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Featured Topic: Lucy Liu

Posted April 13th, 2008 by Shaun · 25 Comments

It’s safe to say Asians have divided opinions regarding Lucy Liu. She is undoubtedly one of the most successful (if not the most successful) actors of Asian descent in Hollywood. While most Asians would be happy for her relative success, some believe a woman of her talent does not deserve such achievements that have eluded many an Asian actor or actress. Let’s break it down”¦

Lucy Alexis Liu (劉玉玲, Lia!º Ya!¹la!­ng) was born December 2, 1968 in Queens, New York to Taiwanese immigrant parents. Typically Asian, her family only spoke Mandarin at home and thus she did not learn English until she was five years old. She started acting in 1989 and broke through to the mainstream with roles in Ally McBeal, Kill Bill and both Charlie’s Angels films. Considering her impressive, but not THAT impressive CV, Lucy Liu is far from the biggest success in Hollywood. However, looking at the state of Asian actors in the largest film industry in the world, she is pretty much the main shining light; along with (#27) Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee (RIP) & Jet Li (#33). Considering though, that those aforementioned few are somewhat niche actors specializing in the martial arts genre, Lucy Liu is possibly the poster girl for Asian actors in Hollywood.


[She's the one on the left, if you hadn't already realized; as one of Charlie's Angels]

[Here she is again, 3rd from the left, headlining the (now axed)
Sex And The City clone Cashmere Mafia,
playing Mia Mason, which evidently wasn't a token Asian role. Yay!]

Kudos on Lucy Liu for doing what so precious few Asians manage to achieve in such a cutthroat business such as Hollywood. There is one small catch though. One wouldn’t call it resentment, but there is a feeling of, well”¦ resentment or perhaps you’d label it antipathy towards her; especially from non-Westernized Asians who believe her success is somewhat unwarranted. There is some truth in this belief. Well-renown and more highly respected Asian actors such as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau & Joan Chen can gain multiple plaudits domestically in Asia, but find it hard to make their dent where it matters most – in Hollywood.

Furthermore, those precious few Asian actors who manage to make that dent in Hollywood, usually have to lower their standards and take that token Asian role, such as Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Chow Yun-Fat & Zhang Ziyi just to name a few. Lucy Liu, on the other hand does not often encounter such problems, as evidenced by her ‘ability” to transcend race, and take on many diverse roles that could well be played by a person of any race. As an Asian-American, she can already claim to have one foot in the door, where her rivals across the continent, do not. As a rule, Hollywood prefers their Asians to have that American twang – or at least be able to fake it – and Lucy Liu can do that with ease (what with actually being American and all). Hollywood, being the shallow, image-obsessed entertainment machine that it is, also generally likes their Asians to be attractive. Thus that leads to”¦

“¦The eye candy factor. Our girl Lucy doesn’t mind playing that girl who’s just another pretty face, the regulation love interest, or even demeaning herself somewhat for B-grade flicks (see Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever & Code Name: The Cleaner). Heck, those Asian genes of hers give her that ethnic flavor that Hollywood loves! But hold on, there are plenty of pretty Asian girls out there that Hollywood can use as eye-candy. Why’s Ms. Liu so special?

Well for one, the ability to speak proper American-English (rather than that dreaded thing known as Chinglish) allows for roles where she can actually be more than just eye-candy, and therefore have some substantial dialogue where need be. She’s not the most talented actress in the world, but she isn’t the worst either, so that’s a bonus, you’d suppose. Consider, there are a plethora of attractive, reasonably talented, aspiring Asian actors and actresses who can speak fluent American-English who can only dream of reaching the comparably lofty heights of Lucy Liu’s career. Reflecting over this, with all respect to our Lucy, it would be fair to say she is what you’d call a “˜crack in the system’, achieving where her fellow Asians could not. Keep in mind that this is not an Anti-Lucy Liu rant, but if it was, at least one could say that she has her looks to fall back on. Or does she?

