Michelle Yeoh

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Michelle Yeoh

楊紫瓊
Yeoh in 2015
Born
Yeoh Choo Kheng[1]

(1962-08-06) 6 August 1962 (age 61)
Ipoh, Perak, Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia)
Other namesMichelle Khan
EducationRoyal Academy of Dance (BA)
OccupationActress
Years active1983–present
WorksFull list
Spouses
  • (m. 1988; div. 1992)
  • (m. 2023)
AwardsFull list
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese楊紫瓊
Simplified Chinese杨紫琼
Hanyu PinyinYáng Zǐqióng
[jáŋ tsɹ̩̀.tɕʰjʊ́ŋ]
JyutpingJoeng4 Zi2-king4
[jœːŋ˩ tsiː˧˥.kʰeŋ˩]
Tâi-lôIônn Tsú-khîng
[ĩũ tsu kʰiŋ]

Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng PSM (/j/ YOH; born Yeoh Choo Kheng; simplified Chinese: 杨紫琼; traditional Chinese: 楊紫瓊; 6 August 1962)[1][2] is a Malaysian actress. Credited as Michelle Khan in her early films in Hong Kong, she rose to fame in the 1990s after starring in Hong Kong action films where she performed her own stunts. These roles include Yes, Madam (1985); Magnificent Warriors (1987); Police Story 3: Supercop (1992); The Heroic Trio (1993); and Holy Weapon (1993).

After moving to the United States, Yeoh gained international recognition for starring in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and in Ang Lee's martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the latter for which she was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her Hollywood career progressed with roles in Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Sunshine (2007), The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), Reign of Assassins (2010), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), and The Lady (2011), in which she portrayed Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yeoh played supporting roles in the romantic comedies Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Last Christmas (2019), as well as in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and the television series Star Trek: Discovery (2017–2020). For her starring role as an overwhelmed matriarch navigating the multiverse in Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022),[3] she received the best critic's notices of her career and won the Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first Asian[a] to win the category, and the first Malaysian to win an Academy Award. She has since starred in the action comedy series The Brothers Sun (2024).

The film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes ranked her the greatest action heroine of all time in 2008.[6] In 1997, she was chosen by People as one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World",[7] and in 2009 the same magazine listed her as one of the "35 All-Time Screen Beauties".[8] In 2022, Time named her one of the world's 100 most influential people on its annual listicle and its Icon of the Year.[9][10]

Early life and education[edit]

Yeoh was born on 6 August 1962 in Ipoh, Perak,[11] to Janet Yeoh (born 1937) and Yeoh Kian-teik (1926–2014). Her father was elected as a Senator of Malaysia from 1959 to 1969 (representing Perak's Malaysian Chinese Association),[12][13][14] the Chairman of the Perak Bar Association,[12] and the founder of "Sri Maju" in 1975, a major intercity coach service in Malaysia and Singapore.[12][15] Though of Hokkien and Cantonese ancestry,[16] she grew up speaking English to her father and could understand some Malaysian Cantonese from her maternal grandmother who lived with them.[17] She learned to speak Cantonese fluently in the 1980s and some Mandarin in the 2000s. Despite that, she never learned to read or write Chinese, which she has said was her greatest regret.[18]

Yeoh was keen on dance from an early age, beginning ballet at age four. She studied at Main Convent Ipoh, an all-girls secondary school, as a primary student. At age 15, she moved with her parents to the United Kingdom. There, she was enrolled in The Hammond School, Chester, where she started to train as a ballet dancer.[19][20] However, a spinal injury prevented her from becoming a professional ballet dancer, and she shifted her attention to choreography and other arts.[21] She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Manchester Metropolitan University in 1983.[22]

Career[edit]

Early career and first retirement (1983–1991)[edit]

In 1983, twenty-year-old Yeoh won the Miss Malaysia World contest.[23] She was Malaysia's representative at the Miss World 1983 pageant in London, where she placed eighteenth.[24] Later that year, she traveled to Australia where she won the 1984 Miss Moomba International pageant.[25] Her first acting work was in a television commercial for Guy Laroche watches with Jackie Chan.[25] This caught the attention of a fledgling Hong Kong film production company, D&B Films. Although she had a passive understanding of the Ipoh Cantonese spoken in her hometown, she could not speak it. During a phone call in Cantonese, she was offered to co-star in a television commercial with a Sing Long, and only realized that was Jackie Chan's Cantonese name when she arrived in the studio.[26] She learned to speak Cantonese as she began her career in Hong Kong.[27]

Yeoh began her acting career in action and martial arts films, in which she performed her own stunts.[28] Yeoh's first lead role came in her third film, Yes, Madam (1985).[21][29] Yeoh initially used the pseudonym Michelle Khan, a stage name selected by D&B Films for its potential appeal to international and Western audiences. In 1987, Yeoh married her first husband Dickson Poon, a co-founder of D&B Films, and decided to retire from acting.

