Tzi Ma

Tzi Ma
Tzi Ma (28212965079).jpg
Ma in 2016
Born (1962-06-10) June 10, 1962 (age 59)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1979–present
Christina Ma
( m. 1994)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 馬泰
Simplified Chinese 马泰

Tzi Ma (Chinese: 馬泰; born June 10, 1962)[1][2] is a Hong Kong-American actor. He is well known for his roles in television shows, such as The Man in the High Castle and 24, and films, such as Dante's Peak, Rush Hour, Rush Hour 3, Arrival, The Farewell, and Tigertail. In 2021, he stars in the American martial arts television series Kung Fu on The CW.

Early life and education

Ma was born in Hong Kong, the youngest of seven children.[3][4] In 1949, Ma's father moved to Hong Kong following the Chinese Communist Revolution and then to the United States when Ma was five years old following political turmoil in Hong Kong.[4] Ma grew up in New York, where his parents ran the American Chinese restaurant, Ho Wah, in Staten Island.[4] According to Ma, immigration activist Lau Sing Kee had previously operated the restaurant.[2] He found his love for acting when he played Buffalo Bill in an elementary school production of Annie Get Your Gun.[4]


Tzi Ma as a young man.
Tzi Ma in the late 1970s.

Although often referred to as the familiar Asian face in film and television,[4][5] Ma has deep ties to theatre.[6] He cites Mako's performance in Pacific Overtures in 1976 as a major influence on his acting career.[3] And he is close friends with playwright David Henry Hwang, having collaborated with him on several plays, such as FOB, Yellow Face, Flower Drum Song, and The Dance and the Railroad, throughout the years and starring in the film, Golden Gate (1993), which was written by Hwang.[6] Ma started professionally acting in 1973 through experimental theater.[3] At that time, he was in a residency at Nassau Community College studying acting and teaching movement.[6] His first theatre performance was in 1975 at an outdoor theater in Roosevelt State Park as the Monkey King in a stage adaptation of a Beijing opera titled, Monkey King in the Yellow Stone King.[5][6] He estimated that there were about 5 to 10 thousand audience members in attendance.[6]

Ma also practiced martial arts prior to doing film work.[7] He leveraged those skills in his film debut as Jimmy Lee in Cocaine Cowboys (1979).[7]

During the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, Ma found work at South Coast Repertory in Orange County playing various characters in the play, In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe. The play closed the weekend the strike ended, and by next week, he landed a role in the L.A. Law television series.[6] In 1994, he was the assistant director on a stage production of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.[8]

His major film roles include credits in The Quiet American, the remake of The Ladykillers, and Dante's Peak. Additionally, he has appeared as Consul Han in the Rush Hour series and General Shang, the commander of the Chinese military in Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (2016).[9]

Ma has appeared in numerous Asian American-produced independent films, such as Red Doors, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999), Baby (2007), The Sensei (2008), and The Farewell (2019).

Ma was interviewed for The Slanted Screen (2006), a documentary directed by Jeff Adachi about the representation of Asian, primarily East Asian, men in Hollywood.


He is also known for his recurring role as Cheng Zhi, the head of security for the Chinese Consulate (Los Angeles), on the television series 24, first appearing in the series's fourth season and reprising the role in 24: Live Another Day. He also voiced Bàba Ling, Francine's adoptive father, in the animated TV series American Dad!

He also had a role in the first season of Martial Law as Lee "Nemesis" Hei, first major antagonist and Sammo Law's arch-nemesis.

Ma's other TV credits include guest appearances on MacGyver, Walker, Texas Ranger, Law & Order, ER, Boomtown, Commander in Chief, Chicago Hope, The Unit, Star Trek: The Next Generation, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Millennium, Fringe, Cold Case, NCIS: Los Angeles, Hawaii Five-0, Lie to Me, The Cosby Show, Grey's Anatomy, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Hell on Wheels. Ma also had a voice role in the video game Sleeping Dogs. He also appeared on the ABC series Once Upon a Time as "The Dragon".[10] He also appeared as a zen master on the USA series Satisfaction.[11]

He appeared as General Onoda in the Amazon show The Man In The High Castle and as Tao on AMC’s Hell On Wheels.[9] In July 2018, it was announced that Ma was cast in the recurring role of Mr. Young on the Netflix series Wu Assassins.[12][13]

