Ming-Na Wen’s Best Movie and TV Roles
Ming-Na Wen was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 30, 2023, marking just one of many honors she has received throughout her impressive career. Fittingly, unveiling the star were Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren Tom, and Rosalind Chao, who appeared alongside Wen in her breakthrough film, The Joy Luck Club, 30 years ago.
Since The Joy Luck Club, Wen’s career has been nothing short of iconic. As Hollywood Walk of Fame producer Ana Martinez stated, “She inspired women everywhere to embrace their inner warrior.” Over three decades, she has portrayed strong-willed daughters, women warriors, secret agents, and elite mercenaries, inspiring countless girls to be the most badass versions of themselves that they can be. Given the well-deserved milestone of being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, here’s a look back on Wen’s best movies and TV shows over the years, ranked to the best.
Following her breakthrough in The Joy Luck Club, Wen earned a spot on the NBC medical drama ER as Dr. Jing-Mei “Deb” Chen. She was a recurring guest star for a year before returning to ER as a regular from 2000 to 2004. The series follows the medical team working in the emergency room at County General Hospital, and explores the lives of the employees and the patients they encounter. ER ran for a total of 15 seasons, and while it wasn’t a unique concept, it was a fairly realistic and dramatic depiction of the medical profession. Wen gave an especially compelling performance as a woman who often had to fight for her rightful position and promotions at the hospital.
9. 50 States of Fright
50 States of Fright is a horror anthology from Quibi, featuring stories from directors such as Sam Raimi, Lee Cronin, and Yoko Okumura. Each story is two or three parts and takes place in one of the 50 states in the U.S. Wen appears in Okumura’s three-part story, “America’s Largest Ball of Twine (Kansas).” She portrays Susan, a newly widowed mother who takes her daughter, Amelia (Thailey Roberge), on a road trip to see the largest ball of twine in Kansas. Given that 50 States is an anthology series, the quality varies from episode to episode and the format takes some getting used to, as each episode is only 10 minutes long. However, most of the stories offer strong horror and dark comedy and are elevated by strong performances, such as Wen’s.
8. Phineas and Ferb
Wen had a minor role in the hit animated TV series Phineas and Ferb. She appears in 10 episodes as Dr. Hirano, the mother of Stacy (Kelly Hu). Dr. Hirano is impressed by Candace (Ashley Tisdale)’s drive to bust her brothers and expresses her desire for Stacy to be more driven. Phineas and Ferb ran from 2007 to 2015 and proved to be one of Disney Channel’s most successful animated series. It is the kind of show that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages and is filled with charm, humor, and top-notch music sequences. Phineas and Ferb isn’t the most serious TV show out there, but it is some very wholesome entertainment. Hopefully Wen will reprise her role for the Phineas and Ferb revival, as well.
7. Star Wars: The Bad Batch
Star Wars: The Bad Batch is an animated sequel to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The series follows a group of genetically modified clone troopers known as the Bad Batch. Because of their genetic modifications, the clones each have a unique specialty and can also resist Order 66. The Bad Batch follows them on several missions across the galaxy, where they run into familiar Star Wars characters like Fennec Shand (Wen) and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The show doesn’t quite exceed its more emotional and expansive predecessor, but it features some strong episodes and an intriguing premise. It also delves deeper into Star Wars lore for more hardcore fans of the franchise.
6. The Book of Boba Fett
The Book of Boba Fett is a spinoff of The Mandalorian that explores Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison)’s past through flashbacks, as well as Fett and Shand’s quest to reclaim Jabba the Hutt’s former territory in the present. The Book of Boba Fett struggles quite a bit in its pacing and storyline, as it seemingly runs out of material partway through, and the last few episodes become The Mandalorian 2.0. However, the series does have some merits. It shows a different side of Fett and features strong action, visuals, and performances by Morrison and Wen—who especially stands out as a formidable and fearsome mercenary who blurs the lines between good and evil but has her own fierce form of loyalty and honor.
5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is technically the first Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show, though whether it should be considered canon is a long-running debate. The show follows Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team of agents, including his long-time friend Melinda May (Wen), as they investigate the Inhuman outbreak and Hydra threats. While it struggled to find its footing at times, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was enjoyable for most of its run. The series demonstrated the benefits of translating Marvel to the small screen and was filled with thrilling adventures, strong story arcs, and masterfully developed characters. Gregg and Wen are two of the best parts of the series as the veteran members of S.H.I.E.L.D. who take on mentorship roles with the younger members and learn to heal from their tragic pasts together.
4. The Mandalorian
Before appearing in The Book of Boba Fett, Wen debuted as Shand in The Mandalorian. She is one of several faces Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) comes across on his journey throughout the galaxy with Grogu, the adorable bounty he chose to save. Even Djarin respects the formidable Shand, though her reputation puts in her in danger. The Mandalorian is one of the best live-action Star Wars series so far. The bond between Djarin and Grogu is heartwarming to watch, and the show effectively sets itself apart in the Star Wars universe. It finds its own stride and avoids being formulaic, while still having enough Star Wars vibes to appeal to both new and longtime fans of the franchise.
Wen portrayed what is arguably one of her most iconic roles in the 1998 film Mulan. In the film, Wen voices the titular character, who impersonates a man to join the Chinese military in place of her ailing father. Mulan was a fairly impressive film for its time in that it centered on a woman challenging her country’s patriarchal regime and proving that she was just as smart, capable, and brave as any man in the Chinese military. Plus, it’s a film that delves into Chinese lore, family pride, and loyalty, and features catchy tunes and plenty of comedic relief. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect or wholly faithful depiction of Chinese culture. However, both The Joy Luck Club and Mulan were important steps for Asian representation in Hollywood.
Yasuke is an anime loosely based on the life of the African warrior Yasuke, who served under Japanese daimyō Oda Nobunaga in the 1500s. The series follows Yasuke (Lakeith Stanfield) after the death of Nobunaga, when his attempts to retire are interrupted by a woman and daughter who need his protection. Yasuke blends fantasy and history to create an intriguing tale of a samurai warrior in a technologically advanced feudal Japan. The animation is beautiful, the story highlights an often-forgotten historical legend, and the fantasy elements are intriguing. Plus, viewers get to see Wen returning to a warrior role as she voices Natsumaru, a female samurai who also served under Nobunaga.
1. The Joy Luck Club
Released in 1993, The Joy Luck Club is a film adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel of the same name. Like the book, the film is divided into 16 vignettes following the stories of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their first-generation Asian American daughters. It is a heartfelt look at the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, and the difficulties of navigating two cultures and trying to understand the stories of strength and tragedy behind one’s sometimes overbearing parents. Wen shines as Jing-Mei Woo, a woman who must navigate her mother’s guilt and expectations for her to be a prodigy. The Joy Luck Club can be melodramatic at times, but it is a near-perfect adaptation of Tan’s novel and is a powerful, tear-jerking, and seamless depiction of a bond between mother and daughter that transcends clashing cultures.
(featured image: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution / ABC / Disney+ / NBC / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
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