Spotlight: My Top 5 Asian-American Performances

New York City’s “Asia Week” kicks off in a short amount of time. This annual festival promotes all manner of Asian visual art…especially at places like the Rubin Museum that specialize in it. So in honor of the event, I’m going to share with you my favorite Asian-American PERFORMING arts turns on the stage and screen.

Ruthie Ann Miles in The King and I

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Many theatergoers were surprised when Miles defeated the three ladies of Fun Home for the Best Supporting Actress Tony two years ago. But that’s hardly to say that the win wasn’t deserved. Quite the contrary- she took the oft-portrayed role of Lady Thiang and breathed new life into it. Her rendition of the showstopper “Something Wonderful” was very much so. (Incidentally, I will be seeing Ms. Miles next week in the current revival of Sunday in the Park with George.)

Ming-Na Wen/Lea Salonga in Mulan

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Mulan is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies, partly because of its badass heroine. Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga, as her speaking and singing voice respectively, brought the Chinese warrior to greater heights and a new generation of admirers. Can you show me one 1990s child who hasn’t belted out “Reflection” or “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in the shower? NO!

George Takei in Pacific Overtures

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Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one because it hasn’t actually happened yet. I’m not a Trekkie and I didn’t see Allegiance, but I felt this list would not be complete without an appearance by Takei. He is slated to star in Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway revival of the lauded Sondheim musical later this year. He will be playing the Reciter, and with a voice like his, he’ll no doubt do it well. “Oh myyyy!”

Chiaki Kuriyama in Kill Bill Vol. 1

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What I love about Chiaki Kuriyama in this film is that it is a true example of a “breakout performance.” Despite her relatively short time as the bloodthirsty Gogo Yubari, she managed to turn in a really memorable portrayal…and also did not know a word of English prior to joining the cast. Not to mention that this character has the coolest weapon ever: a “meteor hammer.” (She still meets her demise at the hands of Uma Thurman.)

Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha

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I love so many things about Zhang Ziyi as Sayuri in the silver screen adaptation of the Arthur Golden novel. She infused such a likable sincerity into our young geisha that an already-sympathetic character gained even more depth. Ziyi looked stunningly beautiful in the movie, too; I really wish I could see her in more mainstream works because she obviously deserves the acclaim. In fact, I have her pegged to star as Mulan in Disney’s upcoming live-action film!

Who are some of your favorite Asian-American actors?

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