999)’ at the age of 21 years for which she was also recognized at the BIFF (Berlin International Film Festival). Her debut accolades also poured in a lot of offers along, notably ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)’ which is often considered Ang Lee’s masterpiece that won four Academy Awards and six nominations. Zhang Ziyi won a BAFTA and a Hong Kong Film Award nomination each for Best Supporting Actress, along with three wins for her role in the movie. After her successful venture into Hollywood, she appeared in ‘Rush Hour 2 (2001)’ in a negative role opposite Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, which, despite a weak opening, strengthened and furthered her international pursuits. Ziyi has appeared in more than 30 national and international projects afterwards and TIME Magazine has fondly called her “China’s Gift to Hollywood”. Needless to say, the list of her awards, accolades and accomplishments is endless. We’ll be seeing her next in ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)’ which surely is going to be as captivating as its predecessors.
1. Sayuri Yoshinaga (Japan)
I might have heard a few shots, and I agree there could be many other contenders for the numero uno position, Sayuri Yoshinaga deserves no less. The 73-year-old actress has been in the field of performing arts since the past six decades and is still going on strong. Yoshinaga started her film career with ‘Foundry Town (1962)’ in a leading role, but the turning point of her career was the 1983 film ‘The Makioka Sisters’ which was a tale of four sisters dealing with crises such as delayed marriage, western impositions, emotional detachments etc. Her 1984 film ‘Station to Heaven’ won her the first of the four Japan Academy Prizes of her career. She also won three other independent film awards for her role in the movie. Her upcoming Japan Academy Prize wins came in 1989, 2001, and 2006 respectively, thus making her the only actress having registered four wins – an unbeaten record till date. She had recently appeared in ‘Sakura Guardian in the North (2018)’ wherein she plays an estranged mother with PTSD in post-war Japan. And the legend continues.
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