The Knockout: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend Star Natasha Liu Bordizzo

This beautiful Tae Kwon Do black belt is kicking cinematic butt.

At first glance, Natasha Liu Bordizzo might not register high on anyone’s list of credible threats. But underestimate this Australian-Chinese, 119-pound powerhouse at your own peril. In addition to those disarmingly ethereal features, the Sydney native has a black belt in tae kwon do.

Snapping your head back with a roundhouse kick is not her only talent, however. Last year, she was a 19-year-old college freshman with “absolutely no acting experience” when she showed up for an open-call audition for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend. The revered martial-arts choreographer and director Yuen Woo-ping, who also worked on the original film, had been conducting a worldwide search for the perfect candidate to play Snow Vase, one of the sequel’s principal characters. After meeting Bordizzo, he stopped looking.

“It was like I’d hit the lottery,” she says. “Everything happened so quickly, I had no idea what was going on.” One week after that audition, Bordizzo quit school and showed up on set in New Zealand to star in her very first feature film. She didn’t even have head shots. As every actor everywhere will tell you, with seething resentment, this kind of thing just does not happen.

Bordizzo reported to the on-set dojo every day and night for a month to train intensely

in Wudang sword fighting, part of the elegant Crouching Tiger–style Chinese martial-arts genre known as wuxia, which involves insane feats of choreography.

“It’s like dancing, almost,” she says. “But that grace can’t be faked. It’s only when you’ve twirled that sword a million times with your wrist and elbows that you even start to get it.”

She was just six years old in 2000, when Ang Lee’s original film was released and went on to become the highest-grossing foreign-language movie in U.S. history. (The sequel is in English.) “I actually watched it for the first time right before filming,” Bordizzo admits.

When the film premieres on Netflix to 62 million worldwide subscribers early next year, things are going to change in a big way for Bordizzo, who turns 21 in September. In the meantime, she’s living with her parents and working on mastering kenpo, a form of Chinese hand combat she says looks a lot better on film than tae kwon do, which, she’s decided, “is not very feminine.”

As far as activities go, she enjoys lots of regular girl stuff like horseback riding, figure skating, and posting thousands of pictures to Instagram, but when it comes to her personal style, she embraces her inner tomboy. “I dress like an angry teen boy,” she says, laughing.

“I think of myself as such a dorky person that the thought of me being sexy is hilarious,” she adds. “My friends and I were just talking about how funny it is that my first magazine shoot was for Maxim, of all things. Like, me? Sexy?”

Photos by Roxanne Lowit