In 2020, Ma was cast as a series regular in The CW's modern reboot of Kung Fu (1972).[14]

Personal life

In May 2020, as racism against Asian Americans was on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic,[15] Ma joined Representative Ted Lieu and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, at the "Stand Against Racism in the Time of COVID" forum held by Asia Society.[16][non-primary source needed]



Year Title Role Notes
1979 Cocaine Cowboys Jimmy Lee
1981 They All Laughed Extra Uncredited
1986 The Money Pit Hwang
1990 RoboCop 2 Tak Akita
1992 Rapid Fire Kinman Tau
1993 Golden Gate Chen Jung Song
1995 Make a Wish, Molly David Wong Short film
1996 Chain Reaction Lu Chen
1997 Dante's Peak Stan
Red Corner Li Cheng
1998 Rush Hour Solon Han
1999 Catfish in Black Bean Sauce Vinh
2002 The Quiet American Hinh
2004 The Ladykillers The General
2005 Red Doors Ed Wong
2006 Akeelah and the Bee Mr. Chiu
2007 Baby Pops
Rush Hour 3 Solon Han
Battle in Seattle The Governor
2008 The Sensei Buddhist Monk
Management Truc Quoc
All God's Children Can Dance Glen
2009 Formosa Betrayed Kuo
2012 The Campaign Mr. Zheng
2013 Mad in Chinatown Hangman Short film
2014 A Good Man Mr. Chen
Million Dollar Arm Chang
Sutures Jim Short film
2015 Diablo Quok Mi
Baby Steps Mr. Lin
Pali Road Arnold Zhang
2016 Arrival General Shang
2017 Meditation Park Bing
The Jade Pendant Yu Hing
2018 Skyscraper Fire Chief Zheng
2019 The Farewell Haiyan Wang
2020 Mulan Hua Zhou[17][18]
Tigertail Pin-Jui[19]
The Kid Detective Mr. Chang


Year Title Role Notes
1984 The Cosby Show Mr. Lee 1 episode
1985 The Equalizer Lin 1 episode
1989 L.A. Law Ed Chang 1 episode
Star Trek: The Next Generation Physiologist 1 episode
MacGyver Wing Lee 1 episode
1990 Yellowthread Street Detective Eddie Pak 6 episodes
Forbidden Nights Li Dao Television film
Midnight Caller Arthur Chang 1 episode
Head of the Class Kwong 1 episode
1993 Street Justice Bryn To Chi
1994 The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Chan
1996 JAG Inspector Chang 1 episode
1994–2001 NYPD Blue Detective Harold Ng 3 episodes
1996–2000 Nash Bridges Jimmy Zee 3 episodes
1998–99 Martial Law Lee Hei 5 episodes
1998–99 Millennium Dr. Takashi
Capt. Youfook Law
2 episodes
2000 Chicago Hope Mr. Wang 1 episode
The Pretender Ki Mok/Chen Thon 1 episode
City of Angels Dr. Henry Lu 4 episodes
Walker, Texas Ranger General Nimh 1 episode
2001 Gideon's Crossing Dr. To 1 episode
2002 The Bernie Mac Show Ed 1 episode
ER Liam Young 1 episode
Boomtown Roger Lam 1 episode
Law & Order Li Chen 1 episode
2003 The Practice Tang Jingyu 1 episode
2004 Jake 2.0 Nanda Sang 1 episode
Hawaii Joseph Dao 1 episode
2005 JAG Admiral Lutarno 1 episode
2005–07 24 Cheng Zhi 13 episodes
2006 Commander in Chief Chinese Ambassador 2 episodes
The Unit Rudolph Hatano 1 episode
Deadwood Mahjong Player 1 episode
2007 Dragon Boys Henry Wah 2 episodes
2007–13 American Dad! Bah Bah Ling 11 episode
Voice role
2008 Grey's Anatomy Patterson 1 episode
2009 The Beast Kim Nam 1 episode
Dirty Sexy Money Tsung Shien Chun 1 episode
Cold Case Bo-Lin Chen 1 episode
Fringe Ming Che 1 episode
Dollhouse Matsu 1 episode
2010 NCIS: Los Angeles Jun Lee 1 episode
Lie to Me Mr. Chen 1 episode
The Whole Truth Judge Garrett 1 episode
2011 Hawaii Five-O Chi 1 episode
2011 CHAOS Quon 1 episode
2012 Perception Professor Arthur Wei 1 episode
2012 Vegas Watanabe 1 episode
2013 Saving Hope Dr. Lin 1 episode
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Quan 1 episode
2013–16 Once Upon a Time The Dragon 3 episodes
2014 24: Live Another Day Cheng Zhi 3 episodes
2014 State of Affairs Premier Chu Jian 1 episode
2014–15 Satisfaction Zen Master
9 episodes
2015 Hell on Wheels Tao 6 episodes
2016 Elementary Xi Hai Ching 1 episode
Man Seeking Woman Master Sheng 1 episode
Stitchers De Deshei 1 episode
Angie Tribeca Joseph Takagi 1 episode
The Man in the High Castle General Onoda 6 episodes
2016–17 Veep Lu Chi-Jung 3 episodes
2017 Ransom Senator Vang 1 episode
The Catch Kenji Yoshida 1 episode
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders Inspector Cheong 1 episode
2018 Silicon Valley Factory Manager Yao 2 episodes
The Resident Ted Zhou 1 episode
2018–19 Star Wars Resistance Senator Hamato Xiono 2 episodes
Voice role
2019 Wu Assassins Mr. Young Recurring role
2020 Bosch Brent Charles 2 episodes
2021 Kung Fu Jin Chen Main role


