Jin Shen in “Kung Fu”
Tzi Ma stars as Jin Shen, Nicky’s (Olivia Liang) sweet, affable dad, on The CW’s “Kung Fu.”
For more than four decades, Ma has blazed new trails for the representation of Asian Americans in Hollywood. Celebrated for his uncanny versatility, his body of work encompasses virtually every genre across film, TV and theater. From big budget studio pictures like Disney’s “Mulan” and the “Rush Hour” series to acclaimed independent films like “The Farewell” and “Meditation Park,” Ma’s unforgettable performances have garnered unanimous critical acclaim and honors throughout his groundbreaking career.
Long outspoken on issues of racism and media inclusivity, Ma has been a leading voice for the Asian American community. Despite the limited number of parts for actors of Asian descent during the early part of his career, Ma vehemently refused to perform roles that he considered demeaning or stereotypical. This unwavering stance helped kickstart a newfound consciousness in Hollywood that has transformed the way Asian American characters are portrayed.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Staten Island, Ma worked at a family-owned Chinese restaurant while honing his craft in the New York theater scene. During this period, he worked with then-emerging playwrights David Henry Hwang and Eric Overmyer, who both wrote plays specifically for Ma (“The Dance” and the “Railroad and In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe,” respectively.)
In 1978, Ma made his screen debut alongside Jack Palance and Andy Warhol in the cult classic “Cocaine Cowboys,” directed by Ulli Lommel. Throughout the 1980s, Ma continued to perform in regional and off-Broadway productions, while appearing as a guest star on hit television programs like “The Cosby Show,” “The Equalizer,” “LA Law,” “MacGyver” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In the 1990s, Ma became a ubiquitous presence of the big screen with supporting roles in such major releases as “Robocop 2,” “Rapid Fire,” “Chain Reaction,” “Dante’s Peak” and “Rush Hour.”
As the new millennium began, Ma balanced a prolific film and television career in which he appeared in over 25 shows between 2000 and 2009, including “NYPD Blue,” “ER,” “Law & Order” and “24.” During this time, Ma also began diversifying his roles on the silver screen with a range of unconventional characters. In addition to critically-praised performances in such prestige projects as Phillip Noyce’s “The Quiet American,” starring Michael Caine, and Joel and Ethan Coen’s “The Ladykillers,” starring Tom Hanks, Ma also began appearing in independent features by up-and-coming Asian American and Asian Canadian filmmakers.
Throughout the 2010s, Ma had scene-stealing roles in “Million Dollar Arm,” “Arrival” and “The Farewell,” as well as recurring parts on major TV shows such as “24: Live Another Day,” “Hell on Wheels” and “The Man in the High Castle.” He also branched out into voice work with roles on animated shows like “American Dad!” and video games like “Sleeping Dogs.” In 2017, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television nominated Ma for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as a suspected philandering husband in Mina Shum’s acclaimed drama “Meditation Park.”
At the dawn of a new decade, Ma continues to be in high demand as his career reaches unprecedented new heights. His performance as a dispassionate father and divorcee in Netflix’s “Tigertail” earned him rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. He was seen in one of his most high-profile roles to date as a father of the titular character in Disney’s action adventure “Mulan.” Ma also appeared in Lifetime’s holiday film “A Sugar & Spice Holiday.” His latest film, “A Shot Through the Wall,” was released in January 2022.