Over a career spanning four decades, Michelle Yeoh has been disarming audiences with her physical prowess as a martial artist and her emotive talent as an actor.
While she became an international icon 23 years ago, thanks to Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” it wasn’t until last year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” that she gained recognition from the Academy with her first Oscar nomination.
Here is a look back at some of Yeoh’s career highlights.
A formidable entry in Yeoh’s early years of making movies in Hong Kong, this rock-‘em-sock-‘em action film is notable for its prominent placement of female actors rising up against the baddies, clearly paving the way for later opuses like Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” saga. “Yes, Madam!” is also a fun time capsule, maintaining a slightly goofy tone while featuring Yeoh in a pixie cut and giant ’80s shoulderpads.
Yeoh shows off her martial-arts skills in this Hong Kong action-comedy opposite Jackie Chan, which received a dubbed release in the US. She played an Interpol inspector, and her role included truly harrowing stunt work – such as landing a motorcycle on a moving train, and in a few takes, dangerously skidding off of it – that was shown during the closing credits.
A somewhat more stoic but still kinetic action-packed martial arts movie, it’s plain to see how “Wing Chun” allowed Yeoh to soar in the later classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It also marks one of Yeoh’s superior collaborations with legendary director and stuntman Woo-Ping Yuen, with whom she later worked on “Dragon” and other titles.
Yeoh played one of the most powerful Bond women, an equal to 007 in terms of smarts and strength. Much was made at the time of Yeoh – a former beauty queen-turned-actress – doing her own stunts in the Pierce Brosnan-starring film, as she kicked butt and won acclaim.
A dazzling international hit, memorable to many for its graceful wire-work action sequences, from director Ang Lee. Yeoh co-starred opposite Chow Yun-fat as two warriors unable to express their love for each other, with Zhang Ziyi as the thief they must battle for the possession a fabled centuries-old sword known as the Green Destiny.
Adapted from Arthur Golden’s novel, the story begins in the late 1920s, with Yeoh as Mameha, a fierce matriarch who schools her young protégé, Chiyo (again Zhang Ziyi) in the ways of serving as a geisha. The movie did generate some controversy at the time for casting non-Japanese actors, including Yeoh and Zhang, in the most prominent roles but their performances were praised.
Based on the true story of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, “The Lady” was a tour de force for Yeoh in the role of someone who stood up to violence and oppression. Directed by Luc Besson and costarring David Thewlis, the film is also a touching love story, earning Yeoh a best actress nomination for a Satellite Award.
Yeoh portrayed a mother not to be played with in this 2018 film, the first major Hollywood movie to feature a majority Asian cast in 25 years (coming after “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993). Her character Eleanor Young is the sophisticated and tough-as-nails mom to main character Nick (Henry Golding), whose choice of girlfriend, Rachel (Constance Wu), Eleanor is less than thrilled with. She also plays a mean game of mahjong.
Yeoh joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the most graceful of styles, playing a mystical warrior who showed just how much of a dance martial-arts combat can really be. As the guardian of the magical realm known as Ta Lo, Yeoh’s whimsical character Ying Nan taught the men in the film, including Simu Liu’s titular hero Shang Chi, that success is not only borne from brute strength.