Guide to watching the films of Michelle Yeoh, an icon of Asian cinema

The exhaustive and exhausting Everything everywhere all at once gives Michelle Yeoh her best showcase in years. She plays Evelyn, a wife, mother and owner of a laundromat who will lose everything if she fails to pay her taxes. But thanks to the multiverse, she’s also many other Evelyns: an opera singer, an action star, an alien with hot dogs for her fingers – even a rock that can think and move.

Yeoh is an Asian cinema icon who has been treated cavalierly in the United States: as a foil for high-profile actors, a villain in sci-fi series and, lately, a soap opera matron. But the Yeoh I fell for years ago was a smart, funny and hugely talented star in Hong Kong, at the time the center of the world’s best action movies.

I had the chance to interview Yeoh a few times. In an early conversation, she was proud of her roles in movies like Yes Madam, a largely ignored procedural cop here. She remembers her first real stunt on film: a backflip through the glass panels onto a balcony railing. Then the stuntmen warned her never to risk her face like that again.

Yeoh first gained attention in beauty pageants and TV commercials. She was offered supporting roles in movies, but she was more interested in performing her own stunts than playing someone’s girlfriend. Supported by her future husband, financier Dickson Poon, and her business partner, martial arts legend Sammo Hung, Yeoh worked her way between police procedurals and co-starring with Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung in the campy. heroic trio.

It was her turn Supercop (a.k.a Detective story 3) that should have made Yeoh an international superstar. The nominal plot has Hong Kong policeman Jackie Chan trying to bust a drug conspiracy that takes him to mainland China, where Yeoh is his tougher, stricter policeman counterpart.

The action scenes in Supercop set standards that have yet to be equalled. The stunts are incredibly over the top, well beyond today’s safety restrictions. Perhaps the most famous scene is that of Chan jumping from a roof to grab a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter. No threads, no nets, no duplicates. (Another stunt involving a helicopter crashed into a railroad car was arguably more dangerous, nearly severing Chan’s head.)

Yeoh more than matches Chan’s work. At one point, she was asked to jump from a truck traveling down a highway onto the hood of a chasing sports car. Director Stanley Tong broke his ankle demonstrating how to do the stunt. Yeoh did the jump perfectly, although she wasn’t so lucky in another stunt where she rides a motorcycle up a hill and onto a passing freight train. “I had never ridden a motorcycle before,” she told me. The outtakes show how she and the bike almost slid off the train into the tracks below.

Yeoh never trained in classical martial arts, but felt that her dance training helped her master the combinations and contortions needed to execute her fights. In movies like Tai Chi Master and wing chunshe cemented her reputation as a martial artist, co-starring with Hong Kong’s top action stars: Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen (“He’s got the fastest hands of them all,” I was told. she says.).

Director Ang Lee cast Yeoh with Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Neither spoke Mandarin and Chow was not a martial artist. Working with renowned action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping, Yeoh performed admirably in complicated sequences that required extensive wiring. Frankly, she was the only one of the protagonists who seemed comfortable with stunts.

The film was the first time many American moviegoers had seen martial arts on screen; Asian audiences were unimpressed, although knockoffs and parodies appeared almost immediately. The film should have been another stepping stone for Yeoh to international stardom.

Instead, Hollywood cast her with Pierce Brosnan in tomorrow never dies, a lackluster James Bond entry prompted by his excellent work. But Hollywood didn’t know what to do with a beautiful, strong-minded woman who could beat just about any star.

Yeoh continued in Asian films, not all worthy of his talents. At Ann Hui’s The stunt girl, she starred with Sammo Hung in a downbeat drama about tough times in the film industry. The film has some emotional moments, but mainly stands out for a botched stunt in which she sustains a serious injury from falling off a bridge.

Yeoh sometimes played real characters, like Soong Ai-ling in The Soong sistersand Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson The Lady. But in Hollywood productions like Memoirs of a Geishashe was most often relegated to supporting roles.

A recurring role on Netflix’s expensive flop Marco Polo kicked off a resurgence in his career. Cinematographer Vanja Cernjul marveled at his stunts, which he called “balletic”. “I had no idea what a big star she was in that part of the world,” he added. “When she walked on set, everyone stopped to watch.”

