Family & Companions
Hailed by critics and colleagues for both her beauty and versatility, Hong Kong film star Michelle Yeoh was a woman who gained fame and fortune by going toe-to-toe against her male counterparts in numerous action films and martial arts flicks. Like action hero Jackie Chan, Yeoh was celebrated for performing her own death-defying stunts and handling her own fight scenes, which were not without their inherent dangers and brushes with near-death. She emerged as a contracted player for D&B Films, which groomed the actress to become Asia's top female action star in movies like "Super Cops" (1985) and "Magnificent Warriors" (1988). Yeoh gained an international footing with the successful cross-continent actioner ""Police Story 3: Supercop" (1992), starring opposite Jackie Chan, before making her official U.S. debut alongside Pierce Brosnan's James Bond in "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997). From there, she oscillated between Hong Kong and American films before being elevated to the next level in the critically hailed international hit, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), which contained one of her most respected performances. Yeoh next starred in major Hollywood films like "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005), as well as Danny Boyle's acclaimed sci-fi thriller "Sunshine" (2007), which helped widen her horizons. Throughout her career, Yeoh was capable of matching her male colleagues without ever compromising her femininity, making her one of the most versatile actresses to have emerged from Hong Kong in years.
Born on Aug. 6, 1962 in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, the ethnically Chinese Yeoh was raised by her father, Yeoh Kian Geik, an attorney, and her mother, Janet. While receiving her primary and secondary education in her homeland, Yeoh displayed an early propensity for all things physical, even competing nationally in squash, swimming and diving in her teens. But her true love was dance, which started after taking up ballet at four years old. Moving to England when she was 15, Yeoh attended boarding school before earning her bachelor of arts in dance at London's Royal Academy of Dance, while also studying drama as her minor. But a serious back injury during her postgraduate studios ended her ambitions to become a ballerina, forcing a shift toward choreography. Yeoh tried her hand at acting in stage productions but failed to enjoy it and returned to Malaysia. Arriving home, Yeoh was dismayed to learn that her mother had entered her in a beauty pageant. Nevertheless, she followed through with her mother's unsolicited initiative and went on to be crowned Miss Malaysia in 1983.
While in the midst of her beauty queen chores, Yeoh took a vacation in Hong Kong, where she was approached by D&B Films to make a commercial with action-comedy star Jackie Chan, which soon led to more advertisements with star Chow Yun-fat and a contract with the production company. Urged to try her hand at features, Yeoh made her film debut in "Owl vs. Dumbo" (1985), an action comedy directed by and starring Samo Hung. Beginning with her next film, "Yes, Madam!" (1985) - retitled "Police Assassins 2" for U.K. release and "Super Cops" in the United States - Hung and D&B Films began grooming Yeoh to become Asia's foremost female action star. Yeoh was teamed with blonde American martial arts champion Cynthia Rothrock to play female "buddy" cops for that maiden action outing. Not yet capable of doing all her own stunts, she had veteran stuntman Stanley Tong - who subsequently directed some of her features - doubling for her in some scenes. Though she had no prior martial arts training, Yeoh proved a natural and quick study. Her extensive background in dance and movement gave her the strength and agility needed to appear credible in her action scenes. Meanwhile, Yeoh's willingness to work through pain and injuries quickly won her the respect of Hong Kong action producers, directors and stunt men.
Yeoh made four more films in the ensuing four years, including "Royal Warriors" (1986), "Magnificent Warriors" (1988) and the globe-trotting caper flick "Easy Money" (1988), all of which - sans the latter - were profitable while turning the actress into a beloved star. This was doubtlessly abetted by her characters' tendency to rely more on resourcefulness and intellect than on brawn. But at the peak of her success, Yeoh stunned fans with the announcement of her impending marriage and retirement. At the request of her husband, billionaire studio head Dickson Poon, Yeoh left acting for the three years they were married. After divorcing Poon, the former action diva made a resounding comeback opposite Jackie Chan in "Police Story 3: Supercop" (1992). Playing a mainland Chinese policewoman aiding a Hong Kong cop (Chan) on an undercover mission in China, Yeoh was the first female co-star to receive equal footing with her celebrated lead while receiving more strong notices for her breathtaking stunt work. Highlights included dropping off of a bus and onto a car driven by Chan, while another memorable sequence had Yeoh jumping a motorcycle - a vehicle which she had never driven before - onto a moving train.
Yeoh's renewed popularity was even more impressive than her initial success. Having become the highest paid actress in Hong Kong, she appeared in 10 films over the next four years. In the fantasy adventure "The Heroic Trio" (1992), Yeoh joined forces with Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung to play the Invisible Woman, a heroine who turns invisible with the aid of a special suit. She was also effective playing a down-on-her-luck street person who regains her self-respect with the help of Buddhist monk-turned-adventurer (Jet Li) in the rousing "Tai-Chi Master" (1993). She shone on her own in "Project S/Once a Cop" (1993) which culminated in an awe-inspiring fight scene wherein she battles a man twice her size. On the advice of her manager, she adopted the last name Khan as part of her assault on the English-speaking film market when "Supercop" was released to healthy U.S. box office in a dubbed and slightly edited form. She also incurred her first serious injury making "Stunt Woman" ("Ah Kam") (1997), an action thriller about the travails of a stuntwoman in Hong Kong action films. Yeoh fell 18 feet while jumping from a bridge and landed on her head, thinking she had heard the sound of her back snapping in the process. Though temporarily sidelined, Yeoh managed to complete the film, much to the amazement of her doctors.
