American actress Lucy Liu turns 48 today. Aref Omar list some of the New York City-born actress’ big and small screen roles

1. ALLY MCBEAL (1998)

In one of the most popular TV series of the late 1990s, Liu made an indelible impression as the emotionally barren fellow lawyer, Ling Woo, to the titular character — a single young woman looking for love and fulfillment in life. Although Liu didn’t get the role she had auditioned for (Nelle Porter went to Portia De Rossi), creator David E. Kelley liked her so much after a guest appearance as Woo, that he created a main role for her which she carried from the second season till the fifth and final season.

2. PAYBACK (1999)

Who could forget her role as a cold-blooded dominatrix in this neo-noir crime film with Mel Gibson in the lead? Armed with a sharp tongue, a sharper razor whip and Chinese triad connections, she gives Gibson’s character a violent run for his money on his journey to recover what was stolen from him in a double-cross. Me-ouch!

3. SHANGHAI NOON (2000)

As an icy and rebellious Chinese princess who runs away from the Forbidden City, only to be betrayed and held captive in the American Old West, Liu provided the feminine and regal grounding to the silly antics of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson as a pair of odd pals who set out to rescue her. The action comedy mash-up of the kung fu, western and buddy cop genres was well received by critics and made a decent dent in the box office, which served to exposed moviegoers worldwide to the awesomeness that was Liu.

4. CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2000)

Based on the popular TV series from the 1970s, this action comedy following the outrageously daring exploits of three kickass female private detectives, was the perfect vehicle that solidified Liu as a bona fide Hollywood star. Starring opposite Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore, Liu and gang ignited the big screen with potent chemistry, contagious fun and over-the-top action sequences, garnering generally positive reviews and making a huge load of money at the box office — prompting an even more excessive sequel in 2003, (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle).

5. CYPHER (2002)

This entertaining small-scale sci-fi thriller sees Liu playing a mysterious femme fatale who teams up with a disenchanted accountant working as a spy in the dangerous world of corporate espionage. Reviews were positive, with one critic calling it a consistently intriguing 100 per cent plot-driven film with excellent performances from the cast.

6. KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 (2003)

Liu once again made heads turn as a deadly katana-wielding leader of the Japanese yakuza (her grand entrance with posse in tow to the banging tune of Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honour Or Humanity just exudes uber cool) in this martial arts action extravaganza about revenge. Director Quentin Tarantino scrapped his initial plan to cast a Japanese actress after seeing Liu in Shanghai Noon and gave her the role instead, which she also reprised in Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004).

7. LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (2006)

Liu plays the spunky neighbour and love interest of the titular character, a man accidentally caught in the middle of a war between two notorious crime bosses. The actress has said in a making of featurette that she had more fun doing this movie than any of her other film projects.

8. KUNG FU PANDA (2008)

Liu worked with Jackie Chan once more (as part of the star-studded voice cast, including Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie and Seth Rogen) in this computer-animated martial arts action comedy. She provided the voice for Master Viper, a green tree viper and member of the Furious Five, who fight alongside an obese panda chosen as the

Dragon Warrior.

Garnering positive reviews and a healthy box office taking, the film also received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Animated Feature.

9. THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

Wu-Tang Clan main man RZA wrote, produced and starred in this ultra cheesy and macho love letter to Hong Kong martial arts films of old. The film, about a group of individual warriors forced to unite to defeat a common foe to save their home, sees Liu as the no-nonsense “queen of an escort village”, complete with unparalleled fighting skills and a gaze that could cut through steel.

10. ELEMENTARY (2012)

The ongoing procedural drama TV series (currently in its fifth season) is a contemporary American adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Liu redefines the traditional male role of the British super sleuth’s friend and assistant Dr Watson, by being a spunky and resourceful female MD, who is also, more importantly, an equal rather than a mere sidekick.

Creator Robert Doherty has said that his decision for the gender swap was to show that men and women could “work and live together and not end up romantically entangled”.

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