This leads in to people’s perceptions of attractiveness. The general belief from the West is that Lucy Liu is an extremely attractive woman. Hey, if she makes Maxim’s Hot 100 Lists then it’s gotta be true! However, if you ask an Asian male born and bred in the East, it’s unlikely the sentiment will be shared. For some reason, Asians don’t think much of Lucy Liu’s looks. Perhaps it’s due to the Asian tendency to value certain physical aspects (such as large, rounded eyes) as well as those non-physical aspects (such as that indescribable wholesome “˜Asian’ image) that a Lucy Liu may lack. Hmmm, perhaps that’s why she only seems to date white guys”¦ (I’m looking your way “Stuff White People Like”, as per #11 on your list, and the corresponding #38 on our list…)

Doesn’t it say something, when the supposed ‘poster girl” for Asians in the biggest film industry in the world isn’t actually that great. Lucy Liu is a fine actress, and she does a relatively good job of representing Asians decently in such a prominent spotlight, but let’s face it – she’s no Julia Roberts or Jodie Foster. Why then is it, that there is an abundance of Asians at the pinnacle of other professions such as business, or I.T, but there are so few at the pinnacle of showbusiness? That’s probably a question best answered by someone else”¦ Regardless of our personal opinions on Lucy Liu, Asians have to recognize that without her presence, the current situation for Asians in Hollywood would be an even more dire circumstance. If anything, she could be seen as a trailblazer possibly for more Asians to break into Hollywood in the future.

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Last 5 posts by Shaun

Tags: Famous · Films and Movies · Martial Arts · People · Products · T.V.

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kevin // Apr 13, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Western cultures are just in need of already famous actors/ those who can act to fill their roles of the token asian or even just a role to have an asian actor. Hollywood tries to to get multiple races involved to open the film to many cultures. For example Forbidden Kingdom that will premier next week. What the heck is this about? Some American in a traditional Chinese style film speaking English? Or the altered versions of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu hustle, it’s very lame with the added effects, but it appeals the audience in western cultures. How about the dubbed Chinese movies with terrible voice actors? Or even the new Dragonball Z movie with some white guy as Goku?!?!

  • 2 uope // Apr 13, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Gong Li is a goddess. Thank Goodness she has not done martial arts. Ulike.CYF , Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Jackie Chan, Yeoh, Maggie C.

  • 3 foxwithcpu // Apr 13, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Hm, I really don’t agree with this one.

  • 4 YASPY Chick // Apr 14, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Hey, at least Lucy isn’t a FOREIGN Asian actress….and she’s prettier than Sandra Oh (ok, she’s Canadian, but when I mean “foreign” I actually mean FROM ASIA)

  • 5 Amy // Apr 14, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Well, strictly speaking, Lucy Liu isn’t that great an actress. But she’s definitely a good businesswoman and has promoted herself really well.
    Personally, I think she is THE eye candy! I can’t stop staring at her. I guess it’s the typical Asian look that’s so attractive. ‘Coz all the HK actresses with their big eyes & tall noses & white skin all look same-y same-y. So boring.

    Gosh, can’t believe she’s turning 40 this year!

  • 6 sy88 // Apr 14, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    “Personally, I think she is THE eye candy! I can’t stop staring at her. I guess it’s the typical Asian look that’s so attractive. ”

    And this is coming from a lady. But digressing, I think she exudes some sort of Western qualities with her Asian genes, and that is what makes her all the more attractive, in this writer’s humble opinion. Eh, I said it all up there anyway. And for the record, yes, I do think Lucy Liu is very attractive, pity she’s like double my age…hehe

    “˜Coz all the HK actresses with their big eyes & tall noses & white skin all look same-y same-y. So boring.”

    That is so true. I couldn’t have put it better myself. BUT that is what Asians like, it seems. It’s simple supply and demand, there’s demand for a certain look in Asian actors especially in HK, so they’re supplied in droves. It’s the same thing in Hollywood as well. I’m not really a big fan of HK cinema tbh, unlike my love for Hollywood. Perhaps it’s because I’m THAT white-washed. Hmmm…

    Lastly, I just wanted to say, that I just figured after doing a piece on an old, somewhat boring, somewhat unattractive politician like Alberto Fujimori, I should be entitled to a piece on a younger, attractive woman like Lucy Liu :)

  • 7 azngrlinsd // Apr 21, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I think that all her freckles ruin her skin
    and she isn’t that great… neither are all the other asian actors… except JACKIE CHAN!!!

    he totally is the BEST.