Marco Polo leads to Star Trek: Discovery, where for three seasons Yeoh played tough guy Captain Philippa Georgiou and his mirror universe counterpart Emperor Philippa Georgiou. She clearly had fun in a role that allowed her to flex her perverse side. Editor Jon Dudkowski was also able to direct her in an episode.

“Michelle is just a wonderful actress,” he said. “She’s fun and she’s funny. I was totally intimidated because I had been a fan for a long time. But touring with her was just a joy. Directing an action scene with Michelle Yeoh is just awesome. Often you have to bypass stunt doubles. I mean I’ve worked on shows where an entire fight is in the back of people’s heads because they’re just stunt doubles. But with Michelle, she really fights and she’s great.

Master Z: The Legacy of Ip Man is his best martial arts performance in years. A spinoff of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series, it stars Max Zhang as a fighter trying to forget his past, Dave Bautista as an evil restorer, Tony Jaa as an assassin in black, and Yeoh as as a triad leader trying to get legit. Impeccably styled in glamorous cheongsams, she’s also a better fighter than any character in the movie.

Master Z is the kind of cult film that deserves a much wider audience. It’s not just Max Cheng, who is building on his role in a previous Ip Man film. Tony Jaa is serious for once in his career, Yuen Wah as a signifier of the Seven Little Fortunes, and Dave Bautista defends himself in a very different style of filmmaking from vehicles like guardians of the galaxy. (Yeoh has a brief appearance in the Guardians continued.)

As director and choreographer Yuen Woo Ping said, “Dave Bautista is more about wrestling, Tony Jaa is about Thai boxing, and Michelle Yeoh is expert about handling weapons.” He crafted a remarkable scene between Yeoh and Zhang where they fight over a shot glass balanced on a nightclub table.

“It’s their first meeting,” he explained. “I don’t want them to sit around and talk, but of course I don’t want a big fight as soon as they meet either. I wanted their meeting to be elegant and at the same time interesting to watch. So all these little hand movements, pushing the glass back and forth, that’s what I decided. It took two or three days to develop, then five or six days to shoot.

Yeoh is the center of gravity of boobies rich asian, the only interpreter of a great romantic comedy who does not joke. The others in the cast are just guessing; Yeoh can do rich in his sleep. (She used her own jewelry in a key scene.) She can also sacrifice herself without losing her dignity, while winning over everyone on set.

“The crew loved her,” said Cernjul, the film’s cinematographer. “She was doing things like taking my cameraman to lunch on his birthday. She was so nice.

Yeoh appears relatively late in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, playing the chief of a mystical village. Cinematographer Bill Pope recalls, “The first time you see Michelle, there’s a standoff with Shang-Chi on one side and her village on the other. And then she comes over and kisses Shang-Chi, which I think wasn’t even in the script. I think she just said, ‘That’s what I would do.’ So everyone’s like, ‘Well, that’s what you’re going to do then.’

“Tony [Leung Chiu-wai] and Michelle are really lovely, they are both just wonderful. Michelle is really funny. I mean, she always plays these tough, combative women and in real life, she’s super sweet and kind of delicate and very warm and cuddly.

According to Daniel Scheinert, one of the two “Daniels” who wrote and directed Everything everywhere all at once, Yeoh was willing to try one of the script’s bizarre schemes. “She’s got this ‘can do’ attitude, it’s really hard to phase her,” he said. “We built some trust with her, we tried to embarrass ourselves enough that it wasn’t just her there.”

Daniel Kwan, Scheinert’s partner, added, “I can’t overstate how important Jamie Lee Curtis was to Michelle. Together, they felt like they could do anything. And the miracle was that they were ready to go together with us.

And it is Yeoh, admired by her colleagues, committed to her work, an ever warm presence. And one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

Movies and TV Shows Mentioned

Everything everywhere all at once (opens March 25)

Yes Madam (Amazon Premium)

The heroic trio (Youtube)

Supercop (Amazon Premium)

wing chun (Youtube)

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Tubi)

The stuntwoman (AppleTV)

tomorrow never dies (Amazon Premium)

The Soong sisters (Amazon Premium)

The Lady (Amazon Premium)

Memoirs of a Geisha (Amazon Premium)

Marco Polo (Netflix)

Star Trek: Discovery (Priority +)

Master Z: The Legacy of Ip Man (Vudun)

boobies rich asian (Amazon Premium)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney+, Amazon Prime)

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