Yeoh was back on her feet and ready to pursue a film career in America, turning up in the 18th James Bond feature, "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997) opposite Pierce Brosnan. She played a Chinese agent posing as a journalist who teams up with Bond to stop a powerful industrialist (Jonathan Pryce) from manipulating world events in order to trigger World War III. Her next released film, "The Soong Sisters" (1997), a sweeping epic about China's troubled history during the first half of the 20th century as seen through the real-life story of the powerful Soong sisters (Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Vivian Wu), was actually shot in 1995. But censorship from the Chinese government - mainly due to the sister's standing as enemies of the state - halted the film's release despite previous script approval by the government. After extensive cuts, the feature was finally allowed to enter theaters while Yeoh - once again billed as Michelle Khan - was seen playing Ai-ling, the wife of a wealthy industrialist (Niu Zhenhua) and symbol of the rising force of capitalism in Communist China. The film went on to win five awards at the 1998 Hong Kong Film Awards, though Yeoh's nomination for Best Supporting Actress failed to net her a statue.
After appearing in a middle-of-the-road martial arts feature, "Twin Warriors" (1999), Yeoh achieved her biggest exposure to date with a starring role in the Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000). Beautifully directed by Ang Lee, this martial arts epic set in 19th century China was equally balanced between thrilling action sequences and emotionally resonant characters. Yeoh gave one of her finest performances as Yu Shu Lien, the secret love of Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a retiring martial arts master who entrusts her with delivering the Green Destiny, an invincible 400-year-old sword, to another master. After the sword is stolen by the feisty and lethal daughter (Ziyi Zhang) of the province's governor, the two traverse the country in search of the weapon and ultimately the murderer of Li's former master. In one thrilling action sequence, Yeoh and Zhang battle each other after theft of the sword, magically running up walls and dancing across rooftops - a standout sequence that underscored the film's lyric beauty. Yeoh earned a couple of nominations for Best Actress, including nods at the 2000 BAFTA Awards and Hong Kong Film Awards.
Yeoh next starred in Hong Kong's official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, "The Touch" (2002), a romantic actioner about brother and sister acrobats (Yeoh and Brandon Chang) sworn to protect a priceless treasure in an underground palace on the Silk Road. In "Silver Hawk" (2003), she returned to more cartoonish action fare, playing an environmental activist by day and avenging heroine by night who pursues a rogue British agent (Luke Goss) on the lamb after kidnapping a Chinese scientist (Chen Daming) in possession of a new intelligence technology. Yeoh next had a strong supporting role in "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005), Rob Marshall's long-awaited adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel about a poor Japanese girl torn from her home and raised in a geisha house. Under the tutelage of the famed Mameha (Yeoh), the girl develops into Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), a beautiful and accomplished geisha who captivates some of the most powerful men in the world, only to be haunted by a secret love for the one man beyond her reach (Ken Watanabe).
Yeoh followed up by joining the cast of "Sunshine" (2007), Danny Boyle's sci-fi thriller about a group of astronauts sent to discover what happened to a missing space crew. Because of her international appeal, Yeoh was able to secure roles in major Hollywood movies, playing a double-crossing sorceress teamed with star Brandon Fraser to stop a resurrected emperor (Jet Li) from enslaving the human race in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (2008). Following the rather underwhelming sci-fi thriller "Babylon A.D." (2008) starring Vin Diesel, she returned to Hong Kong for the martial arts actioner "True Legend" (2009), directed by famed fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. Back to Hong Kong martial arts flicks, Yeoh starred in "Reign of Assassins" (2010), playing an ex-assassin trying to escape her former life with a gang of killers hot on her trail. Meanwhile, she turned to animation to voice The Soothsayer in the sequel, "Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom" (2011).
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Awarded the title of Miss Malaysia
While vacationing in Hong Kong as Miss Malaysia, approached by D&B Films to make a commercial with Jackie Chan
Feature debut, "Owl vs. Dumbo"
Began starring in action films with her second feature "Yes, Madam!"
Announced her retirement from acting at the request of her husband Dickson Poon
Returned to acting after divorce and teamed with Jackie Chan for "Police Story 3: Supercop"
US feature debut, "Supercop"; credited as Michelle Khan
Announced as the new 'Bond girl' opposite Pierce Brosnan in "Tomorrow Never Dies"
Signed five-year joint venture with Media Asia Group to produce and star in films under her own banner Mythical Films
Co-starred with Chow Yun Fat in Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Produced (also starred) "The Touch"
Cast as Mameha, the elegant and experienced geisha in Rob Marshall's film version of "Memoirs of a Geisha"
Cast in Danny Boyle's Sci-fi thriller, "Sunshine"
Cast in the fantasy action film "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor"
Cast in Mathieu Kassovitz's "Babylon A.D."
Played a cobra trainer in the remake of "The Karate Kid"