Dato’ Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng (simplified Chinese: 杨紫琼; traditional Chinese: 楊紫瓊; pinyin: Yáng Zǐqióng; Cantonese (Yale romanization): yèuhng jí kìhng; born 6 August 1962) is a BAFTA Award-nominated actress and dancer, well known for performing her own stunts in the action films that brought her to fame in the early 1990s.
Born in Ipoh, Malaya (now Malaysia), she is based in Hong Kong and was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1997.
She is best known in the Western world for her roles in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, playing Wai Lin, and the multiple Academy Award-winning Chinese action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she was nominated the BAFTA for “Best Actress”. In 2008, the film critic website Rotten Tomatoes ranked her the greatest action heroine of all time.
She is credited as Michelle Khan in some of her earlier films.
Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng was born to a prominent ethnic Chinese family in Ipoh, Malaysia on August 6, 1962. Her parents are Janet Yeoh and Dato’ Yeoh Kian Teik, a lawyer and MCA politician. She was very active when she was young and had a passion for dance. She started to study ballet at the age of four years old. At 15 years old she moved with her parents to England, where she was enrolled in a boarding school. Yeoh later studied at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, majoring in Ballet. However, a spinal injury shattered her lifelong dream of being a prima ballerina, and she consequently had to switch her focus away from dance to choreography and other arts. She later received a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama.
In 1983, at the age of 21, Yeoh won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant. She was also Malaysia’s representative at the 1983 Miss World pageant in London. From there, she appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan which caught the attention of a fledgling Hong Kong film production company, D&B Films.
Yeoh’s career in Hong Kong started with a few commercials for Charles Jourdan, opposite action movie heroes Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat before being offered a film contract. The Charles Jourdan brand was handled by D&B Group in Hong Kong, run by Yeoh’s future husband, Dickson Poon. In 1988, she retired from acting after marrying Poon. Three years later, the couple divorced and Yeoh returned to acting in 1992. Her first movie after the comeback was Police Story 3: Supercop, which was partly shot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Yeoh’s performance in Police Story 3: Super Cop sealed her comeback. She acted in The Heroic Trio in 1993, and the Yuen Woo-ping films Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1994.
Yeoh learned English and Malay before Cantonese. She learned the lines for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon phonetically.
She starred in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies as Wai Lin (1997). Natasha Henstridge was rumoured to be cast in the lead Bond girl role but eventually Yeoh was confirmed. Brosnan was impressed, describing her as a “wonderful actress” who was “serious and committed about her work”. He referred to her as a “female James Bond” in reference to her combat abilities. She wanted again to perform her own stunts but was prevented because director Roger Spottiswoode considered it too dangerous. Still she performed all of her fighting scenes. Thereafter, she was offered the role of Seraph in the two sequels to The Matrix, but she could not accept due to a scheduling conflict (the Matrix writers then changed Seraph into a male character and cast Collin Chou in the role). In 2002, she produced her first English film, The Touch through her own production company, Mythical Films.
In 2005, Yeoh starred as the graceful Mameha in the film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, and she continued her English-language work in 2007 with Sunshine. In 2008, Michelle Yeoh also starred in fantasy action film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li.
In 2010, she starred in Reign of Assassins.