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Cinema is constituted as such by becoming a narrative, by presenting a story and by rejecting its other possible directions. Incomplete without a male and a female character, our movies are often stereotyped with female characters who are possibly damsels in distress, caged all over by men's energy and in need of a daring hero to rescue them from all trouble. But evidently enough with passing time, female leads took over the action part and stunned the audiences with their glamour and mind boggling valour and courage. Asian cinema which is popular for its 'Martial Arts' genre is often recognised by the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li who are also referred to as the 'Gods of Action Cinema', but in this league entered a female lead who rose to become the 'Queen of Martial Arts'.
Michelle Yeoh, (Yeoh Choo Kheng) the Asian beauty icon and an internationally renowned action movie star was born in Ipoh, Malaysia at August 6, 1962. She grew up in the tropical tin-mining town, as a tomboy who loved sports. As a teenager,she represented Malaysia at national level for swimming, diving, and squash and was the Perak state representative for squash and once the Malaysian Junior Squash Champion.
She also loved playing piano and Chinese painting. However her real passion was in dance, particularly - but not exclusively - ballet. She started her ballet training when she was four. Young Michelle was sent to a Convent school in Malaysia where she received her early education in English. At the age of 15, her parents accompanied her to England and enrolled her at a boarding school there.Later she entered the London Royal Academy of Dance, majoring in Ballet. But unfortunately, Michelle's dream of being a prima ballerina was abruptly cut short by a spinal injury which she suffered during a ballet practicing session during her college years. Michelle consequently had to switch her focus away from dance to choreography and other arts. In 1982, Michelle received a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama. After receiving her B.A. degree, she continued her graduate study in England.
Michelle never had a dream to switch over to the glamour industry. She had hopes to start her own Ballet Academy, but during her summer vacations in 1983; her life took a dramatic turn. Her mother had entered her for the national beauty contest in Malaysia where she already had made past the qualifying rounds. To please her mother, she went ahead with the rest of the competition and was subsequently crowned Miss Malaysia at the age of 21. After this stint, Michelle did not return to England the following year to continue her advanced studies. Instead, she served her one-year term as Miss Malaysia. Somewhere along the line, she also earned the Miss Moomba title that same year in Australia.Towards the end of her term as Miss Malaysia, she met Hong Kong businessman named Dickson Poon who invited her to do a commercial with the action star Jackie Chan for the brand of watches one of his companies sold. She also appeared in another one with Chow Yun-Fat and was soon offered a film contract by Dickson Poon in his newly founded film production company, D&B Films.
Michelle's first movie role was in Sammo Hung's action comedy, 'The Owl vs Dumbo' (1984) where she portrayed a stereotypically pathetic female. This movie gave her the opportunity to see action being staged and filmed in that special Hong Kong movie way. Thoroughly fascinated by the action stunts by her fellow co-stars, Michelle reckoned that she could do these stunts too. Form there on, Michelle unhesitatingly opted to do action work. Michelle participated in her first on screen fight in a cameo role as a Judo instructor in Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan's 'Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars' (1985).
Also in 1985, Michelle had her second major screen appearance in 'Yes, Madam', co-starring with Cynthia Rothrock where she played a fearless police woman. During the filming she performed her first major stunt that involved her flipping backwards on a railing and smashing her head through glass while simultaneously throwing two thugs off the balcony! With 'Yes, Madam', Michelle kicked her way in a male- dominated world of actions. The movie was a breakthrough and pioneering film and marked the birth of the ‘Girls with Guns’ genre and its brightest star - Michelle Yeoh.
After ‘Yes, Madam’, Michelle again played a feisty female police officer in another contemporary action film 'Royal Warriors' (1986). The film featured one of the best yet brutal fight sequences. During the filming of Michelle's third action film, 'Magnificent Warriors' (1986), she ruptured an artery in her leg which put her off action films for a while. Consequently, she was given a non action role in the next movie, 'Easy Money' (1987) - which turned out to be her final film for D&B Films.
In February of 1988, Michelle got married to Dickson Poon and retired from acting. She became a fixture in Hong Kong's fashion boutiques and on the society pages as Dickson Poon's wife. But the couple parted ways after a little more than three years. Michelle returned to the film industry in 1992. The third instalment of Jackie Chan's ‘Police Story’ series was her
comeback film. With the movie, Michelle stole every scene where she easily matched Jackie Chan fight by fight, stunt by stunt. The film broke the box record in Asia. Later that same year, Michelle made two more movies (released in 1993): a stunning super-heroine action fantasy entitled 'The Heroic Trio’ and her first classical costume sword fighting tale 'Butterfly & Sword'. Michelle even sung the end song for Butterfly & Sword and made a MTV video appearance.
In 1993, Michelle starred in a total of six movies: a spinoff of her Director Yang character from the Police Story III called 'Project S'; a dark sequel of the Heroic Trio named 'Executioners'; the all-star costume action comedy 'Holy Weapon'; an action adventure Wonder 'Seven'; and two Yuen Wo-Ping's fantastic martial art semi- historic stories 'Tai Chi Master'.
1993 was a successful yet a hard year for Michelle. Her extremely tight and sometimes overlapping shooting schedules didn't give her enough time to stay in the hospital. Her spine injury intensified, she dislocated her elbow in a fight scene. But despite all the odds she continued to do her action stunts on her own. In the following year, 1994, Michelle took a break and ended up again on hospital bed with a tear in her right knee ligaments. It took a few months for Michelle to recover and she could make a cameo appearance in 'Shaolin Popey II: Messy Temple'.
