Michelle Yeoh is a famous martial arts actress best known for her roles in Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Michelle Yeoh (Profile) – Episode 133
You can follow Michelle Yeoh on Facebook.
Following is a transcript of the episode.
It’s time for episode 133 of whistlekick Martial Arts radio. You’re about to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about one of the most famous martial arts women to ever grace the screen, Michelle Yeoh.
Let me introduce myself. I’m whistlekick’s founder but I’m far better known as your host for this show. My name is Jeremy Lesniak. whistlekick, I am humbled to say, makes the best sparring gear, apparel and accessories for practitioners and fans of traditional martial arts. I’d like to welcome any new listeners and thank everyone that’s returned.
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Let’s talk about Michelle Yeoh. You may know her from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Maybe you remember her from the 1997 James Bond Film, Tomorrow Never Dies. However you know her, or even if you don’t, her career has been tremendous and she’s had an impact on many of the movies and tv shows you’ve seen.
Michelle was born in 1962 in Malaysia to Chinese parents. She started ballet at 4, moved to the UK at 15 and majored in ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.
At 20 she won the Miss Malaysia pageant which led to some television time. One of those appearances was alongside Jackie Chan in a commercial which caught the eye of someone in Hong Kong. Just two years later she was acting in her first martial arts movies. She did most of her own stunts, which would become common for her.
She married the guy who ran the production company, D&B Group, and ended up retiring from acting. Until they divorced in 1992, anyway.
She came back strong, too. Starring alongside Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. You may have seen the movie a few years later, when it was released as Supercop in the US in 1996. Michelle played Inspector Yang in the movie.
Over the next few years, she had a lot of work, and while much of it was well received, we didn’t see a lot of it in the US. Some of you have seen the Jet Li film, Tai-Chi Master from 1993, where she co-stars. The notable exception was in 1997 when she starred alongside Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies, a James Bond film. She did all of her own fight scenes in the film.
She was offered the role of Seraph in the 2nd and 3rd Matrix films, but she had a scheduling conflict. That must have really disappointed everyone because the writers went back and changed the character of Seraph to a man.
Everything changed in 2000.
That was the year most of the world saw Michelle Yeoh for the first time. She played Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. From that role, she earned larger roles and had a greater presence in the US. A fun bit of trivia from Crouching Tiger – Michelle didn’t know Cantonese at the time… she learned all of her lines phonetically. I can’t imagine doing that, let alone well enough to be nominated for 7 major movie awards. She did win one, International Star of the Year, from ShoWest.
From there it was a barrage of bigger pictures. Memoirs of a Geisha, Fearless, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Earlier this year she revisited her role as Yu Shu Lien in the Crouching Tiger sequel, Sword of Destiny. She’s also had a recurring role on the acclaimed TV Series Marco Polo and appeared in the Jason Statham action film, Mechanic: Resurrection.
As impressive as this list is, I’m leaving out plenty. There’s a reason she’s known in Hong Kong as “The queen of martial arts.”
You may be wondering a bit about Michelle Yeoh’s martial arts background. I was, too. Through all of the research, I didn’t come across anything mentioning rank or style, so I set out to find why.
That’s when I came across something that I found shocking. Michelle Yeoh has no formal martial arts training. Initially, this bothered me, and I sat back for a little while. Honestly, I considered scrapping this episode. We can’t have an episode about someone who isn’t a martial artist.
Then I realized something. Michelle Yeoh is not only a martial artist, she’s an incredible martial artist. She’s incredibly skilled and she’s had some of the greatest instructors you could imagine. With her dance background, she was able to learn martial arts moves very quickly. Anyone that has formal training in dance knows how regimented and demanding it can be – much like martial arts. That body control and awareness allowed her to learn the movements quickly and skillfully. We teach new students the same way – through repetition of movement.
Look at who was teaching her, and who she acted with? Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Cynthia Rothrock, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-Fat… could you ask for better instructors? Not to mention the numerous stunt coordinators, stunt doubles and others involved in making sure everything looked good?
Not only is it not for me to claim someone is not a martial artist, I’m embarrassed to say that I even considered that thought. Michelle Yeoh has done a tremendous amount for the martial arts by portraying strong, skilled women – something the martial arts could use more of in film.
I found a quote during my research that really summed everything up for me, it proved that not only should she be considered a martial artist, but she’s passionate about the arts – at least the way they come across in film. That shows a lot of respect for the arts.
The reason why I decided to wait two years after the Bond movie and to work with Ang Lee in a martial arts movie, is because I really believe that this genre deserves more respect and dignity than it’s ever been given. Before, people saw it as a fairy tale; they felt they could take it easy. But it shouldn’t be about that. It’s so steeped in our culture, it should have more depth to it. It’s never easy to find that balance when it’s such a magical type of film, to make you accept our soaring to the skies . . . it was a risk, but when we did this movie, it was for a Western audience.
What more is there to say? I’ve come out of my research with far more respect for Michelle Yeoh than when I went in. Trust me, there was plenty to start with.
I’d love to know what you thought about today’s episode, and how you feel about Michelle Yeoh. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Instagram – just search whistlekick. Or, just leave us a comment on the show notes page at whistlekickMartialArtsRadio.com
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That’s all for today. Until next time, Train hard, smile and have a great day.