Bond Girl Wai Lin
Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh gathered international fame playing Bond Girl Wai Lin in the blockbuster smash hit Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) opposite Pierce Brosnan. She gained even more recognition after portraying Yu Shu Lien in the Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) for director Ang Lee. One of Hong Kong’s most famous icons, Yeoh first came to the attention of the Asian public in the Cynthia Rothrock action comedy Yes, Madam (1985), before making a reputation for herself as one of the most popular martial arts stars in Asia with her impressing performances in the enormously successful Supercop (1992, with Jackie Chan), Supercop 2 (1993), The Heroic Trio (1993, opposite Maggie Cheung and Anita Mu), The Tai-Chi Master (1993, with kung-fu phenomenon Jet Li) and the hit Wing Chun (1994). One of the highest paid actresses in Hong Kong, Yeoh is also known as a producer, as well as a star, for producing The Touch (2002) and Silver Hawk (2004).
Fans can also watch Yeoh performances in the recent and forthcoming Rob Marshall’s big screen adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), the Ronny Yu-directed action/drama Fearless (2006), Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller Sunshine (2006) and Pete Pau’s adventure Hua Mulan (2005).
Off screen, one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” (1997), Yeoh is currently dating Ferrari Formula One team boss Jean Todt (born on February 26, 1946), whom she met in June 2004. In December that same year, her lover proclaimed they were engaged. Surprisingly, a day after the announcement, Yeoh strongly denied the engagement though she was discovered wearing a beautiful blue diamond ring. Being asked about the ring she said,” It was not an engagement ring but just a present from Todt.”
“This is the first time I have brought Todt to see my parents. Everybody seems to like him and he has been accepted by family members, but we have not talked about marriage just yet.” Michelle Yeoh on her boyfriend Todt
Yeoh was once married to D&B Films executive Dickson Poon, but they later divorced in 1992.
Childhood and Family:
In Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, Yeoh Choo-Kheng, who would later be popular as Michelle Yeoh, was born on August 6, 1962, to an attorney father and a homemaker mother. An athlete and a tomboy as a young girl, Yeoh discovered a strong passion for ballet when she was 4. As a teenager, Yeoh became interested in such spots as squash, swimming and diving, and she competed nationally during her teenage years. After watching the motion picture Fame (1980), however, Yeoh decided to pursue a dancing career. She then flew to England and attended London’s Royal Academy of Dance. An ambitious student, she was determined to earn a Master’s Degree in dancing. She studied contemporary, jazz and ballet dancing while there. Alas, she was forced to throw away her dream of becoming a prima ballerina because of a spinal injury. In 1983, Yeoh eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in dance with a minor in drama. That same year, she moved back to her native country and soon began a career in modeling after being crowned Miss Malaysia in a beauty pageant.
At age 26, Yeoh married Harvey-Nichols department store’s owner and D&B Films executive Dickson Poon. After a four-year rocky marriage, the couple divorced in 1992.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
An aspiring dancer, Michelle Yeoh had to end her career as a ballerina following a back injury. After a suggestion from her mother, Yeoh tried her hand in modeling by entering a beauty contest upon returning to Malaysia. Yeoh became the winner of the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant in 1983. Shortly after, she won the title of Miss Moomba in Melbourne, Australia. These exposures led to Yeoh’s performances in a string of TV commercials in Hong Kong, most notably a watch commercial with action movie hero Jackie Chan and a Pierre Cardin ad. Her potential quickly caught the eye of a production house called D&B Films, which subsequently landed Yeoh a role in film.
In 1984, Michelle Yeoh kicked off her acting career in Hong Kong with the small role of Miss Yeung in Owl vs. Dumbo, and a year later appeared as a judo instructor in The Target. Her breakout role arrive with the 1985 Yes, Madam, where Yeoh was cast as Inspector Ng in the action comedy, starring martial arts champion Cynthia Rothrock. Her fine turn as a crafty police officer made crowds throughout Asia stand up and take notice. The success opened doors for Yeoh.
Equipping herself with the Cantonese language, Yeoh continued to take on roles in Hong Kong films such as In the Line of Duty (1986), Magnificent Warriors (1987) and Easy Money (1987). In 1989, however, Yeoh announced her retirement from the screen at the request of her husband, Dickson Poon.
Her troubled marriage sent the actress back to movies. In 1992, after her divorce was finalized, Yeoh inked a contract with talent agent Terence Chang (who also manages Chow Yun Fat and John Woo). She soon accepted offers to play the plum role of Inspector Jessica Yang, opposite Jackie Chan, in Supercop (1992). The action/comedy film became a hit and was released in North America in 1996. The immense victory not only made the star the highest paid actress in Asia, but also provided proof that Yeoh was a very talented actress.
The following year, Yeoh further increased her fame by putting six films under her belt. She first played Sister Ko in Butterfly and Sword (1993), was cast as Ching in Heroic Trio 2: Executioners (1993), and then portrayed Ching Sze/To Col Ching in Holy Weapon (1993). Yeoh was also well-remembered for her roles in such popular action and martial arts films as Supercop 2 (1993), The Heroic Trio (1993, opposite Maggie Cheung and Anita Mu) and The Tai-Chi Master (1993, with kung-fu phenomenon Jet Li). After the successful Wing Chun (1994), Yeoh made two more movies, Yin-Ping Chu’s Shaolin Popey 2: Messy Temple and Wonder Seven (1994), that same year. Venturing to the drama genre, Yeoh accepted offers to play roles in The Stunt Woman (1995) and The Soong Sisters (1997).
The English-language version of Supercop (1996) put Yeoh on the radar of Hollywood producers and she was soon hired to play Bond girl Wai Lin, opposite Pierce Brosnan, in the James Bond epic Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Her natural and bright performance garnered Yeoh sizeable praise and in 1998, she was honored with an Asian American International Film Festival Award.
“The reason why I decided to wait two years after the Bond movie, and to work with Ang Lee in a martial arts movie, is because I really believe that this genre deserves more respect and dignity than it's ever been given. Before, people saw it as a fairy tale; they felt they could take it easy. But it shouldn't be about that. It's so steeped in our culture; it should have more depth to it. It's never easy to find that balance when it's such a magical type of film, to make you accept our soaring to the skies. It was a risk, but when we did this movie, it was for a Western audience.” Michelle Yeoh on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Yeoh made her return to the Cantonese film industry with the thriller Moonlight Express in 1999. A year later, Yeoh once more drew attention when director Ang Lee cast her as Yu Shu Lien in the Oscar-winning epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), starring opposite Chow Yun Fat. Working with Fat in an impressive and gravity-defying mission to recover a stolen excaliber-like sword named the Green Destiny, Yeoh cemented her position as an elegant combatant with the extraordinary capability to demonstrate a notable dramatic range as well. In 2001, Yeoh netted a Sow West for International Star of the Year.
Yeoh signed a five-year business deal with the Media Asia Group in 2000 to produce and star in films under her own banner Mythical Films. Her first film, The Touch, was released in 2002, where she played the lead of Yin Fei, opposite Ben Chaplin. Her second English movie, Silver Hawk, followed two years later in 2004.
Recently, she could be seen as Mameha, the graceful and experienced geisha, in Rob Marshall’s big screen adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). Yeoh is also scheduled to play roles in the upcoming Ronny Yu-directed action/drama Fearless (2006), Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller Sunshine (2006) and Pete Pau’s adventure Hua Mulan (2005).
- MTV Style (in Shanghai): Actress of the Year, 2003
- ShoWest: International Star of the Year, 2001
- Asian American International Film Festival: Asian Media Award, 1998