Return and establishment as action and martial arts star (1992–2001)[edit]

Yeoh at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival

After five years of marriage, Yeoh divorced Poon and returned to acting with Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992) .[23] She appeared in The Heroic Trio (1993), and the Yuen Woo-ping films Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

She changed her stage name back to Michelle Yeoh when she started her Hollywood career with Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997.[23] In the 1997 James Bond film, she played Wai Lin opposite star Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan was impressed, describing her as a "wonderful actress" who was "serious and committed about her work".[30] He referred to her as a "female James Bond" in reference to her combat abilities. She wanted to perform her own stunts but was prevented because director Roger Spottiswoode considered it too dangerous. Nevertheless, she performed all of her own fighting scenes.[31][32] In 1997, she played Soong Ai-ling in the award-winning The Soong Sisters. Yeoh was approached by director Ang Lee to star as Yu Shu Lien in her first Mandarin-language martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). She did not speak Mandarin until the 2000s, and she had to learn the Mandarin lines for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon phonetically.[33] The film was an international success, and earned Yeoh a BAFTA 2000 nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Career fluctuations (2002–2016)[edit]

Yeoh at the Singapore Press Conference for The Touch, 2002

In 2002, Yeoh produced her first English film, The Touch, through her own production company Mythical Films. In 2004, Yeoh met Jean Todt, a French motor racing executive, in Shanghai during a publicity event for Ferrari. They became engaged later that same year.[34]

In 2005, Yeoh starred as Mameha in the film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, and she continued her English-language work in 2007 with Sunshine. In 2008, Yeoh starred in the fantasy action film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li.[35] In 2011, she portrayed Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson's The Lady.[36] Yeoh was blacklisted by the Burmese government allegedly because of her participation in The Lady; she was refused entry to Myanmar on 22 June 2011 and was deported on the same day.[37]

In October 2011, Yeoh was chosen by Guerlain to be its skincare ambassador.[38] Yeoh's role was to help strengthen the French cosmetics company's relationship with Asia.[39]

Yeoh did not branch out into television until 2015, with her first role playing Mei Foster, wife to the British Ambassador to Thailand, who is secretly a North Korean spy named Li-Na,[40] on the fifth season of the Cinemax/Sky series Strike Back.[41]

Supporting roles (2017–2020)[edit]

In 2016, Yeoh was cast as Starfleet Captain Philippa Georgiou of the starship USS Shenzhou in the series Star Trek: Discovery, and recurs as Georgiou's "mirror" doppelganger later in the show.[42][43] Yeoh went on to play the role for three seasons, garnering critical acclaim and becoming a fan favorite. Following the success of Star Trek: Discovery, a spinoff series with Yeoh in the leading role, was commissioned in 2019.[44] The series, which would center on Yeoh's character, Emperor Georgiou working as a member of Section 31, a secret intergalactic spy organisation, was still "in development" as of January 2023,[45] but in April, Paramount+ announced it had ordered a Section 31 movie starring Yeoh, rather than a series.[46]

In 2018, Yeoh played family matriarch Eleanor Young in Jon M. Chu's Crazy Rich Asians, a film adaptation of Kevin Kwan's book of the same name, opposite Constance Wu and Henry Golding.[47] Carlos Aguilar of TheWrap described her performance as "convincingly subdued".[48] In 2019, she played Christmas themed-store owner "Santa" in Last Christmas, opposite Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke. The film was released on 8 November 2019, and was a box office success grossing over $121 million worldwide.[49]

Yeoh played Ying Nan in Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.[50] The film was released in theaters on 3 September 2021. It was announced at The Game Awards 2020 that Yeoh would star in Ark: The Animated Series, a series based on the video game Ark: Survival Evolved by Studio Wildcard, in which she plays the role of Meiyin Li, a 3rd-century Chinese rebel leader, known as the Beast Queen.[51]

Award success (2021–present)[edit]

