Tzi Ma

Tzi Ma Photo

Born in Hong Kong but raised in Staten Island, New York City, Tzi Ma played Buffalo Bill in a school production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun, but before he realized that acting was his passion, he took a few detours.

Tzi (pronounced Ty) dabbled in pre-med and political science to appease his traditional Chinese parents, but he always had a strong interest in the arts. He studied classical theater and dance, and eventually settled on acting as the form of creative expression that he wanted to pursue.

He won his first film role with a minor part in the crime drama Cocaine Cowboys (1979) with Jack Palance, Tom Sullivan and Andy Warhol. He followed that up with a role in the comedy The Money Pit (1986) starring Tom Hanks before he tested his skills on the small screen. In 1989, he played a biomolecular physiologist in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The '90s were kind to Tzi, who found work in RoboCop 2 (1990), the sci-fi thriller Chain Reaction (1996) with Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman, the action thriller Dante's Peak (1997) with Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, Red Corner (1997) with Richard Gere and Bradley Whitford, and one of his biggest projects to date, Brett Ratner's Rush Hour (1998) with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. In the comedy, which grossed over $140 million at the box office, Tzi played Chinese consul Solon Han.

In 2000, Tzi went back to TV to work with guest roles on a number of series, including Nash Bridges, Walker, Texas Ranger and Chicago Hope.

Working alongside Academy Award winner Michael Caine in 2002, Tzi had a supporting part in the drama The Quiet American, which was nominated for an Oscar. He continued to work with acclaimed actors when he joined forces with Tom Hanks for the second time in the comedy The Ladykillers (2004), directed by the Coen brothers.

The next year, he began work on the action adventure series 24 with Kiefer Sutherland. The show won two Golden Globes and several Emmys. Tzi played Cheng Zhi in the series and acted in 13 episodes between 2005 and 2007. In 2007, he also began voice work on American Dad!, which he lent his talents to over 11 episodes, ending in 2013.

In the mid to late '00s, Tzi acted in several major motion pictures. He played Mr. Chiu in the drama Akeelah and the Bee (2006) with Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne and Keke Palmer; he reprised his role as Solon Han in Rush Hour 3 (2007), again working with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker; he acted in Stuart Townsend's action drama Battle in Seattle (2008); and he teamed up with Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson for the comedy Management (2008).

After acting in episodes of different shows including Grey's Anatomy (2008), Cold Case (2009), Fringe (2009), NCIS: Los Angeles (2010) and Hawaii Five-0 (2011), Tzi exercised his comedic muscles with Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis and Jason Sudeikis in The Campaign (2012).

He went back to TV in 2013 for work on the Emmy-nominated fantasy adventure series Once Upon a Time with Jennifer Morrison. He played the role of The Dragon and reprised the part two other times, ending in 2016. More recent TV credits include six episodes of the Western drama series Hell on Wheels and two episodes of the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy series Veep.

As for Tzi's film efforts, his latest projects include Million Dollar Arm (2014) with Jon Hamm, Diablo (2015) with Scott Eastwood and the sci-fi drama Arrival (2016) with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.

In advance of Arrival's release, Tzi spoke with about Denis Villeneuve's movie and his character General Shang. He said the film is "one of those unique films that is a big film, but it is really an intimate film. It is a very small story in a lot of ways. It follows this woman, basically a single mom, who has a tragic loss in her life but also happens to be a brilliant linguist. It has so much heart. It's a smart film."

While addressing General Shang, who's the leader of the Chinese military and known worldwide, he said he "is respected and feared" but also "not the typical bad guy."

Tzi, who admitted to that he has "always been very vocal" about his opinions and that he's "been known to storm out" of auditions and "say some choice words that people didn't appreciate," also appeared in the action film Lowlifes (2017) and the Canadian film Meditation Park (2018).

He currently plays the role of Jin Shen on the CW series, Kung Fu (2021-present).

The first of eight children, Tzi is fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, and has been married to actress Christina Ma since 1994.


A Shot Through the Wall (2021)
The Kid Detective (2020)
Tigertail (2020)
Mulan (2020)
The Farewell (2019)
Bad Company (2018)
Skyscraper (2018)
Meditation Park (2018)
Lowlifes (2018)
The Jade Pendant (2017)
Arrival (2016)
Path of Redemption (2016)
Diablo (2015)
Million Dollar Arm (2014)
The Campaign (2012)
Management (2008)
Battle in Seattle (2008)
Rush Hour 3 (2007)
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
The Ladykillers (2004)
The Quiet American (2002)
Rush Hour (1998)
Red Corner (1997)
Dante's Peak (1997)
Chain Reaction (1996)
Golden Gate (1993)
RoboCop 2 (1990)
The Money Pit (1986)
Cocaine Cowboys (1979)