After Crazy Rich Asians, five other Michelle Yeoh films that she totally owns
From martial arts warriors to geishas, Malaysian Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh has given a number of remarkable performances over her 30-year career on the silver screen. Here are five of her most memorable roles
Following its release in the United States last week, Crazy Rich Asians has become an unqualified hit.
The film topped the global box office last weekend, and has garnered a number of rave reviews that celebrate the film not just as a victory for inclusion – it’s the first Hollywood movie in 25 years with an all-Asian cast – but for romantic comedy storytelling in general.
In addition to the film’s sleek sets and stunning costumes, reviewers have also praised the performances of Constance Wu, newcomer Henry Golding and Awkwafina.
But it is the performance of Michelle Yeoh that is generating Oscar buzz, with the veteran actress playing a disapproving matriarch trying to stop her son (Golding) from marrying Rachel, played by Wu, a woman she perceives as an unsophisticated Asian American.
The buzz is no surprise given the 56-year-old’s other remarkable performances over the three decades she has spent gracing the silver screen. We take a look at five other films on which this Malaysian Chinese actress left her mark.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
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 Mandarin-language martial arts hit from 2000.
Yeoh spoke little Mandarin before the film’s production, impressively memorising her lines phonetically before shooting. The picture was awarded 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.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Yeoh played a highly skilled Chinese spy in this 1997 entry to the James Bond franchise. Her character, Wai Lin, was hailed as one of the most complex and interesting women in the series’ history, and production studio MGM even considered making a spin-off film centred on her.
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”.
Memoirs of a Geisha
In this 2005 adaptation of Arthur Golden’s novel of the same name, Yeoh played the experienced geisha Mameha, who guides the main character’s rise to celebrity in a world of sliding doors and lascivious businessmen.
For the film – which was criticised for its use of non-Japanese actresses – Yeoh and co-stars Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li underwent “geisha boot camp”, during which they learned how to perform traditional Japanese music, dance and tea ceremonies.
Police Story 3: Super Cop
By 1992, 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 famed action-comedy series.
The film sees Yeoh, playing a Chinese Interpol director and martial arts expert, partnering with Chan as the two punch and kick their way across Asia – from Guangzhou and Hong Kong to Thailand and Malaysia. Yeoh’s performance in the film, which was released in the West as simply Supercop, earned her global recognition as a fierce and physical actress, boosting her career to new heights in the coming years.
The Soong Sisters
This 1997 period drama starred Yeoh – alongside Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu – as one of three sisters who each married one of the three most important figures in the Chinese nationalist movement in the early 20th century: Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Kung Hsiang-hsi.
Yeoh played the eldest of the sisters, Soong Ai-ling, who married Kung, then the richest man in the 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.