Michelle Yeoh wax figure at Madame Tussaud's Hong Kong

In 2022, Yeoh starred in the science fiction surreal comedy film Everything Everywhere All at Once from filmmaking duo Daniels, released in March to critical acclaim.[52][53][54] In the film, she played struggling laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, a role that was widely praised by critics, with David Ehrlich of IndieWire claiming it the "greatest performance that Michelle Yeoh has ever given".[55][56][21] It was for this role that Yeoh earned her first Golden Globe win (becoming the first Malaysian actor to win Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes[57]),[58][59] her first Independent Spirit award and nomination, her first Oscar award and nomination,[60][61] her second BAFTA nomination, and her first Critics' Choice Awards nomination. Additionally, she became the first Asian woman to win any individual lead film category in the Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.[62][63][64] She also became the first Malaysian to be nominated for and win an Academy Award,[60] and the first Asian[a] and second "woman of color" to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.[65][66]

Yeoh appeared in the Disney+ series American Born Chinese, based on the book of the same name by Gene Luen Yang.[67] In June 2022, it was announced that she will star in the eight-part series The Brothers Sun for Netflix.[68] She stars alongside Kenneth Branagh in A Haunting in Venice, released on September 15, 2023. In the same year, Yeoh became an International Olympic Committee member,[69] and delivered a speech at Harvard Law School's 2023 class day.[70]

She is also set to star as Madame Morrible in the two-part film adaptation of the musical Wicked directed by Jon M. Chu.[71][72][73]

Activism[edit]

Yeoh speaks at the Suu Foundation launch in 2014.

Michelle Yeoh devotes a large part of her time to charitable and social endeavors, including disaster relief, HIV/AIDS, poverty reduction, animal conservation, gender equality, and road safety. She has been an ambassador and leading campaigner for FIA's Make Roads Safe campaign to be recognized as a global public health and development priority since 2008.[74] Among many activities on behalf of the campaign, she promoted safer road design at the events around the world, spoke at the United Nations General Assembly,[75] Asia Development Bank,[76] World Bank,[77] walked to promote traffic safety at the Formula One race,[78] and launched the Call for a Decade of Action for Road Safety at an event in Vietnam organized by the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation.[79] She also filmed a documentary on global road safety, Turning Point, a version of which was shown on BBC World News.[80]

Devoted to an array of conservation issues, Michelle Yeoh has donated her time as a WildAid ambassador for endangered animals and is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the Sustainable Development Goals initiative since 2016.[81][82] Yeoh is a patron of the Save China's Tigers project committed to protecting the endangered South China tiger.[83] She also joined UNDP’s first-ever animal ambassadors, two panda cubs, to kick off the Pandas for the Global Goals campaign.[84] Didn't stop there, in order to raise awareness about wildlife conservation and climate change, she collaborated with National Geographic to produce the documentary Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh,[85] while emphasizing the importance of responsible consumerism, sustainable fashion, and ethical business practices.[86] In 2013, she changed to the role of executive producer for the project Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey. The film recorded a journey of 700 people, led by the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, to the perilous Himalayan mountain range. They traveled 450 miles, planted 50.000 trees, and educated the villagers on environmental responsibility.[87]

Yeoh's activism extends to health and well-being issues, ranging from patrons to ambassadors, through organizations including AIDS Concern,[88] Hong Kong Cancer Fund,[89] amfAR,[90] Live To Love,[91] and Paris Brain Institute.[92] She also joined UNAIDS's commissioner team,[93] and serves on the board of directors of the Suu Foundation, a non-political charity established to support the health, education, human rights, and development of the people of Myanmar.[94] As one of the survivors of the 2015 Nepal earthquake,[95] after evacuation, she returned to the disaster-hit country to help rehabilitate affected people and donate 100.000 euros for victims.[96][97]

Throughout her career, Yeoh has always portrayed strong roles and defiant in working against stereotypes. After Tomorrow Never Dies, she didn’t work for almost two years due to all the stereotypical roles offered to her in America.[98] She told People: "At that point (1990s), people in the industry couldn’t really tell the difference between whether I was Chinese, Japanese, Korean or if I even spoke English. They would talk very loudly and very slowly".[99] She has long spoken out about racism in Hollywood, typically in her awards acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.[100] The day after her history-making Oscar win, she published an opinion essay in The New York Times calling for true gender equality.[101]

Personal life[edit]

Michelle Yeoh and her husband Jean Todt at the Festival Automobile International 2016.

