Instead of making use of his good physical appearance to become a teen idol, Liu has chosen the path of continuously challenging himself by taking on difficult roles. From simple, honest, and down-to-earth "peasant-like" roles, introvert and melancholic personas, to manly and Casanova roles, Liu has not only convinced the audience, but also well-established international directors, of his remarkable acting skills. He has been openly praised and roped in by directors such as Stanley Kwan (Lan Yu), Chen Kaige (The Promise), Zhang Yimou (Curse of the Golden Flower) and John Woo (Blood Brothers), to take part in their major productions.
Liu's first Hollywood film Dark Matter, inspired by a true story in the early 1990s, was screened at major international film festivals in 2007. Starring with actress Meryl Streep, Liu starred as Chinese physics postgraduate Liu Xing. Dark Matter won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was released in the United States in April 2008. Liu's first villainous role was in Connected (2008), a remake of the American film Cellular.