She is the undisputed "Action Queen," known for her feisty roles in international blockbusters such as the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Last seen briefly as Ravager Aleta Ogord in a post-credit scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Michelle Yeoh will soon be beaming up on the small screen as Captain Philippa Georgiou of Starfleet vessel USS Shenzhou in CBS' forthcoming sci-fi television series Star Trek: Discovery.
Boasting a stellar movie career that spans over three decades, the Malaysian actress' starring role in #StarTrekDiscovery marks only her third foray into television, following Cinemax's military action series Strike Back (2015) and Netflix's historical fiction drama Marco Polo (2016).
Michelle Yeoh Made Her Name By Performing Her Own Stunts
Trained as a dancer before becoming a model, Yeoh first made her name by performing her own stunts in Hong Kong action and martial arts films in the 1980s. In 1988, she retired from acting after marrying businessman Dickson Poon. After they divorced in 1992, Yeoh made her comeback in action megastar Jackie Chan's Police Story 3: Supercop, achieving superstar status thanks to a standout role in which she executed Jackie-Chan-styled stunts.
The Ipoh native — who speaks fluent English, Malay and Cantonese — has since proven that she is equally deft in dramatic roles as she is with action ones. To celebrate the actress turning 55-years-young on August 6, here are 10 #MichelleYeoh movies (in chronological order) to watch before Star Trek: Discovery premieres.
1. Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
Super Cop (US title) is your typical Jackie Chan, action-packed flick filled with some truly amazing stunts. Playing an Interpol inspector, Yeoh more than holds her own against the Drunken Master, especially with stunts such as the one that sees her riding a motorcycle off a ramp and onto a moving train. If you watch the outtakes in the end credits, you will also see Yeoh falling off a moving vehicle as Chan failed to catch hold of her during a scene.
The actress would go on to earn the title "Action Queen of Chinese cinema" from the local entertainment press after starring in another string of martial arts films including Wing Chun (1994) and The Stunt Woman (1996).
2. The Soong Sisters (1997)
Requiring actresses who could speak English and Mandarin, Hong Kong director Mabel Cheung (An Autumn's Tale, City of Glass) tapped Yeoh to play the eldest of three influential sisters from China's powerful Soong family. Educated in America, the sisters went on to marry historically important men who shaped modern China and Taiwan.
According to Cheung, Yeoh initially turned down the role as she couldn't read the Mandarin parts of the script. After much persuasion, Yeoh learned the script phonetically. The hard work paid off as her first non-action dramatic role earned her a Hong Kong Film Award nod for Best Supporting Actress. Co-starring Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) and Vivian Wu (The Pillow Book) as the two younger sisters, the critically acclaimed film won a slew of awards across Asia.
3. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
In the 18th film of the James Bond franchise, Yeoh becomes the first Chinese actress to play a Bond Girl (and one of the most memorable ones at that). Just like with Jackie Chan, the versatile actress more than held her own against co-star Pierce Brosnan and their motorcycle versus helicopter chase across the streets of Bangkok (depicting Saigon) remains one of the best action sequences in a James Bond movie. Let's also not forget the drastic descent on a banner from a hotel rooftop.
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Winner of four Oscars, including Best Foreign Film, Taiwanese director Ang Lee's Chinese-language wuxia (literally means "martial heroes") masterpiece introduced the world to Zhang Ziyi and established the international superstar status of both Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Beautifully shot and well-paced, the pulsating duel between Zhang and Yeoh is spectacular, while Yeoh's dignified and understated romance with Chow is beautifully emoted.
Another thrill was seeing '60s action queen and Shaw star Cheng Pei-pei (who plays Zhang's mentor Jade Fox) starring alongside Yeoh, her "action queen" successor. Bar the jarring fact that all the leads spoke Mandarin in different accents (Yeoh had to learn her lines phonetically for this as well), this classic film is a must-see if you consider yourself a film buff.
5. Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005)
Lavishly produced with great cinematography, sets and costumes, this is not a great Michelle Yeoh film, but it does star three of the world's most famous Chinese actresses — Zhang Ziyi as rookie geisha Sayuri and Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) as diva Hatsumomo definitely steal the show, while Yeoh delivers a credible performance as Sayuri's mentor, Mameha.
Despite the "Chinese playing Japanese" backlash, the main cast did well to bring an international best-seller to life. Personally, this writer is fine with actors playing different nationalities/races from their own as long as they look/sound the part and portray the character well. Besides Japanese, Yeoh has portrayed Korean (Strike Back) and Myanmese (The Lady, see below).
6. Sunshine (2007)
Yeoh plays a supporting role in this underrated Danny Boyle sci-fi thriller that tells of a team of international astronauts whose mission is to reignite the dying Sun with a nuclear fission bomb in 2057. The film is worth a watch as it boasts a fascinating premise and an impressive ensemble cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Benedict Wong and Hiroyuki Sanada.
Apparently, Danny Boyle was so impressed with Yeoh's audition that he told her she could choose any part in the script and he would give it to her, resulting in Yeoh opting to play Corazon, the mild-mannered biologist.
7. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Apt that for her first voicing stint, Yeoh would choose a kung-fu based animated feature (which also united her with Supercop co-star Jackie Chan, who voices Monkey). In the sequel to the 1998 DreamWorks hit, Po and the Furious Five have to take on evil peacock Lord Shen who aims to destroy China with a secret weapon.
Yeoh voices a wise old goat named Soothsayer who spouts words of wisdom, often very literal and with a sarcastic tone, such as "If you continue on your current path, you will find yourself... at the bottom of the stairs," much to the anguish of Lord Shen. Yeoh's deadpan delivery is among the funniest bits in the hit animated feature.
8. The Lady (2011)
Yeoh's portrayal of real-life Myanmar political icon Aung San Suu Kyi in French maverick Luc Besson's The Lady is easily the best dramatic performance of her career. From the look and mannerisms, to tone of voice — the politician has an upper-class English accent having studied and lived in England half her life — Yeoh mastered all of it almost to perfection. She even learned the Burmese language in order to sound authentic for a key scene in which she has to give a speech to a crowd of thousands.
The actress also changed her exercise regime to scale down her muscle tone in order to appear as slim as the petite democracy advocate. The story focuses on the relationship Aung has with her husband, writer Michael Aris (David Thewlis), as she sacrifices her personal and family life to spearhead Burma's democratic movement. A must-watch for every Michelle Yeoh fan.
Star Trek: Discovery premieres September 24 on CBS All Access.
Which is your favorite Michelle Yeoh movie? Let us know in the comments below!