The Rise of Michelle Yeoh



The Rise of Michelle Yeoh

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
Michelle Yeoh has seen an incredible rise and she has the potential to go even further. For this video, we'll be looking at the iconic action star's decades-long career, chronicling her journey to becoming one of Hollywood's latest leading ladies. Our countdown includes "Tomorrow Never Dies," "Everything Everywhere All at Once," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and more!

The Rise of Michelle Yeoh

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re discussing The Rise of Michelle Yeoh.

For this video, we’ll be looking at the iconic action star’s decades-long career, chronicling her journey to becoming one of Hollywood’s latest leading ladies.

What’s your favorite Michelle Yeoh performance? Let us know in the comments.

Michelle Yeoh was born in Ipoh, Perak in 1962. The star loved ballet growing up, and even attended the Royal Academy of Dance in London when she was a teenager. But after injuring her back, Yeoh’s dreams of becoming a professional dancer were put on hold. Still, those dance skills and ability to quickly learn choreography would come in handy as she made a major career change.

In 1983, the multi-talented Yeoh was named Miss Malaysia, and subsequently won other pageant titles as well. Not long after, she landed a TV commercial with the legendary Jackie Chan. And that led to her signing an acting contract with Hong Kong’s D&B Films. Going by the stage name “Michelle Khan,” her first film credit was 1984’s “The Owl vs Bombo.” It was a relatively small role, but the budding actress began making a name for herself in a male-dominated industry. By 1985, she was a leading lady in “Yes, Madam,” and had begun honing her fighting skills, actually performing her own stunts in the movie.

Yeoh went on to appear in more Hong Kong action films, including “Royal Warriors,” “Magnificent Warriors,” and “Easy Money.” But she went on to wed the head of the D&B company, Dickson Poon (as spelled), and left acting behind. After the couple divorced a few years later, Yeoh returned to the industry and starred in 1992’s “Police Story 3: Super Cop” with Jackie Chan. The action film gave her the opportunity to be Chan’s equal rather than a sidekick or damsel in distress, and her talent shone through brilliantly.

Roughly four years into her revived action career, Yeoh suffered a serious injury during the filming of “The Stunt Woman.” And it took a toll on her psyche. While in recovery, she questioned whether or not she would – or should – continue performing. But luckily for us, she then met with one of her biggest fans, none other than filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. His enthusiasm and respect for her body of work re-energized her, and inspired her to keep acting.

Yeoh made her way into the world of Hollywood via the 1997 Bond flick “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Her role as Colonel Wai Lin was a refreshing take on the iconic Bond girl, paving the way for future female characters in the franchise to be more independent. But her big breakout came three years later in Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which earned her a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress. For those who weren’t familiar with the genre, it was a thrilling introduction to Chinese wuxia films. The movie continues to be celebrated, and for good reason. The depth and nuance Yeoh brought to Yu Shu Lien showcased her stellar dramatic acting. She notably flexed that muscle again in 2005’s harrowing “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Lady” in 2011, to name a few. Yeoh also reprised her role as Lien in the 2016 sequel “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” delighting fans everywhere.

Michelle Yeoh didn’t stop at the drama genre, though. Her first big foray into comedy was the groundbreaking “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018. Though it’s a romantic comedy, Yeoh plays the more serious character of Eleanor Sung-Young, Nick’s elegant, disapproving mother. But by diversifying her filmography, the actress got more opportunities to explore the genre. Director Paul Feig saw Yeoh’s inner comedian and she proved him right with her work in the instant holiday classic “Last Christmas.”

Yeoh is part of the long awaited movement in Hollywood to include more Asian actors and creators, both in front of and behind the camera. Her roles in mainstream blockbusters further proved that audiences crave diversity and appreciate seeing themselves on-screen. In addition to her work advancing Asian representation in the media, Yeoh is passionate about many causes. The star uses her role as a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and overall platform to make a difference in the world. She notably works to raise awareness about inequality, poverty, and climate change, and advocates for things like animal conservation and disaster relief.

Michelle Yeoh is no longer pigeonholed to just one genre. The actress played a recurring character in “Star Trek: Discovery.” For Captain Philippa Georgiou, she kept her own accent, which fans absolutely loved. A spin-off series starring Yeoh is also reportedly in the works. But that’s not all. In 2017’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Yeoh made a brief but important appearance as Aleta Ogord, a crucial character in the comics. In 2021, she had a significant part in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which notably starred a predominantly Asian cast. Yeoh was in her element as the graceful Ying Nan, guardian of the mythical Ta Lo, and aunt to the titular hero.

The early 2020s also brought the sci-fi action “Boss Level,” and action-thriller “Gunpowder Milkshake.” In 2022, Yeoh stunned in the genre-bending “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Seemingly ordinary, laundromat owner Evelyn Wang is unlike any of the actress’ other characters, and she tackled the challenge flawlessly. Evelyn is thrown into a bizarre multiversal adventure, where each alternate reality has a very different version. Her performance in this wild and wacky film garnered praise among fans and critics alike.

Michelle Yeoh shows no signs of slowing down. The star has even more epic projects in the works, including the much-anticipated prequel series, “The Witcher: Blood Origin.” She’s also teaming up with “Shang-Chi” director Destin Daniel Cretton again. This time, it’s for the Disney+ series “American Born Chinese,” based on Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel of the same name. What’s more, the actress has two upcoming animated features — “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”. And as if joining the MCU and “Star Trek” franchises wasn’t impressive enough, she’s slated to appear in James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels as Dr. Karina Mogue.

Michelle Yeoh’s influence spans generations of movie lovers, and she continues to delight and inspire not only her fans, but her peers as well.