In 1995, Michelle's career saw the worst phase. She sustained worst injury when starring in Ann Hui's film about a 'stunt woman - Ah Kam'. With a stunt that could have cost her, her life she escaped with 'only' deep-tissue bruising and a cracked rib. Post recovery, she headed on to play purely dramatic role. Mabel Cheung's historic drama 'The Soong Sisters' (filmed in 1996, released in 1997) was Michelle's first non- action movie for which she was nominated as the Best Supporting Actress (Hong Kong Film Award) for her remarkable performance.
Michelle is the first - and by far, the only real actress to have made significant inroads into the West. Her first American release was 'Supercop'. In 1996, Jackie Chan's 1992 Police Story III was re-dubbed in English and released in the U.S. under that title although the film didn't make waves as it was supposed to, it gave Michelle's international fame a boast. Her Colonel Wai Lin role in the 18th James Bond film 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997) put her in the global spotlight. Michelle provided the Bond series an ideal female representation that is smart, sexy and badass. In the year 1998, Michelle guest starred - for free, as a favor to a friend - in a Hong Kong action romance, 'Moonlight Express' (released in 1999). She did not do any action or stunt in the film. The movie was considered as one of her best dramatic performances.
In the year 1999, Ang Lee approached Michelle to star in his new martial art epic drama, 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. She was the first actor who signed on the project and in fact, the only one who agreed to star in the film. Michelle gave her extraordinarily mature performance which allowed her to rise both physically and emotionally. ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’was nominated for 10 Oscars and went on winning 4 of them, including the Best Foreign Language Film. She was nominated as the Best Actress for a number of awards (Hong Kong Film Awards, Golden Horse Awards, British Academy Film Awards, Saturn Awards, etc.) and won the title at the EMMA Awards and AMMY Awards. She was also named International Star of the Year at ShoWest, the world's largest motion picture industry convention.
In the spring of 2000, Michelle started her own film production in Hong Kong "Mythical Films''. The company's first film was 'The Touch', a romantic action adventure where Michelle starred as an acrobatic circus performer. The film was released in August 2002 in Asia and later in other territories. 'The Touch' became Hong Kong's official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. The film was awarded as the Best Co- Production Film at China's Huabiao Awards. Michelle and co-producer Thomas Chung were named the Producers of the Year at CineAsia Awards 2002. In January 2004, she produced, 'Silver Hawk' which was also awarded as the Best Co-Production Film at the Huabiao Awards.
Besides her interest in action oriented films, Michelle loves to venture out in a variety of roles and emotions. In 2005, she starred in 'Memoirs of a Geisha', a Hollywood produced ensemble drama based on a story of Japanese geisha. In the fall of 2005, Michelle filmed a space mission science fiction thriller, 'Sunshine', with director Danny Boyle in London. The movie was released in 2007. In August 2007,Michelle's "North Pole" film, 'Far North', a psychological, dark romance set in the Arctic, was premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The independent, small-budgeted film was filmed in fall 2006 in Norway and London with British director Asif Kapadia.
In 2007, 'The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor', the third instalment of the Hollywood Mummy series, and Babylon A.D., a U.S.-French action thriller which was based on Maurice Dantec's genetic manipulation novel "Babylon Babies". In 2008, she came as a guest star role in 'The Children of Huang Shi', a WWII drama directed by Roger Spottiswoode.
Since 2007, Michelle took up the role of global ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign. As part of the campaign she starred in 'Turning Point - A Journey on the World's Killer Roads', a documentary which premiered in Rome in May 2009, during the launch of the 'Make Roads Safe: A decade of Action for Road Safety.' In June 2009, Michelle filmed a documentary on Orangutans rescue in Malaysia for the ‘National Geographic Channel’, Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh. She also guest starred in Yuen Wo-Ping's new martial arts film 'True Legend'. Michelle then starred in the Chinese language period costume martial arts thriller, 'Reign of Assassins' (2010). The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2010 and it was described by critics as the best martial arts film since 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. She also lent her voice for a character in the Academy nominated animation 'Kung Fu Panda 2', released in May 2011.
Michelle recently ended up a controversy which revolved around her latest released film, a biopic on the Burmese democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Directed by French director Luc Besson, the production of 'The Lady' took place in Thailand, London, and Paris from October 2010 to January 2011. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in fall 2011. The film was awarded The International Human Rights Film Award by Amnesty International, Cinema for Peace, and The Human Rights Film Network at the 2012 Cinema for Peace Gala in Berlin in early 2012. Michelle was conferred the 'Officier de la Legion d'Honneur', France's highest civilian honour, by the President of France and was given the title of "Datuk Seri", during the investiture ceremony in conjunction with the Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah's birthday. In 2013, she was awarded with the title "Tan Seri" as well.
Michelle is currently engaged to Jean Todt, previous General Manager and CEO of Ferrari and now president of the FIA.
In one of her interview Michelle quoted that she loves the thrill, loves challenges. She loves up setting up new challenges for herself which changes her remarkably from inside to make her better every day. Michelle is a strong willed lady with a pretty face with a tough demeanour who embodies the women of today. She is not just a respected and greatest action actress working today, but also a women with an incredible power, grace, and beauty, with her unique personal charisma and action style, who has conquered the world of action. She through her career proved to the world at large that women are not mere flower vases which are beautiful but are capable, talented, intelligent and tough.
Michelle rules the charts with her iconic sense of style and badass style is a sweet person in real looks, fierce and arrogant on screen. Michelle has awed the world with her persona and guts to venture into all men’s world. All Lights salutes this lady of will - 'The Queen of Action Cinema' - Bring it on!