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TV Shows With Chinese Actors You Need To Be Watching

In the past few years, there have been more calls for diversity in Hollywood. For the last two years, #OscarsSoWhite trended around the Internet after people of color were completely shut out of the acting categories and most of the categories altogether at the Oscars. But the lack of diversity in Hollywood is not limited to big budget silver screen films. A far more daily reminder of the lack of diversity in Hollywood plays out on the small screen. This is slowly changing, though. There are several TV shows out there right now that feature Chinese actors. In order to see these shows renewed and see more TV shows cast with Asian actors, YOU need to be watching them. Here are four TV shows starring Chinese actors you need to be watching.

1. Fresh Off The Boat. I’m guilty of putting off watching this one because I was a little nervous about it. I’m not a fan of the comedian behind it – Eddie Huang – so I was worried the humor wouldn’t translate well. But was I wrong. My god-daughter calls it “the ChineseModern Family.” And after finally devouring the first season in two days, I have to agree. The humor is just as good as anything written on Modern Family and has broad appeal. For me personally, since I have lived in China, Orlando, and was a teenager in the 90s, the show and its humor appeal to me on every level. Even if you don’t hit all those notes, there is something here for everyone. The good news is the show was just renewed for its third season!

The show stars Constance Wu as Jessica the mom, Randall Park (he’s actually Korean, but that is a different conversation) as Louis the dad, and Hudson Yang as Eddie the eldest son. It follows the Huang family as they move from Washington DC to Orlando in 1995 where Louis opens a steakhouse. While the whole cast is amazing and everyone is funny (even the grandma, who only speaks Chinese) Wu’s Jessica is the real show-stealer. Every scene she is in is laugh out loud funny and she perfectly captures the quintessential “Chinese mother.” The casting also features a whole host of other Chinese and Asian actors. In summary: funny, funny, funny. Definitely check it out. Fresh Off The Boat is on ABC.

2. Rush Hour. Can you believe it has been eighteen years since the Rush Hour movie came out? Unfortunately, the TV version was canceled after only its first season (which was only a half season), but you can still check out the last two episodes on CBS on Thursday nights. While Rush Hour couldn’t quite live up to the quality and charm of the original, it should have been given another season. The show was funny, the martial arts were decent, and the plot definitely made for a quality hour of television. I will certainly miss this one next year.

The show starred Jon Foo as Agent Lee (the Jackie Chan role),  Justin Hires as Detective Carter (the Chris Tucker role), and Jessika Van as Kim, agent Lee’s sister. The martial arts are not as good as the original movie, but without Chan and with a TV budget, having the same standard would be an impossible task, but they do what they can. I said after episode 4, “they really need more martial arts in this show,” and then episode 5, Assault on Precinct 7, really went all out. I was impressed. The show had an uphill battle to climb to stand on the shoulders of the original, but it did a really great job and deserved more of a chance. Check it out before it’s gone!

3. Into The Badlands. If it’s martial arts you want, then Into the Badlands is for you. We are talking Game of Thrones level violence here, and it is amazing! The really exciting news is that AMC renewed Into the Badlands for a second season! The show features Daniel Wu as Sunny, a (smokin’ hot) warrior in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where guns are outlawed so everyone uses hand-to-hand combat, even the women! the only issue with the show is that Wu is the only Chinese actor in it. The two other notable non-white characters are Sunny’s girlfriend, Veil, played by Madeleine Mantock, who is of Black, Hispanic, and European descent, and Sunny’s padawan M.K., played by Aramis Knight, who is of German, Indian, and Pakistani descent. Still, that’s pretty high diversity for most American TV shows today. It also gets a bump and is on this list because the general plot of Into the Badlands is loosely based on Journey to the West, the famous Chinese saga of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to the Western Regions to obtain Buddhist sacred texts. I haven’t noticed many similarities yet, but the characters haven’t yet begun their “journey.” Hopefully the series will last long enough to see those similarities come through.

4. Hell on Wheels, Season Five. Yes, just season five. One of the only things most Americans know about Chinese-American history is that Chinese laborers were used to build the railroads. Yet Hell on Wheels’ creators must have missed even that little tidbit in history class because for the first four seasons there was not one Chinese character. The show finally makes up for that dearth by making the Chinese railroad workers the central plot of season five. You don’t need to watch the first four seasons to know what is going on. Two railroad companies are trying to be the first to reach California. Most of what happened in the first four seasons is completely irrelevant to where the show is now. And since the show has a penchant for (spoilers) killing off its totally amazing women characters, I would have stopped watching it myself if the fifth season hadn’t focused on the Chinese railroad workers. The final season of Hell on Wheels(which is the second half of season five) will premiere on June 11, so you have plenty of time to catch the first half of season five before then. Hell on Wheelsseason five stars Anson Mount as Cullen Bohanon, the railroad foreman, Byron Mann as Chang, the dangerous “rice shop” owner who supplies the railroad with Chinese workers, Angela Zhou as Fong, a young railroad worker with a secret, and Tzi Ma as Fong’s father. The plot is strong, the characters are realistic, and the casting is excellent. It’s only too bad Hell on Wheels didn’t include these characters from the beginning. Hell on Wheels is also on AMC.

Check out this behind the scenes story about the making of season five of Hell on Wheels.

Amanda Roberts

A writer and editor who has been living in China since 2010.