Local Asian talent on the rise

New breed of actors challenge old guard

Asin, Deepika Padukone, Freida Pinto (India)

Bollywood royalty Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor are poised to see their reign over Indian cinema challenged by a trio of newcomers, who each have superstar quality.

Asin (nee Asin Thottumkal) has already been dubbed the “Queen of Kollywood,” or Tamil-language cinema, though she started her acting career with a string of Telugu-language pics and recently starred in what appears to be the top-grossing Hindi film of all time, “Ghajini.” She is set for further international exposure as the female lead of “London Dreams,” which could be picked up by Fox Star Studios as part of its first-look deal with Vipul Amrutlal Shah. She’s also tappped to star in Disney’s “The 19th Step.”

Deepika Padukone made a similarly dramatic career debut, co-starring opposite Shah Rukh Khan in 2007 B.O. record-breaker “Om Shanti Om.” Since then, the beauty has not only gotten more glamorous but also has been emphasizing her acting chops by playing dual roles in Warner Bros.’ “Chandni Chowk to China,” for which she also has an Asian Film Award nomination. She continues to count Khan as a backer, delivering an “item number” — an upbeat song-and-dance routine — in the recent “Billu.” She next stars in “Love Aaj Kal,” star Saif Ali Khan’s debut as a producer.

Although her role as the adult Latika in “Slumdog Millionaire” was relatively small, Freida Pinto has already captured the hearts of auds in Asia and the West. A former model with only a single film under her belt, Pinto has nevertheless been snapped up by Woody Allen for his next, untitled, pic. His track record of building the careers of female actresses underlines her claim to be more than just a pretty face.


Han Ye-seul (South Korea)

Born Leslie Kim in the U.S., model-turned-actress Han Ye-seul turned the tables on critics who had taken her merely for a looker and spokeswoman for cosmetics line Clarins. Having appeared in TV dramas including “Fantastic Couple,” her movie debut “Miss Gold Digger” earned her best newcomer prizes at South Korea’s Blue Dragon Awards and the Grand Bell Awards. She also collected a trio of prizes at the MBC Drama Awards and will next be seen in the TV series adaptation of hit film “Tazza: The High Rollers.” With fluent English a rarity among Korean stars, Han is now setting her sights on an acting career on both sides of the Pacific.

Sion Sono (Japan)

Once a maker of austere indie pics that screened widely on the global fest circuit but played poorly at home, Sion Sono has morphed in the current decade into a hit maker while expanding his international following. His latest, the quirky four-hour comic epic “Love Exposure,” has not only snagged fest prizes, including two at Berlin, but has turned out to be a winning commercial bet for distrib Phantom Film. Sono recently announced his intention to go to Hollywood, though he has yet to reveal exactly what project will take him there.

Yojiro Takita (Japan)

Long known as a reliable journeyman who turned out moderately successful commercial pics in a variety of genres, Yojiro Takita is now the toast of the Japanese biz following his surprise Oscar win for funeral dramedy “Departures.” The pic hit No. 1 at the Japanese B.O. in its 25th week of release, while sales agent Shochiku has sold it to 38 foreign territories and counting. Takita is already on the promo circuit for his next pic — the fishing comedy “Tsuri Kichi Sanpei” — while mulling his next move.  

Zhang Hanyu (China)

A dubbing artist for nearly 20 years, the Central Academy of Drama-trained Zhang Hanyu began his onscreen career with bit parts in a trio of comedy dramas by top Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang. In 2007, Feng set him as the lead in “The Assembly,” a war pic that delivered critical and box office gold. Unusually, the role earned Zhang top acting awards at both China’s Hundred Flowers kudosfest and Taiwan’s Golden Horse ceremony. In the last year he also ran away with the majority of plaudits in Chinese drama “Equation of Love and Death” and Hong Kong comedy “Look for a Star.” Both were smaller roles in which he gave the film depth and gravity and again demonstrated that his talents go considerably further than his voice.

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