Yeoh was married to Hong Kong entrepreneur Dickson Poon, known for his ownership of businesses such as Harvey Nichols and Charles Jourdan, from 1988 to 1992.[102] From 1998 to 2000, Yeoh dated and was eventually engaged to Alan Heldman, an American cardiologist.[103]

In 2004, she started dating Jean Todt,[104] then the general manager and CEO of Scuderia Ferrari and later the president of the FIA.[105] On 26 July 2004, the couple got engaged.[106] As of 2019, she lives in Geneva, Switzerland, with Todt.[107] In an Instagram post, former Scuderia Ferrari driver Felipe Massa said that Yeoh and Todt were married on 27 July 2023 in Geneva.[108][109]

Yeoh does not have any children,[110] and has cited her inability to have children as the reason for ending her first marriage.[111]

Yeoh is Buddhist and an activist.[112][113][114] Yeoh expressed her support for Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and the coalition Barisan Nasional ahead of the 2013 Malaysian general election.[115] In 2022, she told Vanity Fair that Shakespeare and Stephen King were her favorite authors and that Tarzan was her favorite fictional hero.[18]

Filmography and accolades[edit]

Michelle Yeoh's handprints on the "Avenue of Stars" in Hong Kong

In 1999, she was a member of the jury at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.[116] On 19 April 2001, Yeoh was awarded the Darjah Datuk Paduka Mahkota Perak (DPMP), which carries the title Dato', by Sultan Azlan Shah, the Sultan of Perak, her home state, in recognition of the fame she brought to the state.[117] On 25 November 2002, Yeoh was honored as The Outstanding Young People of the World (TOYP) (Cultural Achievement) by JCI (Junior Chamber International).[118] On 23 April 2007, French President Jacques Chirac conferred upon Yeoh the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor (French: Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur). The decoration was presented to her in a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on 3 October 2007.[119][120] She was promoted to Officer of the same French order (Officier de la Légion d'honneur) by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 14 March 2012 at a ceremony held at the president's residence, the Élysée Palace, on that day,[121][122] and promoted to Commander (Commandeur), the highest honour available to non-French citizens, by François Hollande at the official residence of the French ambassador in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.[123]

On 22 May 2012, Yeoh was awarded the Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Perak (SPMP) which carries the title Dato' Seri during the investiture ceremony in conjunction with the Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah's birthday.[124] Yeoh received the Excellence in Asian Cinema award during the 7th Asian Film Awards in March 2013 in Hong Kong.[125] On 1 June 2013, Yeoh was awarded the Panglima Setia Mahkota (PSM) which carries the title Tan Sri during the investiture ceremony in conjunction with the birthday of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah.[126][127] On 30 November 2013, Yeoh presided as the Chief Guest at the International Film Festival of India.[128]

On 12 February 2016, Yeoh was made an Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, becoming the first Malaysian citizen to receive that honour.[129] Yeoh was included in the BBC's 100 Women list of 2020.[130] She was placed on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2022.[131] On 13 August 2022, Yeoh received an honorary doctorate of fine arts degree from the American Film Institute for her contributions of distinction to the art of the moving image. She became the first Asian artist to receive the honor.[132] On 9 December 2022, Yeoh received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.[133]

Honors[edit]

Country Year Honor Ref.
Malaysia 2013 Commander of the Order of Loyalty to the Crown of Malaysia (PSM) – Tan Sri [134]
Perak 2001 Knight Commander of the Order of the Perak State Crown (DPMP) – Dato' [135][136]
2012 Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Perak State Crown (SPMP) – Dato' Seri [135]
France 2007 Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honor [120][137]
2012 Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor [138]
2016 Officier of the National Ordre des Arts et des Lettres [129]
2017 Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honor [123][139]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b The term "Asian" used according to American usage described at Asian people § United States is a race. Furthermore, "Asian" in America is often synonymous with people of East Asian descent.[4][5] Other actresses from Asia or of Asian origin have won the award but are not considered "Asian" by American usage.

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Kho Tong Guan: "Yeoh Chu Kheng, Michelle". In: Leo Sury, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary. Chinese Heritage Center, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012, ISBN 9789814345217, pp. 1347–1350
  • Ken E. Hall: "Michelle Yeoh". In: Garry Bettinson: Directory of World Cinema: CHINA 2. Intellect Books, 2015 ISBN 9781783204007, pp. 71–73
  • Lisa Funnell: Warrior Women: Gender, Race, and the Transnational Chinese Action Star. Suny Press, 2014, ISBN 9781438452494, pp. 31–57 (chapter "Transnational Chinese Mothers: The Heroic Identities of Michelle Yeoh and Pei Pei Cheng")
  • Rikke Schubart: Super Bitches and Action Babes: The Female Hero in Popular Cinema, 1970–2006. McFarland, 2012 ISBN 9780786482849, pp. 123–143 (chapter "Beautiful Vase Made of Iron and Steel Michelle Yeoh")

External links[edit]