Ma has received awards for his acting roles including the Cine Golden Eagle Award for Best Actor for The Dance and The Railroad and the Garland Award for his acting in Flower Drum Song.


  1. ^ "Tzi Ma biography and filmography | Tzi Ma movies". Tribute. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  2. ^ a b Yap, Audrey Cleo (2020-09-04). "How 'Mulan's' Tzi Ma Became Hollywood's Go-To Asian Dad (Watch)". Variety. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  3. ^ a b c #IAm Tzi Ma Story, archived from the original on 2020-03-06, retrieved 2019-12-22
  4. ^ a b c d e "From '24' To 'Mulan:' Character Actor Tzi Ma". Archived from the original on 2019-12-22. Retrieved 2019-12-22.
  5. ^ a b momo (2014-09-17). "Actor Tzi Ma in "Satisfaction" and "24"". CAAM Home. Archived from the original on 2019-12-22. Retrieved 2019-12-22.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Actor Tzi Ma Rides 'Hell On Wheels' to New Heights". AsAm News. 2015-09-01. Archived from the original on 2019-12-22. Retrieved 2019-12-22.
  7. ^ a b Tzi Ma on The Farewell, Rush Hour, and working with the amazing Veep cast, archived from the original on 2020-01-02, retrieved 2019-12-22
  8. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (1994-06-05). "THEATER; It's Tough to Get Ghosts to Be Human on Stage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-03-17. Retrieved 2020-03-17.
  9. ^ a b Derdeyn, Stuart (November 11, 2016). "Tzi Ma's big-screen Arrival comes on back of many varied roles". Vancouver Sun. Archived from the original on January 6, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  10. ^ "'Once Upon a Time': The Dragon Returns in Season 6!". Archived from the original on 26 September 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  11. ^ Elavsky, Cindy (August 24, 2014). "Celebrity Extra". King Features. Archived from the original on April 3, 2019. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  12. ^ Petski, Denise (20 July 2018). "'Wu Assassins': Katheryn Winnick, Lewis Tan, Tommy Flanagan & Tzi Ma Join Netflix Martial Arts Drama". Deadline. Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  13. ^ "'Tigertail's Tzi Ma Transcends Role As Hollywood's Go-To Asian Father To Become Trailblazing Icon". Deadline.
  14. ^ Otterson, Joe (May 3, 2021). "'Kung Fu' Renewed for Season 2, 'Stargirl' Gets Season 3 at CW". Variety. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  15. ^ "Racism targets Asian food, business during COVID-19 pandemic". AP NEWS. 2020-12-20. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  16. ^ "Standing Against Racism in the Time of COVID". Asia Society. Retrieved 2021-01-23.
  17. ^ "Mulan's Tzi Ma: After 120-Plus Roles, a Beloved Actor's Career Surges". Vanity Fair.
  18. ^ "'Mulan' Star Tzi Ma Recalls Racist Attack, Advocates for Others to #WashTheHate". Variety.
  19. ^ "Tzi Ma is already everyone's go-to Asian dad. Netflix's 'Tigertail' makes him the star". Los Angeles Times.

External links