The year 2017 has been prolific for the Chinese film industry so far, from the star-dusted cast of the East-meets-West collaboration “The Great Wall” to Kris Wu’s bigger-than-minor character in Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” Chinese actors are rising stars in the global film industry. Here is a list of the top 10 Chinese actors who are doing extremely well domestically, and (if not already) are likely to gain more international recognition in the coming years.
Known for: xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Kris Wu has some pretty cool gigs in Hollywood this year—you might recognize him as Sergeant Neza in Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” or Nick in this year’s xXx movie, but his stardom in his native China is a lot more far-reaching. Wu is probably the fastest emerging young actor in China right now. Having started out as a member of the Korean-Chinese boyband EXO in 2012, he soon went on to record independently. He recorded the ending soundtracks for the third installment of Guo Jingming’s “Tiny Times” trilogy and China’s box office hit “Mr Six.” Wu landed his first lead acting role in 2014, in the Chinese romance “Somewhere Only We Know,” and has since gained international recognition. Wu made the May cover of Elle this year and was on a promotional tour with the Valerian crew in late July.
Known for: Rush Hour, The Karate Kid, Drunken Master, Skiptrace, Shanghai Knight
If anyone were to think of Chinese actors, Jackie Chan might be the first name they come up with. Chan, who never received any formal education (he went to drama and martial arts school), is the second Chinese actor to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The other star belongs to Bruce Lee, for whom Chan played a stunt double in “Fist of Fury” (1972) and “Enter the Dragon” (1973) when he was first starting out. He had his first shot as lead actor in the 1973 martial arts flick “Little Tiger of Canton” and made his name in the Hong Kong entertainment industry in “Drunken Master” (1978). Since then, Chan has starred in more than 200 movies in both English and Chinese and voiced Master Monkey in the “Kung Fu Panda” films. In 2016, Chan received an honorary Oscar and has also been out and about in Beijing promoting the new BBC Earth documentary that he narrated.
Known for: The Great Wall, Infernal Affairs, House of Flying Daggers
Andy Lau’s face has been around show business for almost four decades. He is known as the “ageless man” who never looked really young but seemed to stop aging once he hit 30. Domestically, he is regarded as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Hong Kong, a term coined by a Chinese publication in 1992 that referred to the four biggest male superstars in Hong Kong at the time. Lau’s most recent involvement with Hollywood was “The Great Wall,” in which he co-starred with Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe. Lau’s latest movie “The Adventurers,” co-starring Jean Reno is currently in theaters in China.
Known for: I Love That Crazy Little Thing, Cook Up a Storm, Heartfall Arises
Some say that Tse was ‘sold’ into the entertainment industry. He was born into the spotlight in Hong Kong to celebrity parents Patrick Tse and Deborah Lee. After his parents split in his teenage years, Tse allegedly signed a 10-year contract with a prominent Hong Kong entertainment company to help his father pay a huge debt. He started as a singer and later transitioned into acting. He kick started his acting career in the film “Young and Dangerous: The Prequel” (1998) and has since won multiple Hong Kong Film Awards. Tse, who owns a special effects firm, will star in “The Bombing” (2018) a World War II drama co-starring Bruce Willis.
Known for: The Great Wall, Exit No. 6, My DNA Says I Love You, Back in Time
Eddie Peng was allegedly never interested in acting. His family moved from Taiwan to Canada when he was 13 and during a trip back to Taiwan for his grandmother’s funeral, he was cast by director Yang Daqing as the male lead in the television teen drama series, Tomorrow. After the release of the show in 2002, he swiftly rose to fame and became a national heartthrob. Peng has starred in the popular Taiwanese teen flick “Exit No.6” and has been nominated for a best actor award at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival for his role in the romantic comedy “My DNA Says I Love You.” He made his Hollywood debut in 2016 in “The Great Wall,” co-starring Matt Damon. Peng was last spotted in New York City last month for the screening of his latest film, “Our Time Will Come.”
Known for: Chinese Paladin, Nirvana in Fire, Diva, China 1911
Hu Ge got his break in showbiz as a part-time host of an education channel on local Shanghai television and appeared in commercials throughout high school. He is most famous for his role in the video game-turned fantasy TV series Chinese Paladin and the historic film “China 1911,” which was co-directed by Jackie Chan. Hu took more than a year off from acting after being injured in a car accident in 2006, after which he wrote a book documenting his recovery. Some of his fans think he had a major personality change after the accident. Earlier this year, Hu was rumored to be taking a break from acting to study directing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Known for: Ip Man 2, The Prince of Han Dynasty, The Message, Shanghai Bund
Huang holds a bachelor’s degree in acting from China’s most prestigious film school, Beijing Film Academy. He got his start in acting through the 2000s Chinese costume drama series The Return of the Condor Heroes and became a fan-favorite in the teen romance movie “Summer Desires,” which was based on the bestselling novel under the same name. He won best actor at the 2013 Golden Rooster Awards, the Chinese equivalent of the Academy Awards. Huang’s fame is sometimes overshadowed by that of his wife, the controversial actress and luxury brand darling Angelababy (they’re kind of like the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of China (before their split)). Huang and Angelababy welcomed their first child earlier this year.
Known for: Battle of Memories, Extraordinary Mission, White Deer Plain, The Dead End
Unlike most of his colleagues in China, Duan Yihong went to drama school and started out as a stage actor at the National Theatre Company of China. For two seasons in the early 2000s, he played the leading role in the renowned Chinese playwright Liao Yimei’s Rhinoceros in Love. Duan made his TV debut in the World War II series The Proof Of Memories, which gained him wide acclaim among Chinese audiences. Duan was last seen in New York City last month, attending the New York Asian Film Festival, during which both of the movies he starred in— “Battle of Memories” and “Extraordinary Mission”—made their debut on a New York screen.
Known for: The Dream of Red Mansions, The Left Ear, The Lost Tomb, A Smile Is Beautiful
Yang was cast as mawkish protagonist Jia Baoyu in the TV adaptation of “The Dream of Red Mansions,” one of China’s four great classical novels. Although the 2010 show was generally thought to be mediocre, it made Yang a familiar face on the TV screen. His popularity rose in 2014 when he starred in another Web-TV adaptation of another extremely popular novel in China at the time, “The Lost Tomb.” The Chinese fantasy costume drama “Once Upon a Time” (different from the ABC show) co-directed by the visual artist of the original Spider Man 2 film, in which Yang plays a major role is currently showing in cinemas in China.
Known for: Sparrow, Founding of an Army, Swords of Legends, Forever Young
Li Yifeng made his name as a singer in a Chinese talent show back in 2007. Since then, he’s released three EPs and two albums and made himself a household name among Chinese millennials in a TV series inspired by a popular video game “Swords of Legends.” Li also co-starred with Yang Yang as another male lead in “The Lost Tomb.” This year, he played a major role in the Chinese main melody film “The Founding of an Army,” which is currently showing in cinemas in China. Outside of music and acting, Li is also considered a fashion icon in his native China. He was one of the winners of the 2014 Elle Style Awards and was ranked No. 9 on the Forbes Chinese celebrity list in 2015. Li is currently touring major cities in China to promote his new film, “Guilty of Mind,” which was released in China on August 11.
Correction: August 23, 2017—An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that Kris Wu’s first lead acting role was in 2016. Wu’s first lead acting role was in 2014 in “Somewhere Only We Know”.