Family & Companions
Perhaps the busiest actress of Asian descent on American TV in the 1980s and early 90s, Chao began performing at age seven with the Peking Opera traveling company in her native California. She was appearing in TV commercials and guest shots by her teens and studying acting during Christmas and summer breaks from school. Chao's first TV role of note was playing Yul Brynner's eldest daughter on "Anna and the King" (CBS, 1972), a short-lived sitcom based on Broadway's "The King and I." Chao returned to school, earned a degree in journalism and found part-time work as a radio newswriter in Los Angeles before re-committing herself to acting, working on stage and TV.
A career milestone came in 1983, at the end of the 11-year run of the CBS series "M*A*S*H." Chao portrayed Soon-Lee, a Korean native who meets, falls in love with and marries former cross-dresser Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr) in what turned out to be the highest-rated TV program in broadcasting history. When several "M*A*S*H" regulars teamed up for the middling spinoff "AfterMASH" (CBS, 1983-84), Chao reprised her role of Soon-Lee Klinger. Around this time, she also played the female lead in the high-profile TV-movie "The Terry Fox Story" (HBO, 1983). Chao was Rika, the girlfriend of the disabled runner Fox, who had lost a leg to cancer.
History repeated itself somewhat a decade after "AfterMASH," when Chao's recurring character of ship's botanist Keiko married engineering chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) well into the run of the popular syndicated sci-fi update "Star Trek: The Next Generation." They reprised their roles in expanded form on the 1993 spinoff "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
Intermittently, Chao has made feature films since 1980 when she performed in support of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan in "The Big Brawl." Perhaps her most noteworthy credit was documentary filmmaker Nancy Kelly's first feature, "1000 Pieces of Gold" (1990), with Chao playing a young woman attempting to escape slavery during California's Gold Rush days. Her first teaming with director Wayne Wang, "Slamdance" (1987), proved disappointing, but Chao later enjoyed a larger role amid an impressive and largely Asian-American ensemble in Wang's more rewarding "The Joy Luck Club" (1993). As Rose, Chao was a budding artist who sacrifices her career after marrying Andrew McCarthy. As it happened, Chao de-emphasized her own performing career after having a child. She has subsequently appeared in small roles in features including "North" and "Love Affair" (both 1994).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
TV debut as a series regular, as the king's eldest daughter, on the short-lived CBS series, "Anna and the King"
Acted in first feature films, "The Big Brawl" (with Jackie Chan) and "Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge"
Played recurring role of Miss Chung, a school teacher on the long-running sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes"
Breakthrough TV-movie role, played the female lead in "The Terry Fox Story" (HBO)
Reprised the role of Soon-Lee Klinger on the CBS spinoff series, "AfterMASH"
Appeared on the final two-hour episode of the acclaimed series, "M*A*S*H" (the single highest rated episode of a TV program in broadcasting history), as Soon-Lee, a Korean woman who meets, loves and weds Jamie Farr's Corporal Klinger
First leading role on TV, in the PBS drama adaptation, "Paper Angels"
Played the recurring role of Li-Ying, daughter of enigmatic housekeeper Chao-Li, on the CBS primetime soap "Falcon Crest"
Played first leading role in a feature film in "1000 Pieces of Gold"
Played the recurring role of Keiko on the syndicated sci-fi series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation"
Reprised the role of Keiko O'Brien on the syndicated sci-fi spinoff series, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"
Played a lead in Wayne Wang's "The Joy Luck Club"
Had a minor roles as a flight attendant in "What Dreams May Come"
Guest-starred as Dr. Kim on several episodes of "The O.C." (Fox)
Had a small role in the remake of "Freaky Friday"
Appeared in a recurring guest role on the HBO series "Tell Me You Love Me"