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Michelle Yeoh the Queen of Martial Arts

Updated on July 11, 2019
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Brian is an aspiring writer that seeks to inform and educate the public through informative and educational pieces from various categories.

Famously known for her role in the phenomenally successful production – ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, Michelle Yeoh came from a small mining town in Ipoh, which is a state in the West of Malaysia. She was born Yeoh Chu-Keng in 1962, coinciding with the lunar year of the Tiger. Michelle is the daughter of Janet Yeoh and Yeoh Kian Teik, a lawyer and politician, respectively.

Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh

Given her family background and financial capacity of the Yeoh family, it afforded her the ability to experience life differently from other kids her age. She was a ballet dancer since the tender age of four and subsequently moved to London, England as a teenager to study in the Royal Academy of Dance. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Dance from the academy. After a brief dance career, she won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant title in her native country and the Miss Moomba beauty pageant title in Melbourne, Australia in the early 1980s.

Michelle Yeoh in the movie
Michelle Yeoh in the movie

Michelle’s family is of Han Chinese descent and yet she speaks English and Malay before the Chinese language. She cannot read Chinese characters and relies on pinyin – a system of phonetic notation to pronounce words in the language. On top of the assistance from fellow Mandarin-speaking crew members, she relied on pinyin to help her recite her lines for her starring role in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ which was released back in the year 2002. Michelle later then went on to learn Mandarin and speak fluently in the Cantonese dialect, a language that she uses dominantly in many of the movies she acted in.

Her first work on camera was in 1984, shooting a commercial with martial arts star Jackie Chan. This initial exposure seemed to have kick-started her involvement in the silver screen. She began making action movies with D&B Films of Hong Kong in 1985. She was first billed as Michelle Khan, but eventually, she switched back to using her family surname. Michelle was never trained as a martial artist, but instead, she relied on her dance discipline and her on-set trainers to prepare for her martial arts action scenes.

In her films, she integrates many dance moves and does most of her own stunts. As a result, she has been injured countless times. In 1988, she married the wealthy Dickson Poon, who is D&B Films executive and retired from acting. Unfortunately, her marriage to Poon was short-lived and the pair divorced in 1992. Although she was no longer Mrs. Poon, she had a close relationship with Poon's second wife and is the godmother to Poon's daughter.

After her separation from Poon, Michelle decided to return to acting. She became very popular amongst Chinese audiences and became known to western audiences through her co-starring role in the 1997 James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Michelle was the only second Asian actress to play a role in the major James Bond franchise. She then shot to fame with her spectacular portrayal in the ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ movie directed by acclaimed film director Ang Lee. Michelle was well sought after, but she turned down a role in a sequel to ‘The Matrix’, which was later released in 1999.

Michelle fought her way to the top in the male-dominated genre of Hong Kong action films, where she would later be known as the ‘queen of martial arts’, although her ultimate passion was for dance. She was one of the only female stars whom Jackie Chan trusts to perform her own stunts. Michelle is one of the highest paid Chinese-language actresses in the world and the highest paid actress in Asia. Her net worth is estimated to be about $40 million.

Wanting to expand beyond her roles in the silver screen, Michelle started her own production company, Mythical Films. She then went on to produce and star in the film ‘The Touch’, in which she trained with the Shen Yang acrobatic team in preparation for her role in the year 2002 production.

She started the production company with the hopes of discovering and nurturing fresh film-making talent. In addition to that, Michelle seeks to tap on her versatility by acting in roles that combine both action and deeper spiritual themes. She landed quite a role in the 2018 production ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ that sees her playing the role of the domineering mother to Nick Young, played by Henry Golding.

Her other noteworthy achievements include her recognition as one of the ‘50 Most Beautiful People in the World' in year 1997 and year 2009, by ‘People’ magazine. In 2001, she was awarded the title ‘Dato’ by the Sultan of Perak, the ruler of her native state in Malaysia. The honorary Malaysian title is somewhat like an English knighthood, awarded to individuals to recognize their contributions to the state. In October 2007, Michelle was named Chevalier of the French Legion d'Honneur for her contributions to international culture.


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      10 months ago from UK

      This is an interesting insight into a great talent.


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