    Go jackie!!

  • 8 sy88 // May 5, 2008 at 12:04 am

    On related news, our Lucy might be joining the cast of Dirty Sexy Money. Not the worst show in the world, that’s for sure…

  • 9 Tram // May 7, 2008 at 2:10 am

    How can there be a discussion about Lucy Liu’s career without the mention of the Dragon Lady stereotype?

    Also, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung have intentionally steered clear of Hollywood. A better example of a big star failing to make a dent in the States is Chow Yun-Fat, who is relegated to playing cartoonishly evil pirates.

  • 10 sy88 // May 7, 2008 at 7:01 am

    ^^Well this is interesting, we have a proper film critic on here. I’m not gonna argue you point for point, because well, I can’t. But I do have some things to say…

    As per Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, do you really think they have avoided Hollywood? I highly doubt people go out of their ways to bypass Hollywood. The problem is that big fish in a small pond syndrome adapting to being a little fish in a small pond. Those two have had so much success in Asia that their egos cannot handle being placed in a subpar Hollywood role, which is the fate that faces many Asians. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Tony Leung has a Hollywood agent, but can’t find suitable roles for someone like him. True about Chow Yun-Fat though…

    As for the dragon-lady stereotype, I’m not all too familiar with it, but as far as I know Lucy Liu does transcend the butt-kicking Asian femme-fatale at times. Sure she’s been cast in that role many a time, but she has had other non dragon-lady like roles too…

  • 11 Tram // May 8, 2008 at 1:44 am


    Maggie Cheung has turned down X-2 and a James Bond flick (I don’t know which one) . She didn’t want to be cast in cliched Chinese roles, deeming it culturally shameful. The English-language films I’ve seen of hers are very much Euro Art-house (Irma Vep and Clean, both of which was directed by ex-husband Oliver Assayas) – you know, the ones screened at Cannes and distributed in selected markets, thereafter.

    And Tony Leung has turned down many scripts from Hollywood. It seems like he hasn’t found the right one yet, considering many of them to be sub-par. Who knows? Maybe he’ll find that right script in the near future. But as of right now, his closest link to Hollywood is Ang Lee, who directed him in last year’s Lust, Caution, a U.S/China/Taiwan cross-production.

    Oh, I have no idea if Tony Leung has a Hollywood agent. I like his work, but I’m not a stalker :)

    Re: Lucy Liu/dragon lady stereotype

    The Dragon Lady is pretty much a butt-kicking Asian femme-fatale who seductively draws you in with her devishly looks, but unlike some of the femme fatales I’ve seen in film noir – there’s no redemption to Lucy Liu’s character on “Ally McBeal” (okay, there was ONE episode, featuring Haley Joel Osment as a terminally-ill cancer kid, but that was it). To put it simply, Lucy’s Ling was a living, breathing Dragon Lady… a maniacal caricature lacking any shades of grey. Ling was sexually conniving and manipulative to her co-workers, and hell, even her own boyfriend.

    To be fair, when David E. Kelley’s show was at its prime, Lucy Liu did address such criticism. She defended her choice of roles, explaining that it’s very hard to pick-and-choose when you’re at the bottom working your way up. In a weird kinda way, I sympathize with her – Hollywood has its culturally racist baggage and they’re simply projecting it on her, an actress. But I dunno, it’s frustrating to think of the ramifications that Lucy Liu’s trademark characters have left in the pop culture world because, well, let’s face it Lucy Liu is one of the most successful Asian American actresses we have.

    Oh, and I’m not a film critic. I consider people like Jonathan Rosenbaum and Manohla Dargis to be “critics”. I’m just an amateur reviewer on the web – a dime a dozen. I apologize if I sound kinda smart-ass-know-it-all in the previous post. I’m just blunt – that’s all.

  • 12 sy88 // May 11, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Can I just say one thing. It’s refreshing to see someone on here who actually knows a thing or two about the entertainment business! It seems like you know your stuff Tram… I spend a lot of my time on film websites as well (imdb, FM, BOM etc) but don’t think I’d ever gain the insight you have…

    The only thing I will disagree about (which isn’t really a disagreement per se) is just the view taken by those elite Asian actors like Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung who think they’re above typical Hollywood roles, even though they may in fact be in the right. After all, you have to start from somewhere… Just look at Lucy Liu, sure she’s had a fair share of fortune, but who hasn’t?

