Profile: Michelle Yeoh Chu-kheng

Posted in Profiles by - May 15, 2012
Profile: Michelle Yeoh Chu-kheng

Other names: Michelle Khan

Date of birth: 6 August, 1962 (Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia)

Occupation: Actor, producer, dancer

Style: Ballet

Biography: Born in Malaysia to a Chinese family – a politician and lawyer’s daughter – Michelle Yeoh trained in ballet from the age of four. At 15, she moved to England to attend boarding school, studying ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. Achieving a BA in Creative Arts and Drama, she was prevented from a professional career in ballet because of a spinal injury. At 21, she won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant and went on to take part in the 1983 Miss World pageant in England. After appearing in a television commercial with Jackie Chan in 1984 for Guy Laroche wrist watches, she was spotted by new Hong Kong production company D&B Films, run by Sammo Hung and the prominent retail businessman Dickson Poon. She made her feature film debut in the Sammo Hung action comedy The Owl vs. Bombo (1984), and was quickly promoted to a starring role for the D&B production, Yes, Madam! (1985), playing a tough kung fu cop alongside American fighter Cynthia Rothrock. Yeoh enjoyed success in Hong Kong action movies under the alias of ‘Michelle Khan’, considered by D&B Films to be a more marketable name. In 1988, Yeoh married D&B Films owner Dickson Poon and retired from the film industry. When the pair divorced after three and a half years, Yeoh returned to the big screen alongside Jackie Chan in the highly successful Police Story 3: Supercop (1992). Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, she starred in kung fu films alongside some of the biggest names in Hong Kong action cinema, including Jet Li (The Tai Chi Master, Fearless) and Donnie Yen (Butterfly and Sword, Wing Chun), and working predominantly with martial arts director Yuen Woo-ping.

She made her Hollywood debut alongside Pierce Brosnan in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. In the same year, she was chosen by People magazine as one of the ’50 Most Beautiful People in the World’. In 2000, she was nominated for a BAFTA in the Best Actress category for her role as Yu Shu-lien in the highly acclaimed Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which would go on to win over 40 international awards, including four Academy Awards. As a fluent English and Malay speaker, she was taught phonetically to speak the film’s Mandarin dialogue. She would go on to reprise the role in the 2016 sequel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, directed by Yuen Woo-ping.

Yeoh launched her own production company, Mythical Films, in 2002. In 2007, Yeoh was named a Chevalier (Knight) of the French Legion d’Honneur – the highest order in France – by French President Jacques Chirac. In 2008, Yeoh publicly announced her engagement to leading French motor racing figure Jean Todt. In 2011, Yeoh was cast as the Burmese democratic politician Aung San Suu Kyi for a film about her life called The Lady, directed by Luc Besson.

Yeoh continues to enjoy work as an actor across a range of genres and mediums. In Hollywood, she has had prominent roles in the fantasy genre, including for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the films Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), and for James Cameron in his Avatar sequels. Yeoh has also had roles in romantic comedies, playing matriarchal figures in Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Last Christmas (2019). On TV, she has had prominent roles in the second season of Netflix historical action series, Marco Polo (2016), and as Starfleet Captain Philippa Georgiou in the CBS series, Star Trek: Discovery, appearing in three seasons of the show with talks of appearing in her own spin-off series. In 2022, Yeoh was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by the American Film Institute.

In 2023, Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman and only the second woman of colour to be honoured as best actress at the 95th Academy Awards, winning for her role as the downtrodden, multiverse-hopping laundromat owner Evelyn Wang in the breakout indie sci-fi actioner, Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). The film picked up seven Academy Awards in total. Yeoh was also named ‘best actress’ at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Golden Globes.

Speech! With the Sunday Times: “I have had no regrets. If I have made a mistake then I move on. This journey for me is an adventure. I got into it completely by luck. It was destiny, in a strange kind of way.”

Filmography (as actor): 1984 The Owl vs Bombo; 1985 Yes, Madam!; Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars; 1986 Royal Warriors; 1987 Magnificent Warriors; Easy Money; 1992 Police Story 3: Supercop; 1993 The Heroic Trio; Butterfly and Sword; Executioners; Holy Weapon; Once a Cop; The Tai Chi Master; 1994 Shaolin Popey II: Messy Temple; Wonder Seven; Wing Chun; 1996 Ah Kam; 1997 The Soong Sisters; Tomorrow Never Dies; 1999 Moonlight Express; 2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2002 The Touch (+ pro.); 2004 Silver Hawk (+ pro.); 2005 Memoirs of a Geisha; 2006 Fearless; 2007 Sunshine; Far North; 2008 The Children of Huang Shi; Babylon A.D.; The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor; 2009 Turning Point; Make Roads Safe (documentary); 2010 True Legend; Reign of Assassins; 2011 Kung Fu Panda 2; The Lady; 2013 Final Recipe; 2015 Strike Back (TV); 2016 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny; Marco Polo (TV); Mechanic: Resurrection; Morgan; 2017 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Star Trek: Discovery (TV); 2018 Crazy Rich Asians; Master Z: Ip Man Legacy; 2019 Last Christmas; 2020 Star Trek: Discovery (TV); 2021 Boss Level; Gunpowder MilkshakeShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings; 2022 Everything Everywhere All at Once; Minions: The Rise of Gru; Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank; The School for Good and Evil; The Witcher: Blood Origin (TV); 2023 ARK: The Animated Series (TV); Transformers: Rise of the Beasts; American Born Chinese (TV).

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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