Culture

30 years of Michelle Yeoh kicking ass

Oct 03, 2018

Michelle Yeoh is generating Oscar buzz for her role as the disapproving mother in “Crazy Rich Asians”—and it's no surprise given the 56-year-old actress’s other remarkable performances over the past three decades. But before she was the controlling Eleanor Young, the Malaysian-born Chinese star was best known for her prowess in martial arts. Here are five other films where Yeoh has left her mark.

Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992)

By the early ’90s, Yeoh had shown her mettle in a number of Hong Kong action films, including 1985’s “Yes, Madam.” She was well-known for performing her own stunts, which made her right at home opposite Jackie Chan in his famous action-comedy series.

In “Super Cop,” Yeoh is a Chinese Interpol director and martial arts expert. She and Chan punch and kick their way across Asia, from Guangzhou and Hong Kong to Thailand and Malaysia. Her performance in the film earned her global recognition as a fierce and physical actress, boosting her career to new heights in the coming years.

Watch Yeoh's fight scene in “Super Cop”:

The Soong Sisters (1997)

Yeoh starred alongside Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu in this period drama about the wives of the three most important figures in the Chinese nationalist movement: Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Kung Hsiang-hsi.

From left, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu played the wives of three influential Chinese politicians in “The Soong Sisters.”
From left, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu played the wives of three influential Chinese politicians in “The Soong Sisters.” / Photo: Golden Harvest

Yeoh played the oldest of the sisters, Soong Ai-ling, who married Kung, then the richest man in the early 20th-century Republic of China. The film scooped up more than a dozen nominations and awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including a best supporting actress nomination for Yeoh.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

For this installment of the James Bond series, Yeoh played a highly skilled Chinese spy. Her character, Wai Lin, was hailed as one of the most complex and interesting women in the franchise’s history, and production studio MGM even considered making a spin-off film centered on her.

Michelle Yeoh, left, starred alongside Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
Michelle Yeoh, left, starred alongside Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.” / Photo: AFP

Co-star Pierce Brosnan described her as a real-life “female James Bond.”

“Tomorrow Never Dies” marked Yeoh’s first appearance in a Western production. When the actress sought to do her own stunts for the film, as she had in her previous films, the director told her it was too dangerous, citing insurance reasons. Yeoh nevertheless performed all her own fight scenes, leading co-star Pierce Brosnan to describe her as a real-life “female James Bond.”

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Playing Yu Shu Lien, the head of a private security company in 18th-century China, Yeoh soared through the trees and engaged in lightning-fast swordfights in Ang Lee’s martial arts hit.

Michelle Yeoh, right, and Zhang Ziyi battle in a scene from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Michelle Yeoh, right, and Zhang Ziyi battle in a scene from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” / Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Yeoh spoke little Mandarin before the film’s production and memorized her lines phonetically before shooting. The picture won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and earned dozens of additional nominations across the world, including BAFTA and Hong Kong Film Awards nods for Yeoh, who would reprise her role as the renowned warrior-maiden in a Netflix-produced sequel in 2016.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

In this adaptation of Arthur Golden’s novel, Yeoh played the experienced geisha Mameha, who guides the main character’s rise to celebrity in a world of sliding doors and secret lust.

From left, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li in “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
From left, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li in “Memoirs of a Geisha.” / Photo: Columbia Pictures

For the film—which was criticized for its use of non-Japanese actresses—Yeoh and co-stars Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li underwent “geisha boot camp,” where they learned how to perform traditional Japanese music, dance and tea ceremonies.

Adapted from an original article first published in the South China Morning Post.