    Oh, and I’ve seen Irma Vep (which was falsely advertised on the box as France’s answer to Catwoman). Well I just gotta say, maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of French cinema, and maybe it’s because I saw it like a year ago now, but I was like WHAT THE?!? What the heck was that film even about? Maggie Cheung dressed in latex is about all I can remember. Just a bit of a mess IMO. Maybe you can explain it to me. And this is coming from someone who loves David Lynch fims…

  • 13 Future Lawyer // Jun 18, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Hello All,

    I’ve noticed that there are A LOT of hot Asian/Asian American women out there but it is very dissappointing to not see many of them in the American media. I mean, Lucy Liu is NOT the pinnacle of attractiveness when you compare her to others of Asian descent. Is this because the Hollywood Mogols don’t want the fine Hot Asian chicks to overshadow the blonde protagonist?

  • 14 Anonymous // Jun 23, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Why does everyone feel like they have to make it big in hollywood to be truly successful? Most of the movies in Hollywood are commercial, corporate driven pieces of shit. I think It’s great that Lucy Liu is considered to be beautiful, in America at least. Round eyes, tall noses, white skin?? It seems Imperialism is still well and truly alive and THRIVING in Asian Culture. Maybe we should see more beauty in our own ‘TYPICAL’ features.

  • 15 stramberryjam // Aug 24, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    azngrlinsd: “I think that all her freckles ruin her skin”

    my question is that why do so many Asians discriminate against freckles? that’s like saying all hazel eyed people are unattractive. no offense to azngrlinsd, but I think this particular discrimination is extremely shallow and unnecessary. I’ve noticed that there are A LOT of Asians with freckles. isn’t it kind of mean/backwards to discriminate against a significant section of our own race? as an Asian myself, I wish I HAD freckles just to stand out from the rest of us.

  • 16 NYJG // Aug 25, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Comment from a New York Jewish guy… Lucy is so successful because to so many white guys, she “reads” simply as an unusually pretty, sexy, n ironic, no-bullshit woman. She is Chinese only ithe same way as Annabella Sciorra or Marisa Tomei is Italian — as a secondary part of being a high-cheekboned brunette who can play “ethnic” or just “babe” as needed. It is her New-Yorky-ness, not her Chinese-ness, which defines her. You’ll see more stars like her in the next wave, just like we now see Halle Berry or Beyonce Knowles in non-ethnic roles.

  • 17 Shaun // Sep 17, 2008 at 8:44 am

    “my question is that why do so many Asians discriminate against freckles?”

    I’m Asian, and I think Lucy Liu’s freckles make her all the more attractive. They’re especially evident in the first pic – those freckles do look quite gorgeous on her in that pic IMO. Kinda like how glasses make Tina Fey more attractive… ahem, excuse me… need to take a cold shower now

  • 18 kc // Nov 1, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    hmm I’m not sure about this article… but anyways I think Gong Li is gorgeous! :)

  • 19 Na // Dec 6, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I think the only reason why the freckles seem unattractive to Asians is because they regard it as a sign of aging or a big white characteristic.

  • 20 mimie // Dec 16, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    i am asian has freckles too. my parents dun have :) i wonder and wonder….

  • 21 Gina // Jun 25, 2009 at 3:06 am

    Ooh, i spy Lucy Liu wearing Christian Louboutins!

  • 22 Truth be told // Jul 5, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Asian women wish they were white. thats why they date white guys, dye their hair brown/blond, get eye lid surgery, and bleach their skin.

  • 23 Mr. Moto // Aug 31, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    All Asian guys I know think she is ugly. She looks cross-eyed to me. I think she appeals to white guys with Asian fetish. She just looks like a average girl walking around Chinatown to me. I do think she is an ok actress though. Zhang Ziyi & Kelly Hu are much better looking. So is that Korean girl from My Sassy Girl.

  • 24 KR // Feb 12, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Its not Taiwanese. by Chinese Taipean or something. Get your geopolitics correct

  • 25 amazon ghd // Sep 7, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    The best hair Straighteners.a

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